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To Trade or Not To Trade: Lance Berkman

Three factors weigh heavily in Berkman’s trade value. The first is his actual value, based on his production measured by WAR. Look at his career numbers compared to this season. No way he stays at –0.2 WAR, right? Still, the ZiPS projections show he’ll finish with his lowest slash line since his rookie season, his second-lowest wOBA and his second-lowest BABiP. All of those projections are also expecting improvement from him across the board.

That’s a pretty fair bet too. Right now, his walk rate is the lowest since 1999, his strikeout rate is the worst of his career and he’s posting the highest ground ball rate of his career. All of those things should move back to the positive side in the next few months. I don’t expect his speed to bounce back, at least not this season. But, he should have a higher BABiP than his measly current total of .231.

On the other hand, Berkman doesn’t have much protection in the lineup, which could be causing some of the drop in his walk rate and strikeout rate. Stephen and Clack have already talked at length about the ‘seeing the ball’ and ground ball factors. Looking at all the data, I think it’s reasonable to assume Berkman could post a WAR of 3.0 this season but not much higher. He’s missed too much time and would need to get on an extended roll to do more damage than that.

So, we’ve established his WAR rate at 3.0 for this season. The second big issue for him will be his contract. He’s owed 14.5 million this season, but will produce slightly less than that WAR-wise. He’s got an option season for 15 million in 2011 and a 2 million dollar buyout of that option. To establish his value, we have to decide whether any team he’s traded to would pick up the option. From his comments, it sounds like Berkman would strongly urge them to not pick up his option, so he could test the market next offseason. If that’s the case, we have to factor the 2 million into his trade value.

There’s also the matter of compensation picks. Victor Wang’s research gave a dollar amount of 5 million to Type A picks and 2.5 million to Type Bs. We could err on the side of caution and put Berkman down as a Type B, enhancing his value by 2.5 million. However, if his option is declined, a team doesn’t get compensation for him. So, that issue would be moot.

So, we’re adding another 2 million to his 2010 salary when figuring his trade value. That lowers his trade value even more and leaves us at –2.8 million if a team does not pick up his contract for next season. With Oswalt’s trade piece, I gave him extra value for his name recognition, thinking his value would be higher because of his reputation. Berkman is an aging slugger with bad knees in a market that could be flooded with good first basemen (Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, et al).  He’s not getting any value bump around the league.

That means that Astros owner Drayton McLane would have to eat some of Lance’s contract to get any prospects in return. To get any sort of return, the Astros need at least 6 million in surplus value. That means McLane would have to cover half of Berkman’s salary. Depending on when he’s dealt, McLane would be paying Berkman to play for a full season, when he’s drawing fans at some other home ballpark. How do you think that will go over with the big man at Union Station?

But, since we’re doing this hypothetically, let’s give ourselves that 6 million to play around with. That means we’d have enough for one Grade B hitter (via John Sickel’s scale) and one Grade C hitter who is 23 or older. Impressive return, no? The other options are Grade C pitchers 22 and younger for 2.1 million, Grade C pitchers 23 and older for 1.7 million and Grade C hitters 22 and younger for 0.7 million. With that in mind, let’s see what we can get for the Big Puma.

First, there are only a handful of teams that have a possibility of trading for Berkman. First base is one of the few spots on the field where it’s easy to find serviceable players. The likes of Arizona, the Angels, Milwaukee, St. Louis, the Cubs, the Mets, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Texas, Detroit and the Yankees already have players at first and/or at designated hitter that make a Berkman trade a luxury.

There is another group of teams (Florida, Oakland, Toronto, Cleveland, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Colorado Kansas City and Minnesota) probably don't have the money to take on Berkman's contract, even if the Astros pay most of his freight.

As a refresher, here's what I wrote in the Oswalt piece about how I evaluated these players:

I tried to evaluate a team's prospect list from Houston's perspective. I have a pretty good handle on what kinds of players this front office likes, what they value and what they don't really care about. I didn't look too hard at relief prospects, catchers or outfielders and only occasionally looked at first base-types. Almost all draftees from last summer were also omitted under the assumption that Team A wouldn't want to trade them and the Astros wouldn't want to include them without more pro data. Scouting notes here were paraphrased from John Sickel's Prospect Book [or Baseball America].

