Whether due to the silent calm of inactivity, or the potential that he is indeed a difference maker, this morning’s signing of DH Lance Berkman signals the biggest acquisition of the offseason for the Texas Rangers. Though the details remain somewhat murky, it is believed a 2nd year option is included in the deal, which will vest if Berkman exceeds a certain at bats requirement.
Berkman, about to enter his age-37 season, will fill the designated hitter role vacated by Michael Young, who was statistically the worst player in Major League Baseball in 2012, netting an abysmal -1.4 fWAR in the unceremonious conclusion to his career in Arlington. Last year Lance Berkman played in only 32 games for the Cardinals, so it wouldn’t be an accurate barometer of what to expect in 2013, but if 2011 is even a loose indication — where he generated a .301/.412/.547 (163 wRC+) in nearly 600 plate appearances — then the Rangers will be looking at another coup in the operations department.
If we assume Berkman is not the guy he was in 2011, which is a fair assumption given the dramatic declines of most players in his age bracket, you’d still have to figure he will be good for a decent amount of home runs (15-20), and the same, excellent ability to draw walks. I would be OK with that.
What I do question is the dollar figure he’ll be receiving. Joey Matches of BBTiA illuminates the issue, and I think it’s an oft-overlooked point in free agent signings. If each WAR is valued at around $5 million, then an $11 million contract means — to justify the deal from a WAR perspective — that Berkman will need to generate just north of 2.0 fWAR in 2013 to satisfy the terms. Because he occupies the role of DH, and because he’s not exactly Mike Trout running the bases, the only value he can net is in terms of his offensive tool. It’s not easy to make 2.0 fWAR if you’re not contributing in some aspect to defense and stealing bases. And to be honest, I’m skeptical that 15-20 home runs and an on-base percentage somewhere in the .370-.380 range, which seems like a reasonable projection, will get him there.
Another thing to look at is how Berkman’s presence within the realm of the current roster makeup affects players like Mike Olt, Mitch Moreland, Nelson Cruz and David Murphy, and, of course, Elvis Andrus. I have a sneaky suspicion this deal precipitates another, perhaps bigger deal, which could have already been in the works or agreed upon weeks ago. If Berkman is the DH, and if Ian Kinsler is presumably the 1st baseman of the club, that leaves us with a logjam at 1st base, relegating both Moreland and Olt to 4-corners’ roles (with Moreland being left-handed, so it’s not like he’d play 3rd base).
If you’re following my logic on this, then it can only mean one thing: Someone has to be traded. Maybe multiple players off the above list have to be traded. If the dominoes fall like I’ve been expecting them to, then Elvis Andrus will be the first to go — likely for a power-hitting outfielder or 1st baseman — which would in turn make Jurickson Profar the SS and move Ian Kinsler back to his natural position at 2nd.
Again, this would leave us with with another surplus, but instead of shortstop (Andrus/Profar), it would be in the outfield (or, less likely, 1st base). This is where, logically, the Rangers would look to move Nelson Cruz, being that he’s set to make a robust $10.5 million in 2013.
And thus, the roster would be complete. Maybe the Rangers would look to ascertain another starting pitcher, like Javier Vazquez, or another bullpen arm. If I use Justin Upton as the player we’d be receiving for Elvis Andrus, then this whole master plan will have worked, and we’d be staring directly at a favorable chance of winning the West next season.
The hypothetical roster would look like this:
Kinsler – 2B
Profar – SS
Upton – RF
Beltre – 3B
Berkman – DH
Murphy – LF
Pierzynski/Soto – C
Moreland/Olt – 1B
Martin/Gentry – CF
Soria (after DL stint)
Feliz (after DL stint)
Of course, I’m asking for you to suspend disbelief a tad, and exercise in a little cognitive dissonance, but this is a roster that could legitimately challenge for the American League West, and perhaps top out at around 93-94 wins. As it stands today, without Upton and without a viable 5th starter, we’re looking at something closer to 85-88 wins.
Anyway, this is my little dream world, but it seems realistic. I can almost taste it.