Friday night’s game in a nutshell: Nick Swisher hit a two-run home run in the first. Matt Joyce hit a three-run home run in the sixth. Rays win 3-2. That hurt. Phil Hughes cruised through the first five innings, not allowing more than one baserunner in any of those five frames and allowing just one man to reach second base (B.J. Upton on a walk and a steal with two outs in the second). Then in the sixth, John Jaso led off with a single and moved to second on a wild pitch with one out. Evan Longoria followed with a walk. Carl Crawford moved Jaso to third and replaced Longoria at first via a fielder’s choice, and Joyce cracked a 2-2 pitch into the right-field seats to turn a 2-0 Yankee lead into a 3-2 Yankee deficit.
Working to keep the Yankees within reach, Joba Chamberlain pitched two perfect innings striking out three, but Rays end-gamers Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano were perfect as well, and Carlos Peña made a nice lunging stop on a Jorge Posada hot-shot headed for right field, beating the lumbering Yankee catcher with a flip to Soriano for the final out.
In other news, the Yankees made a pair of trades Friday evening, one official, one to become official today. In the official deal, the Yankees promised a player to be named later to the Indians in exchange for right-handed-hitting outfielder Austin Kearns. I’m not impressed.
Though Kearns was once a top prospect with the Reds, he never really panned out, in part due to nagging injuries, and had fallen hard in recent years. Kearns hit .209/.320/.312 in 568 PA for the Nationals in 2008 and 2009 and was a non-roster invitee to camp with the rebuilding Indians this spring. Kearns not only made the team, but he worked his way into the starting left field job and hit .307/.393/.508 through June 11. That was impressive, but suspect, and indeed he has hit just .210/.286/.269 since then and recently missed a week with a bum knee. At his best, Kearns drew his share of walks and flashed 20-homer power, but he’s never hit for average, and his power has diminished significantly, which in turn has undermined his ability to work walks. Sure, he’s an upgrade on Colin Curtis, and he likely didn’t cost anything (we’ll see which player is named), but over the next two months he may not make any meaningful contribution to this team. To put it another way, the Indians seem to have upgraded on Kearns by calling up Shelley Duncan.
The other trade, yet to be officially announced, has the Yankees sending Mark Melancon and Sally League second baseman Jimmy Paredes to the Astros for Lance Berkman. First the prospects. Paredes is a 21-year-old switch-hitting Dominican second baseman who has played some short and third. He steals bases, but doesn’t walk and has modest pop at best. He’s not a significant prospect, particularly not with Robinson Cano at second base at the major league level. Mark Melancon is a bit of an ironic trade chip given that the Yankees really need relief pitching more than anything else and Melancon was supposed to be their top relief prospect, but Melancon’s control abandoned him in Scranton this year (5.0 BB/9), and the Yankees seemed reluctant to give him a long look at the major league level even before that. A college product who had Tommy John surgery soon after turning pro, Melancon is already 25, and since he wasn’t likely to contribute this year, seems like an expendable-enough arm given the quality of the return.
Which brings me to Berkman. From 2001 to 2008, Berkman was one of the best hitters in baseball. A switch-hitter who hit .303/.417/.564 over that span while knocking out 263 homers (more than Jorge Posada’s career total) and drawing 815 walks against 859 strikeouts. He’s not that guy anymore. At 34, his power is fading and his switch hitting is suspect (he’s not hitting lefties this year, last year he did but didn’t do much damage against righties), but he still gets on base at a strong clip (.372 this year, .399 last) and can flash that home-run stroke, such as when he hit five homers in four games earlier this month. In fact, Big Puma arrives in the Bronx (or, rather, Tampa) having hit .257/.418/.533 since June 20, which looks a lot like the sort of numbers Jason Giambi put up as a Yankee (career with NYY: .260/.404/.521).
That’s a huge upgrade over Juan Miranda as a left-handed designated hitter (or, when Jorge Posada catches, over Francisco Cervelli). Even Berkman’s full season linen of .245/.372/.436 would look pretty good just about anywhere in the lineup previously occupied by Miranda, Cervelli, or Curtis, and if Berkman’s struggles against left-handed pitching continue, Marcus Thames is still here (and so is Kearns, I suppose). Primarily a first baseman since 2005, Berkman hasn’t played the outfield since 2007, so don’t expect much defensive value out of him, and his 2011 option was declined as a condition of the trade, so he’s just a rental, but he’s not only a good replacement for Nick Johnson, he’s an upgrade on him, and for a team looking to fill holes in pursuit of another title, he still has the potential to be more than just a well-fit cork.
Now let’s just hope the final hours leading up to the trading deadline yield some equally inexpensive bullpen reinforcements.