The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they will be bringing back right fielder Lance Berkman for the 2012 season. Let’s leave aside any speculation on what this means about Albert Pujols for now—is this a good move?
Before this season, I was...cautiously optimistic about the Cardinals bringing on Berkman. I knew that he was a good hitter, but I was rather skeptical about him playing right field again, particularly after 2010. That was arguably Berkman’s worst season in his entire career; would his bat rebound enough to offset his weak glove?
The price was good, at $8 million for one year. There was no long-term commitment. Additionally, Fangraph’s calculated that the average price to add one WAR through free agency this offseason at slightly less than $5 million; that would mean Berkman would need to contribute roughly 1.3 WAR this season to be worth his contract. Unless 2010 marked the start of a steep decline, there was a good bet that Berkman would at least be worth his contract.
Obviously, Berkman has far surpassed that, as he’s cemented his case as NL Comeback Player of the Year. He’s been worth 4.6 fWAR to date, which equates to $20.5 million in worth. Yes, Berkman has provided $12.5 million in surplus in value for 2011.
Which is why I’m actually rather happy with this deal. Earlier in this year, I would have actually suggested letting Berkman walk after the season; maybe go to a team where he won’t cost his team 10 runs with his glove in the outfield (and both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs put him at roughly that number).
But, his bat this year has been better than I would have guessed offhand (his 169 OPS+ leads the NL), and he’s a good bet to be worth excess value next year. That worst-year-yet-2010? He was still worth 2.1 fWAR, which would be around $10 million.
Really, unless he’s hurt (which is still a good chance, with his age), he’s a safe bet to at least match his contract. If he plays better again? The Cardinals will need every extra win they can get next year, particularly if they can get them at a discount. So I’m going to call this a good deal, even with the injury risk.
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