When I set out to evaluate Berkman's deal, I was looking for a little different return. As I mentioned above, with his value, I was limited to Type B hitters and the Type C guys. I ignored pitching for the most part here, since I figured the Astros would need to get a prospect bat in return for one of the best hitters in franchise history. As I said before, the Astros don't have a need at catcher or outfield, but I did look more closely at first basemen, since the Astros aren't deep there in the minors and they'd need someone to step in for Berkman. I also looked mainly at the rest of the infield positions and tried to get at least two players back in return. 

The Sleepers

Los Angeles Dodgers

Why they make the deal: Los Angeles has a young player in James Loney at first base and a multi-millionaire in left field named Manny Ramirez. The one thing that keeps them on this list is Joe Torre and Ned Colletti. Both like veteran players and could be needing the job security that a guy like Berkman could provide. Loney is 26 years old, so he still has some promise, but has never had a season WAR total over 2.0. Adding Berkman and pushing Loney to the bench isn’t out of the question.

Who's not here: Basically, every good prospect the Dodgers have. RHP Chris Withrow, SS Dee Gordon, RHP Ethan Martin, RHP Josh Lindblom. All of them would cost more than Berkman’s currently value.

Jewel to the trade: SS Ivan DeJesus – He showed up here with the Oswalt trade too. Then, I said, "could easily slot into second and has gap power, but missed all of 2009 with a broken leg and is short of star potential. Like Jason Castro, his floor is a serviceable every-day player, but his ceiling isn't very high." His father played 15 seasons in the majors, so Baseball America gives him high marks for his "baseball IQ." He can also play both short and second base, giving the Astros some versatility up the middle.

Intriguing throw-ins: 1B Jerry Sands, OF Jonathan Garcia, 1B Austin Gallagher

The Deal I Like Best: SS Ivan DeJesus and 1B Jerry Sands – This gives the Astros a pretty good and fairly developed middle infield prospect to take over for Kaz Matsui next season or to provide insurance in case Tommy Manzella falters. Sands has a ton of power and gives the Astros another good prospect at first base behind J.D. Martinez and Koby Clemens.

Chances of a deal: 100 to 1

Atlanta Braves

Why they make the deal: Because Troy Glaus can't hit any more. Because they need protection for Jason Heyward. Because they could still make noise in their division and they wouldn't need to give up as much as in the Teixeira deal. Of course, the Braves were so burned by that deal, I doubt GM Frank Wren would make another big trade for an older player. Still, the Braves don't have enough of an investment in Glaus to prevent a trade like this. If they're in it at the end of June, i could see them making a few calls.

Who's not here: 1B Freddie Freeman, RHP Julio Teheran, RHP Arodys Vizcaino, LHP Mike Minor - The Braves are filthy in pitching prospects, including Vizcaino, who Atlanta picked up in the Javy Vazquez trade last winter. Freeman is a great prospect, but is a Top 100 guy, so he'd cost too much to be traded for just Berkman. 

Jewel to the trade: RHP J.J. Hoover, RHP David Hale - I know, I just said the Astros wouldn't pick up pitching. Still, this is the best the Braves have to offer. Both guys are Grade C prospects, but Hoover could be a fast-comer. Baseball America compares his body type with Roger Clemens since he's got a stocky lower body. He has potential to be quite the innings-eater, but the Braves are at least talking about moving him to the bullpen. He'd be just the kind of upside arm that Heck and Co. look for. Hale is more of a projection guy, as he was mainly an outfielder at Princeton before being drafted by Atlanta. Sickels says he has a 'first round arm' but he fell to the third because his stuff (95 MPH fastball that goes as high as 97) doesn't always translate to success on the mound.

Intriguing throw-ins: SS Mycal Jones, SS Brandon Hicks, 1B Riana Spanjer-Furstenberg

The Deal I Like Best: Hoover, Hale, Jones and Spanjer-Furstenberg for Berkman - This is a big trade numbers-wise, because Hoover and Hale only offer 4.2 million in value. I added both Jones and Spanjer-Furstenberg as depth picks. Jones could be a very good second base prospect, while the Astros probably saw Spanjer-Furstenberg when they scouted J.D. Martinez at Nova Southeastern University last year. The South African has good power potential and is a pretty professional hitter. He's exactly the kind of bat the Astros need to add to possibly replace Berkman.

