Trading for Lance Berkman: A longshot.

We recorded a rocking episode of Rangers Podcast in Arlington in front of an audience of some of you at Sherlock’s until about 9:30 last night (wait until you hear the unnerving tension between host Ted Price and featured guest Mike Rhyner) and then I rushed home to do a 45-minute podcast at 10 p.m. with the Phil Naessens Show out of Corfu, Greece.  After that I was flipping through the day’s email messages, with an eye on the tremendous Seattle 5, Los Angeles 3 finish (daps, Blake Beavan), when it hit me that my baseball night wasn’t done.

I was going to wait another day to write about Lance Berkman, but realized I probably shouldn’t.  If Texas is going to trade for Berkman – which is a considerable longshot – it will happen today or tomorrow.

Before getting into why a deal is probably unlikely, let’s start with the procedurals:

1. St. Louis, somewhat surprisingly, was able to get Berkman through revocable trade waivers this month.  His one-year, $8 million contract does not contain a no-trade clause.  By virtue of those two facts, he can therefore be traded to any team.

2. If he is traded by tomorrow’s 11 p.m. deadline, he’s eligible to play in the post-season.  If he’s traded in September, he can’t appear on a playoff roster.

3. Berkman is reportedly teetering between Type A and Type B free agent status (though Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com suggests, based on Eddie Hajek’s reverse-engineering efforts, that Berkman’s Type A status would actually gain footing if he were traded to the American League).  If he’s a Type A, the team he finishes the season would get two premium draft picks if they were to offer him arbitration this winter and he declined it to sign elsewhere.  If he’s a Type B, the compensation would be one supplemental first-round pick.

4. Any member of a 40-man roster that a team wished to offer St. Louis in a deal for Berkman would need to get to the Cardinals on waivers.  If Texas were the interested team, any such players would have to get by all 13 other American League teams and the 10 National League teams (possibly 11, depending on Tuesday’s results) with worse records than the Cardinals.

5. A player not on the 40-man roster can be traded without waivers.  So Neil Ramirez or Robbie Ross or Leury Garcia: tradeable.

6. A player to be named later cannot be on an active big league roster between the time of the trade and its ultimate culmination.

a.         So the only way that someone like Mitch Moreland, for instance, could be part of a Berkman deal would be (1) if Texas got him through waivers until St. Louis claimed him (or got him through waivers altogether earlier this month, as St. Louis managed to do with Berkman) or (2) if the Rangers optioned Moreland first – and left him on the farm throughout September and October if he didn’t get to St. Louis on waivers.  (Interestingly, Texas would have already had to run any such roster member who might be in play with St. Louis out on waivers, since there’s a 48-hour claim period that would need to expire before tomorrow’s deadline to make a trade for a playoff-eligible player.)

b.         Roster members Michael Kirkman or Pedro Strop or Engel Beltre, on the other hand, could be players to be named later, as long as they didn’t come up to Arlington in the meantime.

OK, enough facts.  Let’s talk about likelihood.

Assuming he’s a Type A, if the Cardinals believe Berkman wants to play with them in 2012, trading him now would mean they’d have to surrender their 2012 first-round pick to the team he finishes 2011 with – and right now that pick stands to be 19th overall.  It’s not as if it will be at the end of the round.

If the Cardinals believe a Type A Berkman wants to play somewhere else in 2012, they’d basically be forfeiting the first-round pick and supplemental first-rounder that they’d get as compensation if he stayed until the season ended.  (I don’t even leave room for the slim possibility that the first could be a second, because Berkman has said that if he plays in 2012, it will be for a contender – in fact, he told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this weekend that the Rangers and Phillies fit the profile.  I suppose it could be a team that signs multiple Type A’s and thus could have its second-rounder tied to Berkman instead of its first, but in all likelihood – assuming he’s a Type A – he’s going to bring a first and a supplemental first.)

So the Cardinals have no incentive to move Berkman (unless it’s simply to give him a shot at a ring, as Texas did with no-compensation players Eddie Guardado in 2008 and Matt Stairs in 2006: not happening) without getting prospects in return that they believe (scenario one) more than offset the value of the first-rounder they’d forfeit to bring him back or (scenario two) have more value than the draft pick compensation they’d stand to get by keeping him.

So the Cardinals aren’t going to trade Berkman without getting something back they prefer to their own 2012 first-round pick (roughly 19th overall) (if they want to bring Berkman back) or to what would probably be a late first and a supplemental first (if they expect they’d lose Berkman this winter).

If you’re Texas, what does that mean the price would be?  St. Louis won’t waste time asking for Martin Perez or Jurickson Profar or Leonys Martin (who is expected to be recalled today as Nelson Cruz’s roster replacement).  The next tier: probably Mike Olt, Tanner Scheppers, Ramirez, David Perez, Jorge Alfaro, Luke Jackson, and Roman Mendez.

Would you give up Ramirez and Alfaro?  Absolutely not.

