This past off season, when the St. Louis Cardinals paid Lance Berkman $8 million to patrol right field for them, I thought it was some sort of joke. Paying that much money to a 35 year old who hadn’t played more than 50 games in the outfield since 2004 seemed to me to represent everything that was bad about the National League.

Then, after Berkman hit eight home runs in the first month of the year, I imagined that it was only a matter of time until his luck ran out and he turned back into the player who only had 14 dingers in all of 2010. Since then, Berkman has gone on to hit 23 more home runs, put together a .970 OPS, a .405 wOBA, a .259 ISO and have the second highest walk rate in the National League.

Even if Berkman has struggled at times defensively, the contract has turned into one of the better bargains of the year. However, in order to retain his services for next season, the Cardinals are going to have to show him a little bit more than love and appreciation.

After locking up pitcher Chris Carpenter for the next two seasons, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has turned his attention to Berkman and shortstop Rafael Furcal, both holding contracts that expire after this season. After initially appearing as though it would be little difficulty in locking up Berkman, things have reached something of an impasse that isn’t going to be solved by anything but cold, hard cash.

According to Berkman:

It’s always about money. No matter what people say, it’s always about the money.

My background in public relations normally makes me cringe at these types of honest admissions to the public, but as a baseball fan, Berkman’s honesty about his and others’ mercenary status is somewhat refreshing.

Of course it’s about the money. Berkman has made over $100 million in his career, and at his advanced age, in terms of baseball players, combined with his great numbers, this coming off season likely represents his last chance to earn some money.

The question then becomes what kind of expectations can be placed on the shoulders of a 36 year old baseball player the year after a career resurgence. A two year deal worth between $20-$25 million might be a tempting deal to make for a team that could potentially lose its biggest offensive threat in a few months.

Considering that Berkman, as a signed free agent, has offered his team more than $20 million worth of value this season, I wonder if the Cardinals justify the expense of a two year contract by considering the value he offered this season to be a part of any future payment. We’ve seen the dangers in this type of thinking just this past off season when the San Francisco Giants rewarded Aubrey Huff with a two year $20 million deal after a surprisingly successful 2010.

As a potential Type A free agent, the St. Louis Cardinals should let Berkman walk. Between Albert Pujols, Berkman, Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes’ impending free agency, the team has the chance to build an entire farm system in the 2012 draft. If the Cardinals are worried about the meantime, they would do well to remember that they’re in the National League Central Division.

Given the recent moves by the Milwaukee Brewers, the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates (yep, you read that right), the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup and a new GM for the Chicago Cubs (and likely the Houston Astros), things aren’t going to be getting any easier for the Cardinals any time soon. Why not take this off season to begin the rebuild, buy a few stop gaps on the free agent market and hope for the best.

After all, next year’s Casey Kotchman could be this year’s Berkman.

 

Comments (8)

  1. Lance Berkman was worth over $20 million to the Cardinals this year? You have to give that guy an extension as a thank you.

  2. Did we not listen to any of the off-season rumors about Berkman? Berkman was pissed that everyone was writing him off as washed up. He was in horrible shape last year. He hit the weights this year hard for the first time in his career, est voila, a return to form. Me thinks that when he gets paid, he gets lazy. My prognosis for next year if he gets 2 years and 20 mil, .250 avg, 20 HR, 80RBI, ho hum season.

  3. This is a bit off the topic but here goes:

    Given the players available and assuming a fairly liberal salary budget for 2012 what trades or free agent additions by the Jays would make them potential playoff contenders out of the AL East next year. Not in the ‘forever rolling forward year or two’ but next year.

    I was just wondering because there are always more arguments against doing anything because it is ‘too expensive’ than there are for actually doing something. The reality is that the Jays are a .500 team with very few players at any position ranked in the top 4 in the AL. If the top 4 teams (more or less) make the playoffs then it stands to reason that it will take more than a few replacement-value players to build a contender.

    Since it isn’t our money… who goes, who stays, and who should be added?

    KK

  4. Let’s see: the Cubs will still be bloated next year, the Brewers are built to fall apart after this year, the Pirates are somehow still going to lose 90 games even after pretending for the first half, and the Astros are awful. I’d say it’s wide open for the Cards, especially if they bring back Pujols. (The old guys should clearly walk, though.)

    • How are the Brewers built to fall apart next year? I think you’re placing far too much value on Prince Fielder. The Pirates almost can’t help but get better, given the success they saw this season with a relatively inexperienced team. And the Reds are still going to have one of the better lineups in the NL.

  5. Even in Berkman’s “down” 2010 he had a .370 OBP. Bring him in to DH.

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