Chances of a deal: 150 to 1

Tampa Bay Rays

Why they make the deal: The only reason I included the Rays here is because of Gerry Hunsicker. After all, they've committed big money to Carlos Pena and Pat Burrell. The fact that neither player are hitting and both have contracts that expire after the season does open the door just a bit. Hunsicker drafted Berkman, so he knows him as well as anyone. With the Astros picking up most of Berkman's salary, even that part of the road block gets taken down. It's no sure thing, but there are enough reasons here to include the Rays.

Who's not here: SS Reid Brignac, OF Desmond Jennings, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Wade Davis - There are a bunch more pitchers I didn't mention here. RHP Matt Moore, for instance, or RHP Nick Barnese. Both would be priced out of the Astros range in this trade. I'm really disappointed that Brignac is doing so well in the major leagues, because it means he's no longer trade fodder. I really like Brignac and would've enjoyed seeing him play short for the Astros until Jio Mier is ready.

Jewel to the trade: LHP Jake McGee, 1B Jeff Malm - It's a sad day when the 'jewels' to this trade are both Grade C guys. McGee had Tommy John surgery in 2008 and will probably be back to full health sometime in the middle of this season. He's started five games at Double-A Montgomery, lasting 18 innings while striking out 17. Unfortunately, he's also walked nine. Malm was a highly regarded power bat out of high school but didn't worth anything in the Gulf Coast League. 

Intriguing throw-ins: SS Mike O'Malley, LHP David Newmann

The Deal I Like Best: McGee, Malm and O'Malley for Berkman - Saying I like this deal best is sort of a stretch. It's not a great trade, even by the standards of this watered-down list. McGee would provide a close-to-ready arm for a system that lacks prospects in the upper minors. Malm COULD provide a big-time power bat, but he's still young and didn't hit at all in his short season after being drafted. O'Malley is a great defensive player who walks well, but doesn't make good contact. He'd fit into the system as a better prospect than Maysonet or Sutil, but wouldn't be much as a starter. 

Chances of a deal: 75 to 1

The Top Four

Seattle Mariners

Why they make the deal: The Mariners have one of the league's better pitching staffs and play in a great pitcher's ballpark. Unfortunately, they're trotting out Casey Kotchmann, Ken Griffey, Jr. and MIke Sweeney in their DH/1B spots. The trio has combined to hit under the Mendoza line this season. Griffey may be released/retired. Sweeney is picking fights with guys in the clubhouse. It's an ugly scene. Thus, GM Jack Zduriencik has publicly stated that he's shopping for more offense. Plus, the Mariners seem to have the money to pick up Berkman's option for next season if he hits well down the stretch. 

Would Berkman Waive the No-Trade: Not sure. I don't think the kid from New Braunfels would do well in the Seattle culture, but if the Mariners are in the playoff hunt, I'm sure Berkman would consider it. 

Who's not here: 2B Dustin Ackley, OF Michael Saunders, C Adam Moore

Jewel to the trade: SS Nick Franklin, 3B Alex Liddi, SS Gabriel Noriega - Franklin isn't walking much this season, but has the potential to be a plus-defender, though his arm may not play at short. Flashing both home run, doubles and triples power, Franklin is also hitting for a good average. Liddi is also hitting well at Double-A and he also brings good defense to the mix. Either would be a fitting jewel to the trade, but LIddi is probably a little closer to reaching the majors. 

Intriguing throw-ins: 1B Mike Carp, 1B Rich Poythress, 1B Jhumardo DeJesus - All first basemen, though neither of them figure to have the kind of power you'd expect from Berkman's replacement. Carp is probably the best of the bunch, but Poythress was highly regarded coming out of the University of Georgia. Reasons why I like John Sickels? He used the word "malarial" to describe Poythress' slugging percentage in 2009. 

The Deal I Like Best: Franklin and Carp for Berkman - This gives the Astros a serviceable bench bat and a possible second baseman of the future in Franklin. He's described as "hard-nosed" and having a great work ethic that endears him to teammates. Sounds like just the kind of player the Astros like to add. 

