Yankees acquire Lance Berkman

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Yankees have their new designated hitter. Joel Sherman reports that the team has acquired Lance Berkman from the Astros in exchange for Triple-A reliever Mark Melancon and Low-A infielder Jimmy Paredes. The only thing standing in the way is a Collective Bargaining Agreement mandated 24-hour grace period because of Berkman’s 10-and-5 no-trade rights, though the five-time All Star agreed to the deal earlier today so the wait is nothing more than a technicality. Sherman adds that the Astros will kick in $4M towards the $7M still owed to Berkman. Bob Klapisch says the team might have some other things cooking beyond this deal.

Ken Rosenthal says a condition of the trade is that the Yankees do not pick up Berkman’s $15M option for 2011, which is fine by me. Olney reports that the Steinbrenners pre-approved the addition of a large salary to the payroll, so that $3M the Yanks are taking on is no big deal. Even though Berkman currently projects as a Type-B free agent, there’s no point in talking about compensation draft picks because the Yankees would not offer him arbitration in fear he would accept. It’s worth noting that Andy Pettitte and Berkman are very close friends following the former’s time in Houston, so that may have factored into the latter’s willingness to accept the trade.

Joe laid out the case for acquiring Berkman earlier this morning. He’ll presumably slide right in as the full-time designated hitter, giving the team another potent switch-hitter. Even though his season line sits at just .245/.372/.436, the 34-year-old Berkman has hit .259/.385/.465 since June 1st, and .232/.404/.521 since July 1st. Knee surgery delayed the start of his season, but it’s not a chronic issue. Even so, Fat Elvis is purely a salary dump acquisition and is strictly a rental for the rest of the season.

It appears as though the Yanks lost some faith in Melancon. He hasn’t performed well during his various call-ups to the big leagues, and things haven’t been going so well for him in Triple-A this year either. The 25-year-old righthander figures to get more of an opportunity with the Astros. Paredes, 21, is a speedy infielder with surprising pop, but he is still several years away from the big leagues.

Series Preview: Yanks at Rays

To preview the upcoming series against the Rays we’ve set up a Q&A with R.J. Anderson of The Process Report and FanGraphs. If you’re looking for a take on the Rays’ side of things, definitely give The Process Report a read. R.J. and Jason Collette have been doing this at other places for a while.

Wade Davis had a rough time from late May until late June, either giving up a lot of runs or throwing a ton of pitches in not so many innings. Has he made any adjustments since then? 
Is anything missing from his repertoire that is causing his strikeout and whiff rates to come in so low after being pretty high throughout the minors? Or does his stuff not forecast a high strikeout total in the majors?

Davis’ issues seem married to his usage patterns. He’ll use his fastballs to get ahead – like you’d expect – but instead of letting his plus breaking stuff take over and finish batters, he’ll go into a fastball fury, trying to blow the hitter away and do all the work himself. This leads to lengthier at-bats and some forced location that results in home runs.  The lacking whiff rates seem to be a mixture of predictability right now more so than an inherent flaw in his stuff.
What’s the main difference between the B.J. Upton of three, or even two, years ago and the B.J. Upton of the last two years? What will it take for him to get back on track offensively?
Also, does he figure to play this weekend?

Hard to say with Upton. He’s played better than his raw numbers show and he’s murdering left-handed pitchers. It seems to be a BABIP issue, but the organization is obviously a bit frustrated with his progress nevertheless. The prognosis has been two-to-three days all along. During Wednesday night’s game, he stood in the dugout swinging a bat and Thursday morning he did some running. Joe Maddon remarked that he could be used later in the game if need be, signifying he should be good to go for the series.
One thing I admire about Joe Maddon is that he doesn’t hammer the idea of roles into his players’ heads. Do you think that plays a large part in the bullpen’s success? Or do you think it’s just that they have good pitchers and the Maddon storyline is just an interesting narrative?
Well, it goes beyond the bullpen. Ben Zobrist recently spoke up in defense of Maddon’s shuffling of positions and lineup slots. J.P. Howell has spoken in the past about how it’s their job to be prepared, whether they have to pitch in the sixth or the ninth. I’m not sure how much it really plays into the success because I think – with the exception of Rafael Soriano, who is often in the dugout until right before being called upon – the relievers assembled are good and Maddon places them in good situations.  
Moreover, they still have roles to a degree. If I’m Randy Choate, and I know the it’s the 6th or 7th inning with a lefty coming up soon in a tight game, I’m probably getting mentally prepared to enter. You know? Maybe the mindset plays a marginal role, but it’s hard for me to credit that entirely to Maddon, despite him being very good at his job. 

We’ve seen a considerable spike in James Shields’s strikeout and home run rates this year. Are they connected? His BABIP is way up, too. Do you think this is mostly poor luck, or is he doing something different this year that’s causing such a change in numbers that had been pretty consistent over the past few years?
I think it’s mostly poor luck. Shields has a stubbornness when it comes to walking batters. He’d rather challenge them in the zone than put someone on base. In a way that’s a good thing, but it also comes with the consequence of home runs. It’s worth noting his home run rate is well inflated over his norms between 2006 and 2009. He’s generating about the same number of swinging strikes as he did in years past, so I’m not entirely sure where the extra strikeouts are coming from.
Shields is such a weird case. You’re talking about a guy with maybe the best changeup in the American League who says and does intelligent things all the time; I would not be shocked to see him become a pitching coach down the line because he helps teammates with mechanical issues and philosophical talk. He seems to understand game theory and he’s even said this season that he likes it when team’s ambush him and figure him out. Presumably so he can mix things up. You can see that attitude prevalent in his arsenal too. He could probably just throw the changeup all day and night with good results – ask Nick Swisher – but he goes to a cutter, he goes to a curve, and sometimes maybe he outthinks himself.  Joe Magrane used to say he gave the hitter too much credit by not throwing his change more often and maybe he had a point.
John Jaso: catcher of the next few years?
At least for the near future. The team reached an extension with Kelly Shoppach shortly after he arrived that probably implants him in the lineup against lefties for the next year. Dioner Navarro probably isn’t coming back anytime soon. Jaso’s skill set is interesting, though, and watching how he ages is going to be a mixture of curiosity and concern. He’s a decent baserunner for a catcher – probably the best at advancing on passed balls and wild pitches on the entire team – but he’s mostly a guy who will stand at the dish and take as many pitches as possible before either walking or putting the ball in play. That’s fine, except his power display to date has been limited. Will pitchers eventually just feed him strikes until he proves he can beat them, or can this sustain? I don’t really know the answer. 
After the top, the organization has a dearth in catchers. The top prospects – like, the ones that have a shot at being major league regulars, not the Nevin Ashleys of the world – are Luke Bailey and Justin O’Conner; a pair of high school catchers drafted within the past two seasons.
Will we see any new players in a Rays uniform before the series is over? Anyone who might start the series with the team and end elsewhere?
It’s impossible to say at this point. The team shopped B.J. Upton around while asking for a lot and that seems unlikely to turn into anything at this point. Matt Garza’s no hitter and presence in the rotation probably means he won’t be seriously considered for a trade until the offseason. The most realistic scenario is Dan Johnson joining the team and someone like Gabe Kapler going on the disabled list. They like Kapler quite a bit and want him in the organization even after his playing days are over, so it would be awkward to designate him for assignment. 

Final question: Will we see Jeremy Hellickson this season?

Most likely in a Price circa 2008 role.

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.

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.