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January 8, 2013
Hoping for a Berkmanlike Effort
Signed DH-S Lance Berkman to a one-year deal worth $10 million with a vesting option for 2014. [1/5]
Expect to hear a lot about this winter’s effect on the Rangers’ roster if they start slow. Josh Hamilton signed with the Angels, Mike Napoli almost signed with the Red Sox, and Michael Young signed off on a trade to the Phillies. Those moves removed the Rangers’ second- and fourth-best hitters last season, according to True Average, while also robbing the Rangers of their team leader, according to various media.
The proactive portion of Jon Daniels’ offseason lies ahead. If tomorrow were opening day, the Rangers would have Leonys Martin, Alexi Ogando, and Martin Perez occupying starting lineup and rotation spots. It would not be a surprise to see Daniels add players and minimize those players’ roles before camp opens. He already replaced Napoli to an extent, by signing A.J. Pierzynski, and Berkman fits on the roster as Young’s spiritual successor.
Signing Berkman is a risky, understandable gamble on Daniels’ part. Although Berkman is arguably the best hitter remaining on the free-agent market, his age, durability concerns, and reservations about playing and DHing warrant concern. Various lower body injuries limited Berkman to 97 plate appearances last season, though he did average 544 plate appearances from 2009-2011; a number the Rangers are no doubt familiar with, as the option for 2014 vests with 550 plate appearances.
If Berkman can stay healthy, he can produce. Even amidst the injury woes in 2012, Berkman managed a .296 TAv—the league-average DH finished at .273; a healthy 23-point gap should help ease concerns about his adjustment to the position amongst other potential reasons for decline. Daniels’ track record when dealing with veteran DH types is encouraging, if not predictive: He signed Sammy Sosa and Andruw Jones when they were either out of the league or on their way out, and both performed decently. Daniels signed Milton Bradley, fresh off knee surgery, and Vladimir Guerrero, without functioning knees, to DH and both did well. Berkman is closer to Bradley and Guerrero than Sosa and Jones.
Jon Daniels: Designated Hitter Whisperer
*From 2005—Sosa didn’t play in 2006
Whether we reflect upon the Berkman signing as a success in the future is anyone’s guess. Likewise, worrying about the money paid to Berkman is shooting in the dark. It is odd to see a soon-to-be 37-year-old coming off a lost season net $11 million guaranteed, but market dictates cost. If the Rangers valued Berkman above all other DH options, then can you blame them for ensuring they won the auction? Besides, the Rangers are trying to maintain their spot as a playoff lock. If the Rangers do lose without Berkman, at least they can rest well knowing it wasn’t by choice.
Signed LHP J.P. Howell to a one-year deal worth $2.85 million with $1.2 million available in performance bonuses. [1/4]
What do Dodgers fans need to know about Howell? Let’s start at the top: Howell is an avid Bach listener.
Moving on to relatively trifling matters, Howell is no longer the elite reliever he was from 2008-2009. His best use nowadays, following labrum surgery in 2010, is against same-handed batters. Don Mattingly can get away with letting Howell face a so-so right-hander in a multi-run game. Letting Howell face top-flight right-handed hitters in tight spots is asking for a mess. Perhaps that role analysis is expected given Howell’s arsenal. His fastball seldom breaks into the high-80s, and yet a good curveball serves as truth serum. At his best, Howell can throw the high-70s curve for strike while also burying it when required. Howell has a low-80s changeup to offer right-handed batters as well.
Signing Howell, while having its merits, does add pressure for Ned Colletti to make a move or two with his pitching depth. Colletti’s bullpen now boasts three southpaws, including Scott Elbert and Chris Capuano. Trade Capuano and the Dodgers could plug Ted Lilly into his spot. That is unless Colletti trades Capuano and Aaron Harang and throws Lilly into the rotation again. All this southpaw rotating ignores Steven Rodriguez, known as Paco, who made his big-league last season and should be hanging around the upper minors. Don’t blame Mattingly if he goes Tony La Russa on the league next season; his roster is too rich with left-handed pitching to do anything but.