Boy, I sure used to like to watch Lance Berkman. Watching him come up as an Astro, alongside Bagwell and Biggio, was a lot of fun. Watching him move around the field until he sank in at first base. Watching him develop into an all-around player. From 2001-2008, he put up at least 6.0 WAR in 6 of 8 seasons. He became the face and the voice of the franchise.
But towards the end of his career in Houston, Berkman began to wear on me a little. He never seemed to be playing all-out. It looked like he was never took Spring Training seriously. He acted like he wanted to be anything but a team leader. He seemed, in a way, irresponsible. And lazy.
So when the Astros traded him to the New York Yankees for Mark Melancon (later flipped for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland) and Jimmy Paredes, I wasn’t terribly sad to see Lance go.
His closing quote sort of summed up the Lance Berkman experience:
“I was thinking to myself on the way over here, I was like ‘Man, I’m going to play for the New York Yankees against the Tampa Bay Rays, basically for first place in the division,'” Berkman said before the game. “Or I’d be going up to play the Milwaukee Brewers, you know what I’m saying, there’s like 10 people in the stands.”
Yeah. That’s the Lance Berkman I came to know towards the end of his career as a Houston Astro.
When he joined the Cardinals – a division rival – prior to the 2011 season, I wasn’t sad to see him play against Houston. The Cardinals had a first baseman named Albert Pujols, so they moved Berkman to right field. I think that made him feel driven to not make a fool of himself.
It reminded me of another Berkman quote at the time of his trade to the Yankees.
“One of the reasons I decided, I was like here you are at this point of your career, something’s got to change,” Berkman said. “You’ve got to do something, either retirement or get into a situation where you’re scared again. If you come here and do great, the people will love you. If you flop, then they’ll be, this guy is a bum and get him out of here. Either way it’s simulating.”
Berkman finished with 4.9 WAR that season. He was an All-Star. He finished in the top ten in the MVP vote.
I didn’t think ill of him then, either. Because to me, that’s Lance Berkman. A guy who needs extra motivation. A guy who doesn’t seem to like playing baseball very much, so he takes it easy as much as he can unless there’s some sort of major incentive on the line for him.
Certainly not what you want to see in a veteran leader.
When rumors started swirling that Berkman may return to Houston as a DH in 2013, I was skeptical. His value, outside of the short-term value of hitting third and providing some switch-hitting power in the middle of the lineup for a team that isn’t going to be very competitive anyway, seems nil. This is a guy who never wanted to be a leader. Never wanted to teach. This is a guy who needs to be motivated in exceptional ways.
And then he opened his big fat mouth and summed it up all very nicely for me.
“It just depends on what kind of money they are talking about,” Berkman said. “Am I going to come back for a couple of million bucks, no.
“If they want to pay me close to what I feel like my value is in terms of what I bring to the table, I mean if they’re going to ask me to be there and hit third and play every day and DH every day, I want to be compensated like a guy who is a Major League three-hole hitter.
“Obviously, I would be willing to take a little bit less because it’s my hometown and for the opportunity to get back to the Astros organization. I’m just waiting for them to make some sort offer and go from there.”
An aging, oft-injured 37-year-old DH who thinks he’s still a superstar. Who thinks he’s worth more than “a couple of million bucks.”
You know what, Lance? Just go away. Go coach at Rice. I, for one, don’t really want you contaminating the Houston clubhouse.
Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez will probably require surgery. When that surgery is going to take place seems to be the only consideration. With a fairly long recovery time, the Yankees are stuck with a third baseman who will be limited if he plays in the field, and DH is not necessarily an option, depending on whether or not Jorge Posada can catch.
The Dominican Republic’s team in the WBC seems as though it’s comfortable playing Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada at third base to cover for Rodriguez. My question is this:
Might the Yankees be interested in doing the same thing?
