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Can Lance Berkman Take The New York Yankees From Best To Better?

Barking CarnivalAnalyst IAugust 1, 2010

ST PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 31:  Newly acquired infielder Lance Berkman #17 of the New York Yankees warms up just prior to the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on July 31, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

Well, that was unexpected.

For weeks leading up to MLB’s trade deadline, the Yanks were mostly quiet. Once the Cliff Lee deal fell through, the only names being thrown around were bats off the bench and middle relief help.

Well, the Yanks got their bench bat in Austin Kearns. And they paid the Indians $1.4 million to rent Kerry Wood for the rest of the season. But the one guy who came completely out of nowhere–and has the most potential to improve the team–was Lance Berkman.

Even before the 2009 World Series, I’m sure the Yankees Brass knew that they weren’t going to resign Hideki Matsui. Once the Japanese Iron Man, Matsui’s body began to fail. His knees couldn’t handle the outfield, and he underwent extended slumps at the plate as a result of those wonky knees. He ended up having six RBI in Game Six of the World Series, winning him WS MVP honors, but that performance didn’t change the fact that Matsui was in the decline.

The Yanks cold-heartedly let Matsui go and replaced him with the former Yankee and OBP Machine Nick Johnson. I admit it freely: I loved the signing. I appreciated Matsui for everything he brought to the Yanks—class, pride, a World Series title—but the idea of Johnson’s .426 2009 OBP plugged into the No. 2 spot in the lineup was thrilling. He was an injury risk, sure, but the Yanks would protect Nick by keeping him off the field and making him a True DH. Alas, even that didn’t help. After only 24 games–a-period, in which he batted a paltry .167 but still OBP’d at a .388 clip, Johnson went down with yet another injury and is likely done for the year.

Removing the Johnson left a gaping hole from the Yankee lineup. That void has not been properly filled all year. Check out the different DHs the Yankees have used in 2010, with the number of games at that “position” listed in parentheses:

  1. Jorge Posada (24)
  2. Nick Johnson (19)
  3. Juan Miranda (10)
  4. Marcus Thames (10)
  5. Alex Rodriguez (9)
  6. Nick Swisher (8)
  7. Mark Teixeira (6)
  8. Derek Jeter (5)
  9. Robinson Cano (1)
  10. Colin Curtis (1)
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The addition of a full-time DH creates allows the 38-year-old Jorge Posada to get a full day off when he takes a break from catching. And it allows the Yanks to avoid those less ineffective DH options in Miranda, Thames, and, yes, even Colin Curtis.

The Yankees hope Lance Berkman will be the Nick Johnson they never had. Berkman will slide right into that No. 2 hole in the lineup and be the team’s everyday DH. Berkman, like Johnson, is also known for his ability to take pitches and work walks. Despite his less-than-stellar 2010 season so far, he had ranked fourth in the National League in bases on balls .

But of course the question remains: Which Lance Berkman will show up? Will it be the feared and respected slugger that carried the Houston offense over the last decade or will it be the washed-up shell of an All Star that Berkman presented in 2010? (The Yanks have experienced that “shell of a former All Star” before ). Berkman swears that the move to the Bronx will reinvigorate him. We will see. But as an owner of Berkman in my fantasy keeper league, I still remember when Berkman was great.

Heck, he finished 5th in MVP voting as recently as 2008. And he had solid stretches in 2009—hitting .300 with 7 HR during the season’s final 23 games. He’s only 34 and will see good pitches with the protection of Tex and A-Rod behind him. I’ll be rooting for him—and not just because I’m still stupidly counting on him in my fantasy league. He alone has the opportunity to make this Yankee team significantly better. Given that they’re already the best team in baseball, that’s a scary-good thought.

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From the FanTake Blog: Mr. Blogtober

Follow on Twitter: @Mr_Blogtober

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