Travis Lee had already had an okay major league career by the time he signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Yankees in 2004.
Lee had been the second overall pick in the 1996 draft by the Twins, but was declared a free agent after Minnesota failed to offer him a contract within 15 days of the draft. That allowed him to sign a $10 million contract with the Diamondbacks, for whom he made his debut in 1998.
He finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in ‘98, had a below average season in ‘99, and then was traded to the Phillies as a part of the Curt Schilling deal in 2000. Lee had two okay seasons with the Phillies before signing with the Rays for the 2003 season. After his best major league season in ‘03, Lee would again be a free agent.
Lee was a first baseman, a position which was already occupied for the Yankees by Jason Giambi. Tony Clark had also been brought in on a minor league contract as a potential backup for Giambi. The Yankees also had a glut of outfielders, meaning DH wasn’t really that open for regular playing time. Nevertheless, George Steinbrenner went ahead and signed Lee to a $2 million contract with a club option for 2005.
Lee made his Yankees debut on April 18, 2004 against the Red Sox. He singled in his first at bat, but ended up going 1-5. He doubled in a 1-4 performance the following day. The rest of his Yankees’ career would not go great.
The following two days, he went a combined 0-4 against the White Sox. On April 22nd, the Yankees were down one with one out in the ninth. The Yankees had runners on first and third and sent Lee up as a pinch hitter. He grounded into a game-ending double play.
Lee would reach base just one more time in his Yankees’ career. That came on an intentional walk to load the bases and set up a double play. After a failed pinch-hitting appearance on April 25th, Lee would not play for the Yankees again. A torn labrum would cost him the remainder of the 2004 season. Shockingly, the Yankees did not pick up his option for ‘05.
In his 20 plate appearances for the Yankees, Lee got two hits. He finished with a triple slash line of .105/.150/.158. Impressively, he accounted for -0.746 win percentage added in those 20 plate appearances.
Lee returned to the Rays and had a decent 2005 season. He was released after a less than stellar 2006 season. He signed a minor league contract with the Nationals in 2007, but eventually asked for and got his release in spring training. That would be the end of his baseball career.
Travis Lee played nine major league seasons, he obviously wasn’t a bad player. How he ended up with the Diamondbacks was weird. The reasons the Yankees acquired him were also weird, and that would be mirrored by the weirdness of his Yankees’ career.
All data courtesy of the Baseball Reference Play Index