Berkman lands in St. Louis

Lance Berkman wasn’t a Yankee for too long, and many fans didn’t warm up the mid-season acquisition. He was a fine role player though and cost the club only Mark Melancon and some dollars. We knew he wouldn’t stick around the Bronx, and since he made $14.5 million in 2010, the Yanks weren’t going to offer the Type B free agent arbitration. Today, we learn that Berkman has landed in St. Louis.

The Cardinals will pay him $8 million for the 2011 season, and what makes this signing somewhat strange is the Cardinals’ plan for the the erstwhile DH. The Cardinals, you see, plan to use Berkman in left field. As Zach Links wrote at MLBTR, “The 34-year-old last played in the outfield in 2007, and he owns an ugly -2.1 UZR/150 for his career, with most of his work coming in right field.”

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What Went Right: Berkman & Wood

The Yankees have made a habit out of plugging holes at the trade deadline when their internal options don’t work out, most famously grabbing Eric Hinske and Jerry Hairston Jr. to shore up the bench for the 2009 World Series run. This season was no different, as Brian Cashman pulled off a trio of moves on July 31st. Austin Kearns didn’t exactly work out, but the other two moves certainly did…

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Lance Berkman

Once the Nick Johnson experiment failed in glorious fashion, the Yankees spent the better part of the summer searching for a designated hitter. Jorge Posada filled in most of the time, partly due to nagging injuries and partly because Joe Girardi fell head over heels in love with Frankie Cervelli. Alex Rodriguez and Marcus Thames also chipped in some at DH from time to time, but it was obvious that the team needed a full-time DH going forward.

With the Astros way out of contention, long-time ‘Stro Lance Berkman agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join his buddy Andy Pettitte in New York and have a shot at the World Series. His first 40 plate appearances in pinstripes were largely unimpressive, a .281 wOBA that was reliant more on walks that anything else. Berkman sprained his ankle running out a ground ball in Kansas City and sat out the rest of the month, rejoining the team when the rosters expanded on September 1st.

From that point on, Fat Elvis looked a lot like the guy with four career top five finishes in the NL MVP voting. He hit .299 the rest of the way with a cool .400 on-base percentage, and although there was little (if any) power production, Berkman was reaching base at the terrific rate near the bottom of the lineup. He was then one of the few consistently productive bats in the postseason, driving in two runs in Game Two of the ALDS and replacing the injured Mark Teixeira at first base in the ALCS. All told, Berkman hit .313/.368/.688 (.427 wOBA) in the postseason, and once he came off the disabled list in September he was one of the team’s most productive bats.

Kerry Wood

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It’s hard to believe that when the Yankees acquired Wood, he hadn’t pitched off a big league mound in close to three weeks. He had been on the disabled list with blisters and was activated just in time for the transaction to go through. That was also his second stint on the DL of the year, as he missed the first five weeks of the season with shoulder issues. Wood actually threw more innings for the Yankees (26) than he did for the Indians (20) this year. Thankfully those 26 innings were high quality.

Wood began his Yankee career working various middle relief stints, often recording more than three outs. By the time September rolled around he had pitched his way into that all important eighth inning role, setting up Mariano Rivera for the remained of the regular season plus postseason. The full body of work featured a 10.7 K/9 and just two runs scored in those 26 innings, and in the playoffs he added another eight innings of two run ball. With the season on the line in Game Five of the ALCS, he threw two scoreless inning to bridge the gap between starter CC Sabathia and Mo in the ninth.

As good as Wood was with New York, let’s not kid ourselves, there was some luck involved. His .235 BABIP was about 50 points below his career mark, and his strand rate was a completely unsustainable 98.1%. League average is around 72%. He walked 18 guys in those 26 innings but just one (one!) came around to score. They say it’s better to be lucky than good, especially when it comes to bullpen, so Kerry Wood’s stint in pinstripes gets a A+.

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Both Berkman and Wood were popular players with their previous teams, but they accepted lesser roles with the Yankees and thrived. I thought Berkman was especially impressive; a guy that had spent his entire career hitting in the middle of the Houston’s lineup and was the toast of his hometown, accepting what was essentially a platoon DH role when he could have just stayed home close to his family. The Yankees didn’t reach their ultimate goal this season, but the contributions of Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood are certainly appreciated.

The Arbitration Question: To Offer Or Not?

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The free agent signing period officially starts this Sunday, but free agency won’t begin in earnest until later this month when we know which players will force teams to give up a draft pick to sign them. Some are obvious; the Cliff Lees, the Carl Crawfords, the Jayson Werths, those are the ones we don’t have to think about. They’re going to cost you. But with players like Paul Konerko, Carl Pavano, and Frank Francisco, it’s not so obvious. That’s why we have to take the wait and see approach.

Quick primer on the rules: If a team offers one of their free agents arbitration and he signs elsewhere, they’ll receive two draft picks if he’s a Type-A (the signing team’s top pick and a sandwich rounder pulled out of the air) or just one if he’s a Type-B (the sandwich rounder). Of course the player has to decline that arbitration offer for the team to be entitled to that compensation, which is no longer a given these days. Salaries are coming back down to Earth and teams are shying away from older players, so the chances of these guys accepting arbitration has gone up considerably in recent years. But you knew that already.

