Berkman’s Future

Lance Berkman has been nothing short of a star in his time with the Houston Astros. Since 2000, Berkman has made five all-star teams and finished in the top five in MVP voting four times. This praise is supported by five seasons of 6.0+ WAR and 43.2 total WAR since we began calculating win values in 2002. This puts him 4th among hitters, behind only Pujols, Rodriguez, and Bonds – all surefire hall of famers.

Berkman’s future is now in doubt, however, as the Astros, mired in a rebuilding period and with current owner Drayton McLane attempting to find a buyer, may decline his $15 million 2011 club option. The 34 year old first baseman suggested that if the option is not picked up that he would choose not to return to Houston on a different deal and would instead test the free agent market.

Certainly there would be teams that could use Berkman either as a 1B or as a DH. Berkman’s defense has not been an issue thus far, but he is certainly not elite, and any long term deal would likely end with a DH role, given his age. The man can still hit – his worst wRC+ came in 2007, and that was at a still stellar 135, and he is capable of putting up numbers in the 160s, as he showed in 2008. As a hitter of that caliber, Berkman probably has a few good years left in him at the least, and should be a coveted asset come the 2010-2011 winter.

Is Berkman worth $15 million, though? It’s very close. At $3.5MM per win, his 3.6 WAR CHONE projection puts him at $12.6MM for a one year deal. A 4 WAR season, which I would predict for Berkman, would run at $14MM. With his age and the Astros’ current position on the win curve, he probably isn’t worth the money to them. At the trading deadline, the Astros could probably pull in a decent haul of prospects for him, a much better use of that asset.

As far as Berkman’s next contract goes, there isn’t a very good analog to Berkman in this year’s free agent class. Berkman is probably better than anyone that hit the market this winter, and even at 35, he should be able to get a contract that pays him into the middle of the decade. A fair market value would probably be a 4 year, $50MM contract, taking into account the discounts players typically give for longer term deals. However, Berkman does have “money skills,” with loads of HRs and RBIs, and may command something above Jason Bay‘s deal (4/$66MM) and maybe something similar to John Lackey‘s new contract (5/$82.5MM).

The question is how Berkman will handle aging. If he can defy nature into his late 30s and possibly his early 40s and remain a star slugger, he could be worth every penny of a large contract and even make a run at the Hall of Fame. If not, his career could end much like that of Albert Belle – derailed by injury – or Mo Vaughn – simply unable to sustain production in his later years.



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Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 3 months ago

4 WAR for Berkman? Can’t say I agree, he’s projected at 3.6 in 2010, given he’s a TTO hitter about to turn 34. that sounds about right. I doubt he gets more than 3 year / $40MM after 2010, too.

That being said, I’m pulling for him to keep mashing. I can see him finishing his career in the mid 50’s to lower 60’s in marginal wins, which is basically the epitome of borderline Hall of Famer (and the BBWAA / VC has historically been generous to borderline HoF 1B’s, ask Perez and Cepeda).

He’ll probably finish with 400-440 HR, which would get him close to the top 40 all time. Good enough? I hope so, he’s been a favorite of mine.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 3 months ago

Also, I’d be stunned if he’s not traded at the deadline; I figure he’d waive his NTC to move to a contender (and increase his exposure / help his market value)

Ken
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Ken
6 years 3 months ago

Even if you are optimistic and assume that he is worth 4WAR this year, and given a 1/2 win/year decline phase, he is probably only worth 11 wins over the next 4 years. At 3.5M/win, this suggests fair market value is more like 4 years/$40M – not 4/50 or more.

Chris
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Chris
6 years 3 months ago

I still have a hard time believing that he’s 34-years-old. I feel old now.

the other Brent
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the other Brent
6 years 3 months ago

I generally agree with the above posts in that he’s probably worth in the range of 3 years/$32M or maybe 4/40. That said it doesn’t really matter what he is worth. I have a better chance to win the lottery than Berkman has of becoming a FA after this year.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 3 months ago

I just crunched the #’s. Given a current state of $3.5MM / win, and approximating a 5% salary inflation rate going forward, and a .5 WAR/year decline from a 3.6 projection in 2010, I think a fair 4 year contract would be a $6.6MM signing bonus and $7,417,000 / year salary.

