Yankees Won’t Improve Because of Deadline Moves, But They Were Shrewd Anyway

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Yankees Won't Improve Because of Deadline Moves, But They Were Shrewd Anyway The Yankees went out and got the two biggest bats moved at the deadline. Then, they went ahead and got the reliever that other teams expected would be available on waivers in August — all for next to zero. Shocker, right?

It probably won't matter.

By acquiring Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns, the Yankees functionally did nothing — except prevent other teams from having them and make Indians and Astros fans more depressed. The same goes for Kerry Wood, who has been even worse than Yankee disasters Joba Chamberlain and Chan Ho Park, except that Wood can't even stay on the field.

Basically, the team got themselves a non-upgrade reliever, a fourth outfielder, a guy who can DH against righties and insurance policies.

To maximize offense, the team can put Kearns in the outfield with Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner, allowing Nick Swisher to DH and Jorge Posada to be behind the plate. Or the team can put Berkman at DH so that Posada, who surprisingly has been the most frequent designated hitter since Nick Johnson's injury, can catch.

The move also allows Berkman to DH against righties, while Posada would do the same against lefties (their strong suits). The Yankees' roster is already full of switch hitters, but now they are that much more immune to bullpen specialists. Not much gained otherwise.

Even if Johnson never comes back, or is supplanted in the depth chart, there won't be many days when both Kearns and Berkman play, and even if both are featured in approximately 60 percent of contests, it's hard to imagine the scoreboard will be altered much.

Conspiracy theorists can rationally say that Brian Cashman pulled these deals simply to prevent the Rays, Red Sox or White Sox from doing the same.

Let's look at Berkman in more detail first.

With a .245 batting average, Berkman is having more than the worst year of his career. He is batting more than 50 points lower than his career .296 mark. Some would say that this is because he has no protection in Houston's lineup, or that his .279 BABIP (well below the .300 norm) signifies that he has been unlucky. However, it is more realistic to attribute his low BABIP to Berkman not hitting the ball very hard.

This seems to be the case, as he is hitting the fewest line drives (16 percent) and fly balls (36 percent) of his career, and likewise setting a career high for grounders. Some say that the shallow right field in Yankee Stadium is going to help him. That won't matter if he can't hit the ball in the air.

Berkman is also striking out more than ever, nearly once every four at-bats. At 1.9 wins above replacement, he is slightly better than Posada's 1.8 thus far this season, but most of that actually comes from Posada's poor defense. As a hitter, Posada has been more valuable.

On the other hand, Berkman has had a decent .808 OPS and has added more win probability (1.97) than all of the Yankees' DHs combined, and Alex Rodriguez, Johnson, and Swisher have been the only Yankees to increase probability at DH at all.

Posada, though, has added win probability at catcher, whereas Francisco Cervelli has subtracted it. Berkman's greatest value may actually be that he will push Posada back to catching, though Joe Girardi may still rest the veteran's legs frequently.

In New York, Berkman will be facing tougher pitchers than he saw in the NL Central — pitchers that he may not have seen before. He is going from a hitter's park to a hitter's park, but will likely get a lot more help in the lineup and have more to play for, so all in all, his stats should be about the same.

So if you pace out his wins above replacement for the remainder of the season, his presence may give the Yankees one more victory.

As for Kearns, he will be the Yankees' fourth outfielder, but the Yankees don't actually need a fourth outfielder. Their three starters are among the top six on the team in win shares, along with A-Rod, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira. Kearns may be better than Marcus Thames, but he's nowhere near the player that Granderson, Gardner or Swisher is. If the Yankees were attempting to get a defensive outfielder to replace Swisher late in games, they shouldn't have picked Kearns, who has a negative defensive value, minus-2.4, which almost matches Swisher's minus-2.7. Swisher, of course, is a drastically better hitter than Kearns, even if the new Yankee has recovered from his two-year stint hitting around .200 from 2008-09.

Basically, Kearns should be used only as an insurance policy, pinch hitter, or on days when somebody better is resting, either in the outfield or at DH. Thames may even have more situational value, since his .315 average against lefties makes him a solid pinch-hitting option, per FanGraphs.

As for Wood, the Yankees might as well have well acquired his ex-teammate Mark Prior. Wood's velocity has been fine when he has pitched, but he's managed only 20 innings thus far this year. If you think Hideki Okajima has struggled in 2010, you should take a look at Wood. With a 6.30 ERA, more walks per inning than ever, and fewer strikeouts per inning than ever as well, it's hard to justify the acquisition, except that the Yankees gave up nothing to get him.

The Yankees' bullpen, outside of Mariano Rivera, is the team's weakness, but Damaso Marte is a useful lefty, David Robertson is clearly better than Wood, and Joba Chamberlain still is the setup man of the future in the Bronx. The infamous Sergio Mitre, with his 3.73 ERA, is even significantly better than Wood.

In a tight pennant race, why throw a guy coming off of an injury who has an ERA above six on the mound? You shouldn't.

The Yankees may have "won the trade deadline" as far as the AL East is concerned, but that isn't true because of what they got. It's true because they took players off the market that Tampa and Boston could have used and because they gave up so little for their acquisitions.

And what if Berkman actually gets hot?

The 2010 deadline was a classic "Yankees just picking up guys for the sake of doing it" case study. This time, though, that was actually smart.

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