Alex Anthopoulos is doing his due diligence regarding another free agent, and the latest name being linked to the Blue Jays is Lance Berkman.
In an interview with Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle, Berkman mentioned that there was a lot of interest in him around the league saying:
"“Now my focus is on who is going to contend that wants me to play for them. There’s been a lot of interest — Cardinals, Cubs, Rockies, A’s, Pirates, Blue Jays, a bunch of teams.” “I haven’t had a single offer in terms of X amount of dollars, but I think this is the time of the year when there’s a lot of tire-kicking.”"
One has to wonder how reliable hearing all of these teams in one sentence actually is. It seems highly unlikely that the Cardinals or Pirates in particular could be serious options for Berkman, though he does have a preference to playing in the National League, where he will likely end up.
Berkman is marketing himself as not just a 1B/DH option but as an outfielder as well, where he hasn’t played since 2007. Realistically speaking though, no team is seriously considering him as an outfielder.
In 2010, split between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees, the switch-hitting Berkman had the worst season of his career. He finished 2010 with a combined .248/.368/.413 line along with 14 HR and 58 RBI in 122 games between the two clubs.
It’s obvious as to why he prefers the National League, because in the first 37 games of American League action of his career with the Yankees, Berkman hit just .255 with only one home run and 9 RBI.
Would Berkman be an upgrade over Lyle Overbay for the Jays at first base in 2011? Likely. With just slightly lower power numbers, Berkman’s worst season of his career was still marginally better than Overbay’s 2010 campaign (which, for argument’s sake, was not the greatest of Overbay’s career either). Berkman had 10 more walks than Overbay in 32 less games, and was more effective defensively with an UZR/150 of 6.5 in 2010 versus Overbay’s UZR/150 of 0.1.
Berkman claims the reason for his mediocre 2010 season was because of a knee injury, and feels “he can still be a really good player and would be doing himself a disservice if he didn’t play”.
Does this mean the Jays should rush out and sign Berkman? No.
Berkman’s home run totals have declined in each of the last five seasons, and although he’s had career success versus right-handers, he has only a .776 career OPS versus lefties. His batting average versus LHP has dipped every year since 2008, and his .171/.261/.256 line versus lefties in 2010 was downright atrocious.
The Jays already had a tough time hitting left-handers last year, so it’s hard to imagine them picking up someone that would add to this problem.
Sure, between 2000 and 2009, Berkman averaged a .300 BA and a .413 OBP, as well as 30 home runs and 103 RBI. There’s no denying that Berkman is a great clubhouse personality and teammate as well, but he will be 35 when Spring Training starts and it seems as though his best years are a thing of the past.
Furthermore, is it worth it to sign him to the one year deal he’s looking for to re-establish his value and block Adam Lind from potentially developing as a first basemen in 2011?
Ultimately it comes down to whether or not Adam Lind has a future in GM Alex Anthopoulos’ mind at first base, or even with the organization at all. It would be terrible to sell low on Lind this year and move him, considering he was a Silver Slugger winner in 2009 when he hit .305/.370/.562 to go along with 35 HR and 114 RBI.
"“Even though it’s a small sample size, you’ve (now) seen something to grab hold of. I don’t think anyone can definitively say Adam Lind can play first base over the course of a full season, there’s an unknown there.”“And maybe there is a component where you say we’re going to take that chance, we’re going to roll him out there and see what we have. We haven’t made that determination, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”"
It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to hold off on adding a 2011 first baseman through free agency and have Lind open the 2011 season at first base.
The questions surrounding his ability to play at first base, in addition to whether t he Jays would be getting the 2009 or 2010 version of Lind at the plate, would likely be answered in the first few months of the season. Overbay and his $7M annual price tag have always blocked anyone else from playing first base, and now Lind can have that opportunity, as well as the chance to re-establish his value.
If Lind fails miserably beyond belief, Anthopoulos could always look to the trade market for a replacement during the season.