Astros reel in Lee, Williams
Outfielder inks six-year deal; pitcher signs on for two
HOUSTON -- The Astros added some much-needed horsepower as well as a starting pitcher Friday with the signing of slugger Carlos Lee to a six-year, $100 million contract and veteran right-hander Woody Williams to a two-year, $12.5 million deal.
Lee's contract represents the largest total package given to a player in franchise history, eclipsing the five-year, $85 million contract extension Jeff Bagwell received in 2001 and the six-year, $85 million extension Lance Berkman signed in 2004.
Lee, nicknamed "El Caballo" (The Horse), hit a combined .300 with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs for Milwaukee and Texas last season. He will join a Houston offense that tied Tampa Bay for the lowest team batting average in baseball last season (.255). The Astros scored 735 runs in 2006, fewer than all but five of the Major Leagues' 30 teams. Houston's 708 RBIs ranked 23rd.
"This is a historic commitment to winning," Houston general manager Tim Purpura said at a Minute Maid Park press conference. "When we met this offseason to plot our strategy, we set up our goals for what we wanted to accomplish in the offseason market in the free-agent market and the trade market. Our first priority was to increase our offensive production in the outfield. Our second priority was to add a starting pitcher. Today, with the signings of Carlos Lee and Woody Williams, we feel like we've addressed those two top priorities in a very significant manner."
Lee's contract will pay him $11 million in 2007, plus a $3 million signing bonus. He will receive $12 million for 2008 and $18.5 million for each of the last four years of the contract, which runs through the 2012 season. The agreement contains a full no-trade clause for the first four years and a limited no-trade clause the final two years, during which Lee and the Astros must agree on which teams he can be dealt to in the event the Astros decide to trade him.
Williams' deal could be worth up the $19 million if the Astros exercise their 2009 option.
"I'm very excited to be here," said Lee, who owns a cattle ranch in Wharton, southwest of Houston. "I know this is a team where I have a good chance to win a championship. I've always liked this team, they're always very good, and I like this ballpark. I like a lot about Houston. That's why I told my agent this was one of the places I'd like to play."
Lee said Houston fans "won't be disappointed" with his performance. He also said playing left field at Minute Maid Park won't be a problem.
"I know we've got a funny wall here," he said. "I've played here before; I've got to go out there and learn it a little bit. I think I'll be fine."
Astros owner Drayton McLane signed off on the deal late Thanksgiving night.
"I remember watching Carlos with the White Sox and with the Brewers and he broke our hearts a few times," McLane said. "His statistics are as good as they get. Woody has broken our hearts a few times, too, and we're glad to have him. This is by far the biggest single commitment in the history of the Houston Astros."
Lee is a proven run producer whose potent right-handed bat should provide protection for switch-hitting slugger Lance Berkman. The 30-year-old native of Panama is a career .286 hitter with 221 home runs and 772 RBIs in eight Major League seasons. He has driven in 80 or more runs in each of the last eight seasons and has scored 100 or more runs four times.
"We're certainly glad to have these two guys are on our side now," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "We feel like these are two big questions that have been answered for our ballclub. Carlos will fit very nicely in the middle of that lineup -- oh, my goodness, that's going to be nice. I'm sure that Berkman is over there enjoying his turkey dinner a lot better right now, knowing there's just no way now they're going to get around him. By adding these two guys we'll be definitely better."
Since the 2003 season, Lee is tied for 12th in the Major Leagues with 131 home runs, and is ninth with 442 RBIs. His tremendous power should come in handy at Minute Maid Park, where the left-field foul pole is only 315 feet from home plate.
"Most of my power is from left-center to right-center," Lee said. "I'm not a pull hitter. But the wall is so close here, it might mean I hit a few more. I hope so."
Lee has surprising speed for a man his size (6-2, 240 pounds) and he has reached double figures in steals seven times in the past eight years, including a career-high 19 -- on 21 attempts -- last season.
"His last four years, if you take a look at his numbers, are just incredible what he's been able to accomplish offensively," Purpura said.
While awaiting to see whether free-agent pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte decide to pitch again in 2007, the Astros can breath a little easier with the addition of Williams, who usually pitches very well in Houston and gives the Astros another veteran winner to team with Roy Oswalt in the rotation.
Williams, 40, spent the last two years with San Diego, where he was 21-17 with a 4.28 ERA. The University of Houston product was 12-5 with a 3.65 ERA for the NL West champions last season, when he was one of eight NL pitchers to record eight or more wins after the All-Star break.
"I've always dreamed of putting this uniform on, I never really thought it would happen," said Williams, a resident of nearby Fresno and an Astros fan since he was young. "I've always wanted to be an Astro. It didn't work out in the times before, but it seemed like this was the perfect time for both of us, and I'm just very, very thankful we were able to get it done."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.