Only days after they were unable to complete a deal to send Lee to the Dodgers, the Astros send Lee to the Marlins for Minor League third baseman Matt Dominguez and left-hander Rob Rasmussen. Dominguez will report to the Astros on Thursday in Pittsburgh; Rasmussen will report to Double-A Corpus Christi.
According to a source, the Astros are paying all of the nearly $9 million owed to Lee, except for the pro-rated $480,000 minimum salary.
"From my standpoint, the deal we wanted to make was a good deal for both sides," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "Carlos Lee will help the Marlins. The Marlins are very invested in trying to win quickly and Lee can fit into that equation, and I think that's why they were interested in him. We have a different outlook. We're looking towards the future and we were able to get two players we believe will be a part of our future, and that was too good to pass up."
Dominguez, the Marlins' 12th overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, is regarded as a standout defensive player who has had his struggles at the plate. In 78 games with Triple-A New Orleans, the 23-year-old batted .234 with seven home runs and 46 RBIs in 78 games.
Rasmussen, a 23-year-old lefty, was 4-7 with a 3.90 ERA in 16 starts at Class A Jupiter. He was recently promoted to Double-A, but didn't make an appearance. The Marlins selected Rasmussen in the second round out of UCLA in 2010.
Luhnow made it clear Chris Johnson, who's been dealing with a sore muscle in his side, is the starting third baseman despite Dominguez's arrival. The Astros have several options at first base to replace Lee, including Johnson, Scott Moore, Matt Downs and Brian Bixler.
"C.J. is our third baseman," Luhnow said. "My thinking was given that we have four games left until the All-Star break, this was a great opportunity to introduce Matt to our team, our staff, our fans in Houston and then we'll re-evaluate at the All-Star break where we are. With C.J. being day-to-day and not having been able to play the last few days, it's a good opportunity for Mills to mix and match and give Dominguez some time at third while C.J. is still healing."
Lee was pulled from the Astros' loss to the Pirates at PNC Park in the middle of the seventh inning Wednesday, and by the time reporters were allowed in the clubhouse following the game, his locker had been cleaned out and he was gone.
The Astros signed Lee to a six-year, $100-million contract prior to the 2007 season and saw him average 26 homers, 101 RBIs and hit .286 in the first five seasons. This year, he was hitting .286 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 66 games.
"I can still do a lot of things in the game," Lee said. "I've still got a lot of trust in myself. I'm going to step in there in their lineup and will get a lot more opportunities to hit with that type of lineup. It's kind of exciting."
The Astros nearly sent Lee to the Dodgers last weekend and were awaiting his approval on the deal before the Dodgers backed out. Lee has a limited no-trade clause, which means there were 14 teams to which his contract couldn't be assigned. The Marlins were not on his list, so he had no say in the trade.
Lee said he couldn't get his family on board with going to L.A.
"The Dodgers was more like a family issue," he said. "Not everybody agreed to go there. The Dodgers are a great organization and they're [fighting for] first place. It was going to be good for me to go there, but I couldn't get everybody to agree to it."
Barely a year removed from reaching the World Series in 2005, the Astros signed Lee the day after Thanksgiving in 2006 with hopes he could get them over the hump. A veteran club that included Craig Biggio, Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman had a winning record only once -- 86-75 in 2008 -- after signing Lee and began to sudden show its age.
The Astros signaled they were rebuilding beginning in 2010, when they traded Oswalt and Berkman, two of the most accomplished players in franchise history, and last year moved up-and-coming outfielder Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn for more prospects.
"I always did my best and have a lot of respect for the game," Lee said. "I respect the game. This game has been very good to me and when you respect the game you have to do it right. I did nothing but my best there. I had great years there and since the first day I got there I went down a little bit, but one of my worst years was last year and I still drove in 94 runs. I have no complaints."
The Astros might not be done dealing. Luhnow could still try to move pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers in exchange for more young players in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"We're going to continue to have dialogue with other clubs throughout the month of July, and if we feel there's another win-win deal out there, we won't hesitate to consider it," Luhnow said. "But at this point we feel good where we are."