The Deal I Hate (b/c It Could Happen): Noriega and DeJesus for Berkman - Neither player in this deal has produced anything. DeJesus was moved off third base and showed horrible plate discipline last season, but is young enough to seduce some executives. Noriega is young, a good defender, but doesn't have a bat currently. He might develop eventually, but he's basically the same player Jio Mier is at this point. Plus, neither of these players would be ready to make an impact in less than three seasons, which means the Astros may not see a return on this deal for five years. That's not a good way to trade a franchise icon.

Chances it Happens: 25 to 1

Chicago White Sox

Why they make the deal: I don't know why the Sox would make this deal. They have Konerko at first base/DH and other players to fill out the other side of that spot. But, GM Kenny Williams has been linked to him in media reports, so I included them here.

Would Berkman Waive the No-Trade: Probably not. I don't see the White Sox catching Minnesota for the division title or the Rays/Yankees for the wild card. So, it means the White Sox probably won't be competitive enough for him to want to finish the season out there.

Who's not here: C Tyler Flowers, RHP Dan Hudson, OF Jared Mitchell - Most of the White Sox top prospects play at positions the Astros don't need. Hudson is the only pitcher who might make this list, but he's probably too expensive for the Astros to swing in this trade.

Jewel to the trade: 3B Brent Morel - That's right, only one player could anchor a trade for Berkman. At least he's a pretty good player. Morel doesn't show great power at third, but he absolutely destroyed Arizona Fall League pitching. This season, Morel is showing off gap power, but hasn't hit many home runs. He's still hitting over .300 at Double-A, so he'd probably be a good addition to this system.

Intriguing throw-ins: 3B Dayan Viciedo, 2B C.J. Retherford, 1B Christian Marrero - Rutherford gives the Astros a good prospect who could step in right away at second base. He's blocked right now by Gordon Beckham, but Rutherford has a nice skill set in his own right. He's a scrappy player who probably won't be a long-term solution at the position, but he could help out immediately. Marrero is a projectable bat with some pop, but is likely ticketed for third base. Viciedo is a Cuban defector who has a nice approach but hasn't flashed much production yet.

The Deal I Like Best: Morel and Retherford for Berkman - This gives the Astros a replacement for Pedro Feliz and Geoff Blum in one fell swoop. Retherford is a younger version of Jeff Keppinger while Morel could fit the third base position nicely. Two likely starters is a pretty good return for Berkman.

The Deal I Hate (b/c It Could Happen): Viciedo, SS Eduardo Escobar and RHP Sergio Santos for Berkman - Ugh, potential screams at this deal, but it's the worst kind of trade. None of these players are guaranteed to do anything, but are "toolsy." Viciedo might turn out to be a pretty good player, but there were questions dog him. Escobar is the same way, having good tools but failing to deliver more than solid defense yet. Plus, all these guys are years away, which as I said previously is a dealbreaker.

Chances it Happens: 25 to 1

San Francisco Giants

Why they make the deal: The Giants aren't deep at first base. Prospects like Travis Ishikawa have yet to come through and this is the easiest way for them to upgrade the position. The problem would be that they have the prospects and the inclination to go out and get an Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder instead of Berkman.

Would Berkman Waive the No-Trade: The Giants have a good shot to get to the playoffs and Berkman would be playing with a pretty good pitching staff. He'd also have a little protection in the lineup, but again, I'm not sure how much Texas Boy could handle the West Coast. 

Who's not here: C Buster Posey, LHP Madison Bumgarner, C Tommy Joseph, RHP Zack Wheeler - The Giants are lousy with good catchers and starting pitchers. While it's tempting to try and pry someone like Wheeler out of them, it's not really practical. Any pitching the Astros could get would be worth more than Berkman looks to be. So, the Astros would have to pay his entire freight just to get a chance at a one-for-one trade. I'm not so sure Wheeler or Bumgarner will turn out enough to do that.

Jewel to the trade: OF Roger Kieschnick, 3B Conor GIllaspie - These are not your typical jewels to a trade. Kieschnick is an outfielder. The Astros have a ton of outfielders. But, I think Kieschnick's bat is good enough to play well at first base if needed. Gillaspie is just a Grade C guy, but was a high-profile draftee who suffered from some bad luck in 2009. He's "Bill Mueller-like" according to Sickels, which is fine with me. 