At some point – probably 2010 – Tejada is likely to become an everyday third baseman if he wants his Major League career to continue. The Yankees, if they were to lose Rodriguez’s production at third, suddenly find themselves behind the 8-Ball. There aren’t many third basemen who would even approach Rodriguez’s numbers. Though Tejada isn’t quite A-Rod at the plate, he’s a much better option than any currently-available free agent third basemen, and he comes with just one year left on his contract.
Many opinions are floating on the best way to replace Rodriguez, should the Yankees opt to do that. One of the more intriguing ones has 2B Robinson Cano moving to third base, and the Yankees acquiring either a free agent second baseman like Mark Grudzielanek or Ray Durham, or trading for a second baseman. Popular opinion puts Florida’s Dan Uggla at the top of this list.
But Uggla’s likely to come with a high price tag. The Marlins covet prospects, and the Yankees have quite a few that may interest them. Pitchers Phil Hughes and Austin Jackson are commonly referred to.
What I wonder, though, is if Tejada might entice the Bronx Bombers as an option. His albatross contract, which is currently strangling the Astros’ payroll, would be a drop in the bucket to the Yankees. He provides good defense and a solid bat for their lineup, and would no doubt cost less in prospects than would Uggla.
The Astros’ needs are simple, and they begin with starting pitching. In 2008, the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees had a nice crop of pitchers that helped them place first in the North Division of the International League: Hughes, Jackson, Kei Igawa, Daniel McCutcheon, Ian Kennedy, Jeff Karstens. The list goes on, but that is a group of pitchers who logged at least 60 innings with ERAs under 4 and WHIPs under 1.20.
Assuming that the Astros want a pitcher on the younger side, under the age of 28, McCutcheon, Kennedy, and Karstens have to look mighty enticing. Unfortunately, McCutcheon and Karstens were sent to the Pirates in the Xavier Nady–Damaso Marte deal in July. That leaves Ian Kennedy, as well as some more marginal options, including 24-year-old righty Jeff Marquez, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, and Zachary Kroenke, as well as youngsters Dellin Betances, Zachary McAllister, and Mark Melancon.
You can almost pick and choose any two on the list, though it’s highly unlikely the Yanks would part with Coke, who figures to be a big part of their bullpen at some point this year. Melancon, who spent time in A+, AA, and AAA ball in 2008, combined to go 8-1 with 3 saves in 95 IP, 2.27 ERA, 0.958 WHIP, 89 K, 22 BB. In my eyes, he’s easily the most intriguing option. He’ll be 24 this year, and could make a case to break into the Astros’ rotation if things falter and he stays on his current path.
The Astros would also likely want a pitcher who could pitch in the majors this year as a starter, which would be questionable for Melancon, but the Yankees are short on pitchers they might actually deal. Certainly, they won’t be giving away C.C. Sabathia, Joba Chamberlin, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, or Chien-Ming Wang without a return greater than Tejada. But what they might part with is a non-roster invitee like Brett Tomko. Tomko would be someone who might pitch a little bit at the big league level until Melancon is ready, probably in 2010.
In addition, the Astros would need to find someone to fill the gap left by Tejada. Drew Sutton, Edwin Maysonet, and Tommy Manzella would enter that debate, along with Geoff Blum. Let’s assume that Chris Johnson will become the full-time starter at third base at some point this season. I don’t think it’s unfair to ask the Yankees to send someone who can play both shortstop and third base, and they have a former Astro that fits that bill in Cody Ransom
Because Ransom would primarily be a bench utilityman, Tomko is a flyer, and Melancon would probably need time to develop, the Yankees would have to add another prospect – perhaps switch-hitting second baseman Reegie Corona – to sweeten the deal.
So there you have it: Tomko, Melancon, Ransom, and Corona for Miguel Tejada. Certainly a fair deal for the Yankees, and the Astros receive some prospects and some middling major leaguers, while ditching Tejada’s contract. The Yankees get a proven hitter who can play third base and not require them to move their established infielders around, and it would cost them a lot less than Uggla would. Sounds like a plan; let’s make it happen.