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Lance Berkman: Free Agent DH/1B Acquisition Candidate

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Lance Berkman is a name probably familiar to most of you. In the last ten years, Berkman has been an All Star five times and a top five MVP finish four times. The last 10 years Berkman played a roughly average defense first base while carrying one of the strongest bats in the league; he has a career .296/.409/.545 triple slash line to go with a 149 wRC+. Averaging 5.3 wins per season, Berkman was in the last year of his contract of with the Astros when he got traded in the midst of a disappointing .356 wOBA season to the New York Yankees. There, in a DH role, his performance tanked completely.

Berkman was nothing short of horrible by his standards with the Yankees last season. In a DH role, his power vanished completely and he put up a measly .314 wOBA and 93 wRC+ in a short stint of 37 games. Overall, the year was easily Berkman's worst. He was still an above-average overall player, however, putting together 2.1 wins and a 117 wRC+ from a .345 wOBA.

Partly because of this down year, Berkman would be a potential free agent signing this off-season for the Rays revolving door at DH.

Reasons that the Rays should consider acquiring Berkman:

  1. Affordability: The boys over at MLB Trade Rumors think that Berkman will probably sign with a team for around $5 million. Given what the market has given to similar "historically great, recently not so much" hitters like Jim Thome and Vlad Guerrero the last couple seasons, that seems about right and is definitely within the Rays' price range.
  2. Injury: This is the biggest factor here. Berkman missed the beginning of last season with an injured left knee. Berkman (and his agent) are making the claim that this season's decreased power production was a result of the injury. While obviously this is no guarantee, if the medical staff (which has done an excellent job the last few years) can identify him as having a clean bill of health, there's a good chance his production could improve.
  3. Risk Minimization: Despite his horrible end to the year with the Yankees, Berkman actually wasn't that bad. He put together a well above-average 117 wRC+, and just because an old power hitter moves to the AL East and collapses in the DH role doesn't mean he can't hit here. It's far more likely that it was just a random stretch of poor performance. That being said, it is possible that he just had Pat Burrellitis, but given Berkman's longer and more prolific history it seems likely that he is unlikely to be a turtle next year.
  4. BABIP: Berkman's BABIP was the lowest of his career and as we all know here BABIP is more fluky than most things. If Berkman's BABIP rebounds, he could return to being an excellent if not elite hitter.

So overall what are we looking at? CHONE says Berkman's expected triple slash is .267/.366/.491, good for roughly +22 runs over 150 games which would be 2.7 wins out of the DH position. Even if Berkman produces two thirds of this, he'd still be worth looking into if the price is right.