In a move which came as only mildly surprising today, the Astros have reportedly traded franchise first baseman Lance Berkman and $4M in cash considerations to the New York Yankees for prospects. Due to a clause in the MLB collective bargaining agreement, the trade cannot become official until tomorrow, but it seems to be a done deal aside from that technicality.
On an emotional level, this hits a lot harder than losing Roy did. I think many of us had soured on Roy a little following his demand for a trade, then all his demands regarding a trade, plus some of the other things he'd said and done in the last year or two. Lance, though, has always been a class act, willing to talk to the media and the fans, an all-around friendly guy who is refreshingly honest and refreshingly himself, all the time.
He only confirmed his class today when he said that Houston--the city and the Astros organization--is his home, and unlike Oswalt's opposite demand, he would only accept a trade if the team trading for him agreed not to exercise his option, so that he would have a chance to come back and finish out his career in Houston.
Beyond all of that, he was, and still may be, a damn fine player, one of the best in the history of the franchise. He will be missed.
But I'm getting off-track. As much as I'll miss the Big Puma, let's talk about the prospects. What are we getting back in trade?
The prospects sent to the Astros are rumored in an unconfirmed report by Joel Sherman to be 21-year old low class A infielder Jimmy Paredes and 25-year old class AAA relief pitcher Mark Melancon. That may be all which is coming back in the deal, or there may be more or different players involved; we saw rumors tonight about other prospects, such as infielder Kevin Russo and starting pitchers Ivan Nova and Zach McAllister. But for now, we'll assume the return is Melancon and Paredes and run with that.
Neither of them are spectacular prospects. Paredes because he's raw and hasn't performed up to his potential yet, and Melancon because he's only a relief pitcher, although he is a good one. But they aren't bad, and they do improve the organization, which aside from our emotional attachment to Berkman, isn't too bad a return for a two month rental of a declining first baseman.
Mark Melancon, RHP (AAA)
According to a scouting report by River Avenue Blues, Melancon has a good fastball sitting 92-94mph and touching the high 90s. He also features a plus 12-6 hammer curve and a changeup, both of which are described as plus, strikeout pitches. This is closer-type stuff, and going by the scouting reports, Melancon could easily slot into the back end of the bullpen.
His delivery is high-effort and his mechanics aren't great, which resulted in Tommy John surgery a few years back. He came back in 2008 and didn't miss a step; his stats agree with his scouting reports. Melancon strikes out a lot of batters. Until this season, he didn't walk many either, resulting in a sparkling K/BB ratio over his career. His walk rate has skyrocketed this year, but with relievers, you never know how much is random variation due to small sample sizes. It is worrying that his walk rate climbed as much as it did, though, because loss of command can sometimes be a sign of injury.
John Sickels called him the Yankees' sixth best prospect prior to this season and praised his stats and stuff, grading him as a borderline grade B- prospect. He is major league ready now and will likely be called up to contribute to the Astros' bullpen immediately. It's possible his addition could result in a trade of Brandon Lyon or Matt Lindstrom, if not right away, then in the next couple years, depending on how he performs.
Jimmy Paredes, 2B (A)
Because I'm not very high on relief pitchers as a rule, I see Paredes as the jewel of this deal, which may or may not be how Ed Wade and the Astros front office feel. Paredes has very high upside as either a second or third baseman with plus defense, speed, and power potential. If you looked at his stats, you would think he was a slap-hitting speedster, but as we see in a scouting report by Yankees Daily, scouts don't feel that's the case. He has a frame built for power, and as he matures and gains strength, it is felt that he will grow into above average pop.
It is also believed that he will hit for average as he matures, as his career 15.8% strikeout rate indicates. He's striking out more this year, at an 18.8% clip, but it's still within a reasonable range assuming he grows into the power he's projected for.
Then you look at his steals and see that he has stolen 36 bases in 46 tries this season. Combine power potential, contact ability, and speed, and you'd think he might be a future all-star, right?
Problem is, he hasn't actually performed that well in the minor leagues. Part of this is because his power hasn't emerged yet. Although his slugging percentage has trended upward, he's never had a season above .410 SLG. Granted, he's playing in a pitcher-friendly league this season, making him a prime breakout candidate for next year, but you still want to see results, not just projection.
He also doesn't walk, having serious flaws with his plate discipline. He is reportedly too willing to expand the strike zone, and his career walk rate, a cringe-worthy 3.7%, severely damages his on-base percentage.
Beyond that, although he has the clear potential for plus defense with great range, arm, hands, and first step, his defensive footwork reportedly needs some work.
Finally, he's 21 years old in low A. That's not too old for his level, contrary to what some have said. But it's at the borderline, and he needs to move up to the next level sooner rather than later, preferably right away. I wouldn't be surprised if the Astros promoted him to Lancaster immediately.
So while he has great potential, his results are certainly lackluster, and he has some areas which definitely need improvement. Couple that with the fact that this isn't a particularly young prospect, and there are some real questions about whether he will ever perform up to his potential. With his tools, he could eventually be an above average third baseman or all-star second baseman, but will he ever get there? At the very least, he adds some high ceiling depth to an area of need in the minor leagues, and he should be interesting to follow as he progresses up the levels.