Friday, January 19, 2007

In Washington, Travis Lee is Resurrected Yet Again

Now approaches the 10th anniversary of that magical season when former No. 2 overall pick Travis Lee -- armed with an unprecidented $10 million signing bonus -- looked as though he was about to fullfill the extraordinary promise foreseen for him by scouts and coaches.

But though Lee hit a combined .302 with 32 homers in his first two minor league stops that year, it has been downhill ever since, with the 6-foot-3, 230-pound first baseman collecting a paycheck while seemingly sleepwalking for most of his career. After reaching the major leagues at the tender age of 22, within two years Lee was benched by Arizona in favor of rookie Erubiel Durazo.

Lee, still vital at 31, has been given yet another chance to play, not so much because of his once unlimited abilities but due to circumstances that have forced the Washington Nationals to desperate measures. Oft-injured first baseman Nick Johnson is out with a broken leg, and his oft-injured rookie backup Larry Broadway seems unable to hit even mediocre, minor league pitching in winter ball.

Someone must fill the void. At $500,000, at least Lee comes cheap.

Blessed with enormous gifts, Lee has brilliant moves and footwork and a great arm at first base. Defense has come easily for him. But rather than hone his offensive skills, he has been content to coast, always confident that someone, somewhere would give him a job because of his glove.

Lee's peformance deficiencies -- he hit an all-time low .224 with 11 homers and 31 RBI for Tampa Bay last year -- have never been blamed on lack of ability so much as his poor work habits, indifference, lack of motivation and shamelessness at being such a poor value to those who invested in him. Just exactly where Lee finds pride is not certain, but it must be somewhere far from the maddening crowd.