Jackson and a next-tier kid, maybe Tommy Mendonca or Barret Loux or Hanser Alberto?  I’d be surprised if the Rangers would part with Jackson for a rental bat.

Justin Grimm and Christian Villanueva?  That’s where it gets interesting.  That pair feels like it might be a little more than Texas would be willing to give up for a month (and hopefully two) of Berkman – and probably also a little less than St. Louis would insist on.  (Remember, the Cardinals can trade Berkman anywhere since he wasn’t claimed.)

But here’s the other thing: If Texas trades for Berkman and he leaves for another club this winter, the Rangers would be the team recouping the draft pick compensation.  If the Rangers’ intelligence suggests Berkman would go right back to St. Louis, an offer of arbitration would net Texas that number 19 pick in June plus a supplemental first-rounder.  Could you replace the righthander Grimm and third baseman Villanueva with those two picks?  Theoretically, yes (setting aside the fact that it would take at least a couple million bucks to sign the two draftees).

But I still doubt that offer would be enough to get a deal done.

Could the Rangers re-sign Berkman (who shares an agent and certain values with Josh Hamilton) for 2012 themselves?  Suppose so, but that’s true even if they don’t acquire him this season – and it would only cost a first-round pick, rather than a couple prospects.  Texas has shown that it’s willing to divert amateur signing dollars to the international market if it prefers that playing field to the draft in a particular year.

Another point about trading prospects that gets overlooked too often, I think: Let’s say Texas decides that Ramirez or Jackson or Grimm is fair value for what Berkman would give this lineup in Cruz’s absence and in the post-season.  You can bet that the Rangers will be aggressive this winter, next July, and the next winter and July and the ones after that as well, in their relentless effort to acquire top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers.  Move Neil Ramirez now, and you can’t move him then.  Have to be careful about when you trade your key prospects.

If Texas could get a deal done for Strop (who I believe will be out of options at season’s end) and Beltre, who has exhausted only one of his three options but now sits firmly behind Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon, and Martin in the center field pecking order, with Ryan Strausborger and Jake Skole coming, I’d make that deal in a second.  But St. Louis?  Doubt it.

I’d love to get Berkman here.  I know his three-month American League run was underwhelming a year ago – but so was the four-month stint that preceded it, and he’s been a completely different player this season, hitting in a lineup in which he’s had to be pitched to.  The guy has the highest Adjusted OPS in baseball next to Jose Bautista in 2011.

Is he a potential liability in right field?  He’s not great out there, but he’s played it virtually every day this season (unlike Vladimir Guerrero a year ago), and you can always move him in to first base, moving Moreland out to right field – or to the bench in favor of David Murphy while Cruz is out for what’s expected to be about three weeks.

(Martin is not going to see much action, other than as a late-inning defender or runner, though I’d expect maybe a spot start or two while the pennant race is still alive.  A theory on why he’ll reportedly be up today rather than accelerating Adrian Beltre’s return: Texas faces righthanders Jeremy Hellickson and James Shields tonight and tomorrow, so there’s arguably less of a need to rush Beltre back since Texas can run Murphy out there to attempt to make up for some of the lost offense.  If Texas were running into David Price, for example, Cruz’s absence might have prompted the Rangers to get Beltre back into the lineup that was already a bit more vulnerable to lefthanders than righties, and in that case Martin wouldn’t have been added until roster expansion on Thursday.  A theory, at least.)

Moreland’s bat has awakened a bit the last couple weeks, but overall he’s been fairly ordinary at best since May.  Berkman’s been a force all year.  A switch-hitter who’s been better this year (and in his career) against right-handed pitching but still capable against lefthanders (certainly far more productive than Murphy or Moreland), he’d help the lineup in Cruz’s absence (and keep Beltre, with any luck, from thinking he has to do too much on his return), and when the club returns to full health . . . good grief.

You definitely place the phone call.  Texas is entering a huge week and a half of games against the Rays and Red Sox, without Cruz and not knowing what kind of rhythm to expect from Beltre.  Berkman is likely the best available bat, considering that we know he’s cleared waivers and that he’s playing out an expiring contract on a team out of the race.  You absolutely turn that rock over.  Due diligence is the fancier term.

Rangers management has a “go for it” mentality (without severely compromising the long term), and I do, too.

I just doubt the two sides will agree on an exchange before tomorrow’s 11 p.m. “post-season” trade deadline, and I have greater expectations that Texas will make a smaller trade or two today or tomorrow, to add something like a right-handed outfield bat, a left-on-left reliever, or maybe even a veteran catcher.

Do I care about Berkman’s goofy January comments about his decision to sign with the Cardinals rather than the Rangers because he believed Texas would be “an average team” without Cliff Lee?  Entertaining, but a non-factor.

Love the player.

I have several other frontburner issues I’d like to get to, but they’ll have to wait a day or two.  I didn’t get much sleep last night, despite the first off-day for the Rangers in nearly three weeks, and now I’m off to work, taking care of business before tonight’s Tampa Bay series opener just as I suspect Jon Daniels and his crew will spend their morning and afternoon doing.

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