Sherman: Yanks ‘definitely in’ on Berkman

In the halcyon days of just this morning, Joe explored why the Yanks should consider Lance Berkman for the DH spot. This afternoon, Joel Sherman confirms the team’s interest. The Yankees, he says, are “definitely in for Lance Berkman” and are “considering him seriously.” Of course, when it comes to July 31, “definitely” has a way of becoming less so, but this is one deal that just might have some legs. Berkman has a no-trde clause but is willing to waive it for the Yanks. No word yet on the Astros’ demands, but keep in mind that Berkman is owed a little less than $7 million this year with a $15 million club option for 2011 or a $2 million buyout.

Because of Berkman’s high salary, Jayson Stark believes the Astros slugger would clear waivers in August. Therefore, if Berkman is not dealt this weekend, he still could be moved within the next few weeks. (For what it’s worth, in the same notebook, Stark mentions Yankee interest in Jake Westbrook. The Indians’ pitcher will probably stay put though.)

Updated (4:15 p.m.): Joel Sherman offers up an elaboration of the Yanks’ position. Basically, the Bombers have been letting clubs know that they’re willing to spend money and will trade to acquire contracts teams want to shed as long as the price isn’t high in terms of prospects. That’s why they’re interested in Berkman but not Dunn and why Sherman expects the club to make some moves today or tomorrow.

Yankees spoke to Padres about Hairston

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have called the Padres to inquire about the possibility of acquiring Jerry Hairston Jr. for the second straight trade deadline, but they were told he’s not available. San Diego has the best record in the National League and leads the NL West by five games in the loss column, so they’re not going to give him away despite his .290 wOBA (.323 at home, .255 away, so it’s not Petco either). That’s a kind of player the Yankees are looking for though, a versatile righthanded bat that could platoon with Curtis Granderson if needed.

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Getting in on the Jackson action

Update: Jackson got traded to Chicago three minutes before this was set to go. I’m not taking it down.

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The big story of this morning has been the White Sox pursuing Edwin Jackson. We learned earlier this week that the Diamondbacks planned to continue selling after they unloaded Dan Haren on the Angels, and Jackson, with his roughly $1.5 million remaining this year plus $8.35 million salary next year, figures to be among the first boarding a train out of Phoenix. The White Sox could keep him for their own rotation, or could flip him to the Nats for Adam Dunn. Yet there’s been something of a snag here.

The latest word is that Ken Williams is working on a bigger deal, which, if completed, would preclude the Jackson deal. That would open up an interesting situation for the Yankees. They might not want Jackson — in fact, I’m sure they don’t want to add him — but they do want Dunn. Could the Yanks slide into the White Sox place and make a series of deals that would net them a baseball-mashing lefty?

(AP Photo/Matt York)

There is a way the Yanks could make this interesting. The Diamondbacks have been trying to unload Chris Synder since last winter. He spent much of last year hurt, and he produced a paltry .304 wOBA in just 202 PA. While he’s rebounded this year, the Diamondbacks have their catcher in Miguel Montero. If the Yanks would be willing to take on Snyder — and perhaps Chad Qualls — they might be able to get the package, along with Jackson, for relatively cheap.

Why Snyder? For starters, he’d represent an upgrade at backup catcher. He’s a decent hitter, especially for a backup catcher, with a career .321 wOBA. Total Zone also rates him as an above average defender, though he has earned negative marks in each of the last two years. We have far smaller samples there, though, because he has only 436 PA in those two seasons. He’s a bit expensive for a backup, but he’d also provide insurance for Posada next year, and would also allow the Yanks to remain as patient as they’d like with Jesus Montero.

