According to numerous published reports based upon even more anonymous sources, which presumably are more reliable than the ones who got the Cliff Lee trade wrong, the Yankees are on the verge of acquiring Lance Berkman from the Astros for a “non-prospect” and the right to pay Berkman the final $7.5 million owed on his contract.
Despite being hampered by an early season knee surgery, Berkman has bounced back to have a solid season, compiling a line of .245/.372/.436 in an Astros lineup with absolutely no protection. The Yankees are probably banking on Berkman being rejuvenated by joining a contender as well as a lineup with ample protection, but even if he were to remain at his early season level, Berkman would represent a significant improvement over the combined production of the “bench players” forced into duty by Joe Girardi’s rotating DH system.
“We’ve used it to rotate our guys and try to keep our guys fresh, but if we have an everyday guy, we have an everyday guy. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but it has helped giving Alex a half day, and Jeet a half day, and Tex, and Swish. But if you get an everyday guy that can swing it, that could help our club.” – Joe Girardi, as quoted on the LoHud Yankees Blog
Judging by Joe Girardi’s comments, it doesn’t seem as if he fully embraces the notion of bringing in a full-time DH. Then again, Lance Berkman probably should not be installed in that role. Although a switch hitter, Berkman’s splits have skewed heavily toward the left side, from which he has posted a line of .261/.395/.479. As a right handed hitter, however, Berkman’s line of .188/.278/.281 makes you wonder if the Yankees are really getting a platoon player. Other than his hefty price tag, there really wouldn’t be a compelling reason to play him every day, especially with Marcus Thames on the roster and Curtis Granderson already exerting a drag on the lineup against left handed pitchers.
Another potential problem with the Berkman acquisition is the health of Jorge Posada. If the Yankee catcher can’t take a majority of his starts behind the plate, it doesn’t benefit the Yankees to have Berkman effectively replace him as the DH. In fact, Berkman’s production has closely matched what the Yankees have gotten from their rotating DH, so the only way the Yankees will enjoy an upgrade is if it prevents the likes of Francisco Cervelli and Colin Curtis from playing regularly. With Posada’s health always a concern, that isn’t a given.
So, what exactly will Berkman’s role be? The $7.5 million price tag is not only relevant in that discussion, but also in revisiting Brian Cashman’s offseason decision to let Johnny Damon leave town. The Yankees are basically paying the same amount of money for two months of Lance Berkman as they would have had to pay for an entire year of Johnny Damon. At the time, Cashman’s decision, which he claimed was predicated on a need to cut payroll, seemed to be penny wise, but pound foolish. The acquisition of Berkman is a confirmation of that assessment, especially with Nick Johnson now collecting $5 million to rehab from his latest injury.
Over his 13 seasons as general manager, Brian Cashman has contributed greatly to the Yankees success. This off season, however, he had more than his fair share of missteps. Now, with Lance Berkman, he is seeking to right one of his wrongs. Hopefully, Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t mind writing the extra check.
Lance Berkman versus Yankee DHs, 2010 Peformance