Intriguing throw-ins: 2B Nick Noonen

The Deal I Like Best: Kieschnick and Gillaspie for Berkman - Power and protection at an important position are both needed additions to this system. Is Gillaspie much different than Jonathan Meyer? Probably not. But, he does give the Astros one more chance to develop a solid third baseman. That's a good enough reason to take a chance on a guy like Gillaspie.

The Deal I Hate (b/c It Could Happen): Noonan and Kieschnick for Berkman - I don't love Kieschnick enough to accept him as the only jewel to this trade. Noonan is another tools guy rather than a production guy, but is still young at 20. He's not a guy I'd want to get in this trade, because his chances of breaking out are not great.

Chances it Happens: 30 to 1

Boston Red Sox

Why they make the deal: If the Red Sox release David Ortiz, frame him for murder, whatever they do to get him off their roster, they might be in the market for a big bat. While GM Theo Epstein loves his prospects, he's also not afraid to bring in a big name at the trading deadline to put his team over the top. Berkman certainly fits that bill.

Would Berkman Waive the No-Trade: I don't see Berkman fitting into the Great War between the Red Sox and Yankees. However, he might be persuaded to join a playoff team that can spend money like Boston. Plus, he'd have Josh Beckett around to talk about Texas. 

Who's not here: RHP Michael Bowden, RHP Casey Kelly, OF Ryan Westmoreland - Both pitchers are probably too good for these trades. Westmoreland is not only too good a prospect, but he plays the outfield. To be honest, none of these players make me wish I could include them in a trade. Kelly has gotten quite a bit of traction this season after forgoeing the outfield to focus just on the mound. 

Jewel to the trade: 1B Lars Anderson - In this scenario, Houston would be adding another power-hitting first baseman from Boston. Anderson had a terrible 2009 campaign, but has bounced back in 2010. After tearing through Double-A hitting in 62 at-bats, Anderson hasn't slowed down in Triple-A. He can hit for power, he can draw walks, he is probably the safest first base prospect outside of Justin Smoak. Yes, he does strike out, but he also walked nearly 90 times in two seasons of Double-A experience. 

Intriguing throw-ins: 2B Derrik Gibson, 3B Will Middlebrooks 

The Deal I Like Best: Anderson and Gibson for Berkman - Here's the deal. I put Gibson here because I'm not sure the Astros could sell a trade of Big Puma if they just got one prospect in return. The way Anderson has hit pushes him up the prospect lists by a lot. He was already a fringe Top 100 guy, but I don't see him being 'priced' right for the Astros come July. So, in order to make this trade happen, you have to feel comfortable with Anderson for Berkman straight up. I am fine with that. You may not be. 

The Deal I Hate (b/c It Could Happen): RHP Drake Britton, RHP Dustin Richardson and 3B Will Middlebrooks for Berkman - This one seems like a lot of filler to me. Britton and Richardson probably become serviceable relievers if they make the majors. Middlebrooks has a pretty high profile, but hasn't produced much in the minors. It's also not filling too many needs in the upper parts of the system.

Chances it Happens: 25 to 1

The Top Five Packages

5) San Francisco sends Roger Kieschnick and Conor Gillaspie for Berkman

4) Atlanta sends Hoover, Hale, Jones and Spanjer-Furstenberg for Berkman

3) Chicago White Sox send Brent Morel and C.J. Rutherford for Berkman

2) Seattle sends Nick Franklin and MIke Carp for Berkman

1) Boston sends Lars Anderson for Lance Berkman

Overall impressions: None of these trades provide much value for Berkman, though I'm less inclined to say 'No' to any of them. In the Oswalt trade, the Astros were giving up quite a bit in a No. 1 starter and not getting much in return due to his contract. With Berkman, the Astros would seem to be selling before Puma hits the end of the line. They're getting something for him before his option gets declined and the Astros net nothing from him. So, would I like to see a Lars Anderson replacing him straight up? Not really, but I'd be okay with it. After all, the Astros would get seven years of production out of Anderson rather than one, maybe two years more out of Berkman.