That leaves the Yanks options with Francisco Cervelli. They could send him to the Diamondbacks as part of the trade, though since the Nationals acquired Wilson Ramos yesterday I doubt he’d be wanted by the Nats. Sending him to AAA isn’t much of an option because of Montero, and sending him to AA doesn’t work because of Austin Romine. They’d basically have to trade him if they were to acquire Snyder. I’m not sure how it would work exactly, but if the Yanks could get Snyder and Jackson for Cervelli plus a meh prospect, I think that could work out. It would cost them a few dollars, but that’s a resource the Yankees have in abundance. Might as well use it to ultimately improve the team.

(AP Photo/Drew Angerer)

That would leave the Yanks with Dunn at DH and Snyder on the bench, and would presumably not cost them that much, because they’d absorb the contracts from Arizona. They’d flip one, and probably another meh prospect, for Dunn, who will cost around $4 million for the rest of the season. In other words, they’d get a better backup catcher and an ideal DH for somewhere between $6 and $7 mil, plus two prospects who would likely never crack the big league roster anyway.

With plenty of moving parts, it’s unlikely that the Yanks get involved to this degree. It does, however, seem to represent their best chance at improvement. If they want to keep Dunn from the Rays, they could do worse than swing a deal for Jackson and than dangle him to Washington.

Nick Johnson resumes baseball related activities

A two-month long stint on the disabled list and one setback later, Nick Johnson has finally resumed baseball activities down in Tampa. The forgotten Yankee is simply taking grounders at first right now, though he did hit test his surgically repaired wrist by hitting some soft toss with a fungo bat earlier in the week. He also took some dry hacks with a regular bat.

“I don’t really know what to think at this point,” said Joe Girardi on Tuesday. “Until he starts actually taking swings in batting practice, I don’t know what to make of it, when we might get him back.”

Johnson is pretty much in the same boat as Al Aceves; anything the Yankees get out of him from here on out is a bonus. They can’t, and shouldn’t count on him staying productive and healthy the rest of the season given the nature of his injury. It sure would be nice to have OBP Jesus and his military style plate discipline bat in the lineup, though.

Long-time RABer Andy in Sunny Daytona provided the info and picture above, so everyone thank Andy.

Yanks might not be out on Dunn after all

We heard yesterday that the Yanks ceased their pursuit of Adam Dunn. That, however, might have been something of negotiation ploy. According to some of Ken Rosenthal’s sources, the Yanks are still in. According to others, they’re actually over Dunn. The Rays are reportedly still in the Dunn hunt as well. I’ll have a bit more on the pursuit of Dunn shortly.

Another Adam Dunn Alternative

With the trade deadline looming we’re going to read plenty of reports about teams being interested in players who could help them down the stretch. These are, for the most part, non-starters. A few big names get dealt at almost every trade deadline, and we’ve already seen a few players on the move in the past week or so. I wager a few more will change teams between now and 4 p.m. tomorrow.

The Yankees, thankfully, have only wants and not needs. They lead the AL in runs per game despite rotating the DH and therefore playing Colin Curtis, Ramiro Pena, or Francisco Cervelli almost every day. They’re third in runs allowed. They have a solid rotation, the best closer in the biz, and a pretty set offense. In other words, they can tone down the big moves and add pieces here or there. Still, I’m sure they’ll consider moves for bigger names if the price is right.

On offense the Yanks need nothing beyond a DH, and even then they don’t really need anyone there, either. Marcus Thames can hold down the role vs. lefties — that’s why they signed him — and then against righties the team can rotate its regulars. Jorge Posada needs some time at DH, and Joe Girardi has used him there to get his bat in the lineup even when he’s a little banged up. A slugging DH, though, could add another dimension to this offense for the final two months and into the playoffs.

Of the available names Adam Dunn appears the most attractive, but the late word is that the Yanks have found the Nationals’ asking price too steep. Yesterday Mike presented an alternative in Luke Scott. Today I want to examine another DH alternative. Given his team’s moves yesterday he might have become available. The Yankees could certainly give Lance Berkman a look at DH.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

We’re all aware of Berkman by reputation, and most of us are familiar with his struggles this year. He started the year on the DL after undergoing knee surgery in the spring, and he got off to a slow start. That’s not uncommon. What’s important is that he has gotten better from May through July. He posted a meager .332 wOBA in May, but that rose to .357 in June and .392 in July. In fact, he’s shown much improvement in July, hitting for much more power (.288 ISO) and walking a ton more (22.3 percent of his PA). His average is a bit down, but that’s because of a .229 BABIP. Everything else looks good, even great, for Berkman right now.