Since no one would get him for that, a 2 year contract might make more sense.

$3.99MM signing bonus, $8.58MM for 2 years.

Essentially, he’ll be a tough sign.

CJ
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CJ
6 years 3 months ago

My best guess is that the Astros wait to see how well he plays, and if his performance is good enough, they will either pick up his option or sign him to a multi-year contract which allows them avoid a $15 million annual amount in 2011. I think the Astros might think about trading him at the deadline if it looks like his performance might be falling off a cliff, but at that point the trading return will likely be poor. McLane has indicated his preference to have Berkman end his career as an Astros player, like Biggio and Bagwell. By the way, the buy out for 2011 is $2 million, so the effective cost of the option is $13 million. Berkman’s quote was based on his view that the Astros might forego the option if his performance were to decline below expectations in 2010. Therefore, the context of the quote was Berkman’s statement that he would be playing for his option in 2011.

NEPP
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NEPP
6 years 3 months ago

You cannot ASSUME a 1/2 win decline per year…its an average decline for all players, not a guarantee. For every guy that hits a slow plateau and decline there is a guy like Geoff Jenkins who basically falls off the face of the earth in his early 30s.

So, there’s a decent shot of Berkman (an elite hitter) having a nice gradual decline along the lines of someone like Mike Schmidt.

I certainly wouldn’t want to go beyond 3 years guaranteed with maybe a vesting option with him though. That said, he probably gets that 4th year guaranteed by someone.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 3 months ago

Even if we say he ages gracefully (3.5 WAR / season), I’m hard pressed to give him any more than $13MM / year.

cmonkey
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cmonkey
6 years 3 months ago

Couldn’t the glut of aging, veteran 1B that will be flooding the market next year bring his value down? Dunn, Lee, LaRoche, Pena, Konerko, & Berkman (V-Mart could be added too since he’s being considered a 1B long term as well) could all be available after this year. Then add in that Fielder, Pujols, A-Gone, and Howard could all be available after ’11, and it seems that the 1B market will be a buyers market after ’10 with some teams possibly holding back for ’11. Especially bad for the 1B is that the Yankees will have no need for a 1B.

steve
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steve
6 years 3 months ago

i have no hard proof to back this up or anything, but i always thought that elite switch hitters tended to age well, barring a catastrophic injury or something.

Rob
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Rob
6 years 3 months ago

“Berkman is probably better than anyone that hit the market this winter”

I don’t know if I’d rate him above Derek Lee, its real close

NEPP
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NEPP
6 years 3 months ago

It depends on which Derrek Lee you consider to be the real one…the guy that posted 3 seasons of relative decline from 2006-2008 (with an OPS+ of 118 overall) or the guy that broke out with a 145 OPS+ last year.

OremLK
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OremLK
6 years 3 months ago

If you’re not an Astros fan, you probably don’t understand just how unlikely it is that his option will be declined or he will be traded. Astros owner Drayton McLane loves the guy and considers him a franchise player. He wants Berkman to retire an Astro so his uniform can hang alongside Bagwell’s and Biggio’s. So–don’t expect that option to be declined. It won’t be. And don’t expect a trade–he won’t be.

By the way, one thing that bodes very well for Berkman as he ages is that he is one of the most patient, disciplined hitters in baseball. Whether you’re mashing a bunch of homeruns or not, .400 OBP is good offense.

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 3 months ago

Isn’t Drayton looking to sell the team, though?

Alireza
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

Did someone really call Lance Berkman a TTO hitter? People who contend for batting titles in some years and show excellent contact skill their whole career are not exactly TTO hitters.

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