The Yankees haven’t offered arbitration to any of their free agents in the last two offseasons, and there’s really no reason to expect them to alter that practice now. The last compensation pick they received for losing a free agent came way back in 2008, when they gained a supplemental first round pick for losing Luis Vizcaino (they used the pick on Jeremy Bleich). Yeah, it’s been a while.

Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte all qualified as Type-A free agents, and we know that it’s pretty much Yankees or bust for those three. Since the chances of them signing with another club are tiny, I don’t see the point in offering them arbitration. There’s nothing to be gained by it, and an offer would put all of the risk on the Yankees. There are worse things in the world than having those three on well, well above-market rate one-year deals, but I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to assume the risk given the tiny chances of the reward. Perhaps you feel differently.

Javy Vazquez is a no-brainer. He’s a Type-B who made $11.5M in 2010, and of course he was awful (-0.2 fWAR) due to stuff that deteriorated as the season progressed. The best course of action is to simply cut ties and walk away. I know the Yanks considered two draft picks to be part of the deal (he was a Type-A once upon a time), but things didn’t work out. No sense in trying to force the issue, let Javy walk with no stings attached. That leaves two more decisions to be made…

Lance Berkman

When the Yanks acquired Berkman at the trade deadline, he waved his no-trade clause under the condition that they would not pick up his $15M option for 2011. Usually it’s the other way around, the player wants the option picked up in exchange for agreeing to the deal. I guess that means Puma really doesn’t want to stick around and plans on exploring the open market this winter.

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Under normal circumstances, there’s no way you’d offer Berkman arbitration given his bloated salary and declining production (yes, I know he was pretty good with the Yanks, but his .345 season wOBA was the worse of his career), but this isn’t a normal situation. Berkman’s demonstrated a desire to get out of town by demanding that they decline his rather lucrative option, and unless he’s had a change of heart over the last few months, I think they should offer Fat Elvis arbitration and hope he declines.

Yeah, it’s very risky given his salary and the team’s not infinite payroll, but I think there’s enough writing on the wall to risk it. Granted, it’s not my money, so what do I know. If Berkman was a Type-A instead of a Type-B, I definitely wouldn’t offer because a team is unlikely to give up a high pick to sign him. But since that’s not the case, I say go for it. Be bold.

Kerry Wood

Wood earned $10.5M this year, which is a boat load for a reliever, even a closer (which he was at the start of the year). In fact, he was the seventh highest paid relief pitcher in baseball this season, just ahead of B.J. Ryan. Yeah, the Blue Jays are still paying that guy.

Anyway, Wood (a Type-B like Berkman) will probably be able to find a job closing games somewhere, but he’s not going to sniff that kind of annual salary again. Remember, he was on the disabled list twice before the trade, and his 26 innings with the Yankees were unfathomable lucky (6.23 BB/9, .235 BABIP, 98.1% strand rate). Considering those three things (improbability of finding that much money on the market, his health track record, and unsustainably good performance), I’d wish Kerry good luck and decline to offer him arbitration. If he accepts and you’re stuck with a $11-12M setup man … yikes. The Yanks have money, but that doesn’t mean they should spend it stupidly. Sorry Kerry.

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So assuming the Yanks offer arbitration to Berkman and Berkman only, they’ll receive one extra draft pick next year if/when he declines. Not much, but it’s better than nothing in a stacked draft class, especially when the Yanks are expected to forfeit their first round pick to sign a Type-A free agent of some kind. The deadline to offer arbitration is Nov. 23rd and players then have seven days to accept or decline, so this is going to sneak up before we know it.

Berkman, Wood, Vazquez qualify as Type-B free agents

This winter’s Elias rankings are out, and MLBTR provides the goods. Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood, and Javy Vazquez all qualify as Type-B free agents, meaning the Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick in next year’s draft if they sign elsewhere. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera unsurprisingly check in as Type-A’s, so in the unlikely event that they sign elsewhere, the Yanks would receive both a first rounder and a supplemental first rounder.

Of course, the Yankees have to offer each player salary arbitration to receive those compensation picks. The Yanks haven’t offered anyone arbitration in the last two years, and there’s no reason to expect them to start now. Berkman might accept given his salary ($14.5MM), ditto Wood ($10.5M). They’re unlikely to get that big of a payday on the open market, and regardless of how good they were down the stretch in New York, that’s just too much for spare parts. Forget Javy, no chance they offer him arbitration. Just sever ties and move on.

As a reminder, our 2011 Draft Order Tracker is up and running, so check back in throughout the offseason as picks change hands during free agency.

Yankees decline options for Wood, Berkman, and Johnson

The Yankees have declined their 2011 options for Kerry Wood ($11M), Lance Berkman ($15M), and Nick Johnson ($5.5M), the club announced today. Puma gets a $2 million buyout, Johnson $250,000. As far as I can tell, Wood gets nothing. None of these should come as surprises, and in fact one of the conditions of Berkman’s accepting the trade to New York was that the team had to decline his option. I guess he really didn’t want to stick around. The Yanks could try to bring Wood back, but that salary is far too rich for a setup man.

The Yanks did pick one option today: Andrew Brackman‘s. I have no idea what the money is on that, but it’s not substantial. Even if they would have declined it, he’s still under team control for five more years. They also hold options for 2012 and 2013 as part of the big league deal Brackman signed out of the draft in 2007.