Another encouraging factor lies in his splits. Even with his poor performance early in the season he has crushed righties this season, to the tune of a .382 wOBA. Presumably this has gotten better lately, too. He’s spraying the ball to all fields as a lefty, hitting 56 to left field, 55 to center, and 65 to right. His opposite field power has not faded, as he has a .482 ISO when hitting the ball the other way. He does seem to have some trouble pulling the ball, as he has a 67.7 ground ball rate when going to right field, with only 13.8 percent fly balls (and 22.2 percent of those are infield flies, though another 22.2 percent left the park). I’m not sure if this is something he’s also improving on, but if it is he’d be the complete package in New York: a lefty who can spray the ball the other way but still take it over the short porch.

There are some concerns with Berkman, of course, not least of which is his knees. Time at DH will help mitigate that risk, but it will probably preclude the Yankees from playing him in the outfield, where he has played 7383.2 major league innings. He hasn’t roamed the outfield since 2007, and even then it was only 230 innings. It seems like he’s done out there, which would reduce his role with the Yankees. They could install him as full-time DH and relegate Thames to PH duty, but that would require Berkman to pick up the pace as a RHB, something that’s not guaranteed.

He also has poor numbers away from Minute Maid Park in Houston. It is a pitcher’s park that ranks above average in homer-friendliness and below average in other categories. Yet when Berkman is there he has a .390 wOBA, compared to a .317 mark on the road. I’m not sure how meaningful that is when considering a player, but it does seem suspect. His BABIP is much higher at home, if that helps quell the concern a bit.

Then, of course, there’s the matter of his contract. He is owed roughly $5 million for the rest of this season, plus has a $2 million buyout on a $15 million club option for 2011. There is almost no way the Yanks would pick up this option, so it would cost them roughly $7 million to bring aboard Berkman. This is also why Houston might like to deal him. Whether they’d kick in money remains to be seen, but it does seem that they’re in full strip-down mode. They traded Roy Oswalt yesterday for a relatively light package that included 1B Brett Wallace. That’s what makes Berkman available. Chances are Houston wouldn’t pick up his option at the end of the year, anyway.

At Pale Hose Pariah, Erik Manning used Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator to assess the value of a Berkman addition. Given the optimistic rest-of-season projection of 1.2 WAR, Berkman would be worth slightly less than his contract (though Erik uses $5.5 million, while the actual number, I think, comes in just under $5 mil, but I could be wrong). Added with the buyout, you’d expect either a low exchange rage (a B and a C prospect) or Houston to kick in some cash for a better prospect. Given yesterday’s Oswalt deal, it doesn’t seem like the price in prospects, either way, would be too steep.

All considered, Luke Scott is the better option. He’s having a better overall season, is cheaper, and is under team control through the 2012 season. That means his price in prospects will be more expensive, and the Yanks might have to pay a premium on top of that because they’d be dealing within the division. In any case, the point might be moot because Peter Angelos doens’t like dealing with the Yankees. Maybe Andy MacPhail could talk some sense into him if the Yanks make a solid offer, but I doubt it would be enough to bowl over the brass in Baltimore.

If the Yanks want to add a solid bat, they won’t find many better than Berkman’s, especially if he has rounded into form. Given what we saw from the Oswalt deal it doesn’t appear he’ll be expensive. The Yanks will have to eat some salary, but it looks like they’re willing to do that. I can almost guarantee this won’t happen, but the idea of Berkman batting sixth or seventh in this lineup is quite a tantalizing one.