One of the O’s biggest concerns heading into the 2011 season was finding a consistent first baseman on both sides of the ball. There were a few free-agent first baseman available this past off-season like Prince Fielder, which as a long shot, Adam LaRoche and Derrek Lee. The O’s were close to signing LaRoche to a three-year deal worth around $21 million, but LaRoche rejected the deal and decided to sign with the Washington Nationals instead. The O’s then went after Lee and managed to sign him to a one-year, $7.25 million deal this past January.

The 14-year-old major-league veteran had one of his worst seasons in a decade last year when he batted .260 and hit 19 home runs along with a .774 OPS with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves. Even though those were poor numbers by Lee’s standards, they still would’ve been decent numbers in Baltimore considering the way the O’s first basemen performed last season. Ty Wigginton and Garrett Atkins handled first base duties for most of in 2010 and combined for a .226 average, along with 11 home runs, 59 RBI and a .625 OPS at the position. Needless to say, Lee is an upgrade no matter how you look at it.

As I said before, Lee’s numbers were down a bit last season, which could’ve been a result of a few different things. First of all, he is getting older. This shouldn’t have too much of an effect on his performance, though, considering he hit .306 along with 35 home runs and 111 RBI in 2009. I think the bigger reason for his struggles were the injuries he had to battle through last year. He had back and thumb problems all year long and was forced to undergo thumb surgery this past off-season. Even though the thumb seems to be fine, he may have developed some tendonitis in his wrist as a result of the long layoff he endured while letting his thumb heal.

And that’s where we are today with Lee. He underwent a precautionary MRI yesterday and, depending on the results, may be able to take the field in the coming weeks. If Lee is able to get healthy and stay that way for most of the season, he should have a very productive year. He will now be batting in a hitter-friendly park and should improve his average along with his power. I don’t see any reason why Lee can’t hit close to 30 home runs and produce about 90 RBI in 2011 in this lineup.

Submitted by Steve Giles