The City That Never Sleeps was true to its name as the MLB trade deadline neared, where the city’s most famous team made multiple deals to get into a better position to win a 28th world championship. The acquisition of Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood, and Austin Kearns gives the Yankees the key pieces needed to dominate. It would have been easy for the Yanks to sit on their laurels, especially after missing out on some big targets like Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. Instead the Yanks head into the stretch reloaded and ready to rumble.
The MLB trade deadline is just another opportunity for organizations and players to measure their level of resolve to win. As in every aspect of the game, there are winners and losers. A great deal of what determines the separation between the two is a team’s willingness to compete. The Bronx Bombers approached the trade deadline with the same ferocity that has kept them atop one of the most competitive divisions in baseball.
The Yankees filled one of th most pressing needs by trading for switch hitting slugger Lance Berkman. While bringing in another first baseman may seem counter intuitive considering Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher are more than capable of covering the bag, Berkman’s bat makes him a valuable commodity. Manager Joe Girardi envisions him as “an RBI guy” and “a run producer,” something Berkman has done quite well throughout his career in Houston. Add the fact that he is a better left-handed hitter in a park where balls seem to fly out of the park and a possibly significant jump in production, similar to the numbers Johnny Damon posted in the new Yankee Stadium, could be in the offing.
But perhaps Berkman’s greatest attribute is the versatility he offers. Since losing Nick Johnson to injury the Yankees have had a gaping hole at the designated hitter position. The Yankees have tried, largely unsuccessfully, to get production from the position with everyone from Colin Curtis to Kevin Russo. Berkman will be able to contribute immediately at DH and makes for one heck of a bench player on days when he is not in the starting lineup. There may be days when he sits to allow Jorge Posada at-bats or other position players to take a break from fielding, but his simple presence on the roster is something opposing clubs have to prepare for. Certainly Berkman is not the same player he was a few years ago, and there will be days when Berkman will not start, but the Yankees are certainly a much better team with him.
New York also addressed another area of need by adding Kerry Wood to the bullpen. Wood will be called upon to help bridge the gap between Yankees’ starters and Mariano Rivera. While Wood’s numbers coming out of the pen this season are less than impressive (1-4 with a 6.30 ERA), there is no doubt that he can be an asset in relief.
Over the previous two seasons Wood has accumulated 54 saves with a 3.75 ERA. Since he won’t be forced to deal with the stress and rigors of closing in New York, acting as a capable set up man should be no problem. And with each arm the Yankees add it makes the team more flexible to bring in a pitcher for a short appearance as a left or right handed specialist. Wood fits this mold.
The only concern regarding Wood is his notorious injuries, but the best part is the Yankees will not live or die by his health. They already own a bullpen of talented hurlers and Wood serves as icing on the proverbial cake.
Much less flashy was the rather silent acquisition of veteran outfielder Austin Kearns. By adding another outfielder the Yankees solidify the bench. The Yanks face a grueling schedule down the stretch with continuous play, and it is obviously important to Joe Girardi to keep players rested going into the post-season. Kearns gives New York a trustworthy fielder that can give guys like Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher days off. Yet one more sign that the Yankees are thinking big pitcher and aren’t pulling any punches.
While these acquisitions may not seem as grandiose as the Rangers’ trade for Cliff Lee or the Phillies’ trade for Roy Oswalt, they are no doubt important for a playoff bound team. They are also indicative of a growing change in philosophy for the Yanks – pursuing value. The Yankees could have mortgaged the farm system to get some of the bigger names on the trade block, but the team would have paid dearly to lock up the star in a long term contract. Both the Berkman and Wood deals are relatively short term and their prior clubs are shouldering a great deal of their remaining contracts. What the Bombers get in return are low cost, high upside contributors that don’t handcuff the team moving forward. The Yankees can still add the same free agents in the off-season and don’t have to offer the minor league talent to get them. Now that’s value.
The Yankees are no doubt trade deadline winners. Will it pay off? That is yet to be seen, but for a club that won with much the same roster as last season, going into free agency these additions certainly haven’t hurt the team’s chances.