Elvis ain’t dead

The last couple of seasons have certainly tested Lance Berkman‘s resiliency. The 34-year-old produced career low batting and slugging percentages in 2009 (.274/.399/.509) as he battled through ongoing injuries. Unfortunately, the offseason provided little reprieve. As the 2010 season progressed Berkman’s frustrations were exasperated by stats that were even worse than the year before. After prematurely returning from injury back into the every day lineup, Big Puma continued to struggle behind the plate. The Astros finally decided to cut ties with his services (and his contract) by the trade deadline. Berkman acquiesced and vetoed his no trade clause thus allowing for a trade to New York to become possible.

The Yankees were hoping to give their offense a jolt (not to mention their 2010 potential acquisition success rate after failed attempts of acquiring Cliff Lee and Dan Haren), and after the departure of Mark Melancon, Jimmy Paredes, and approximately $3MM owed for the remainder of Berkman’s contract, Fat Elvis had officially joined the Bronx.

Much to our collective dismay, Lance had a fairly ignominious start to his tenure in Pinstripes. After one absurd batting cage incident, several defensive blunders, and another stint on the DL, much of the New York fan base had essentially dismissed the five-time All Star as a wasted investment.

Now it’s September and the Bombers are grinding their way through the final stretch of the season. Their rivals in Boston have all but disappeared. All that stands in the way of divisional dominance is the Tampa Bay Rays. Meanwhile, Lance has posted a .500/.529/.625 triple slash over the past two weeks. There’s no doubt he’ll regress to the mean with more plate appearances, but a hot-hitting Berkman is great news for a playoff-bound Yankee organization. I’m really hoping that Berkman’s improved play isn’t a complete aberration. I suppose if Berkman’s historical performance is any indication, we may be in for a pleasant surprise. Berkman’s career averages during the months of September and October is .300/.410/.548.

Even more encouraging is Berkman’s career postseason play. Consider this: In three playoff appearances, he’s managed a gaudy .321/6/26 line. In 2005, Houston made an improbable run to the World Series and Berkman was a valued contributor. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone given his accolades. I know some are inclined to dismiss his success as a product of National League futility. Personally, I think that line of thinking is nonsense. Berkman has been an effective player for the vast majority of his career. Moreover, one of his defining characteristics is his traditional ability to flat out hit.

Honestly, Berkman’s days as a Yankee DH are probably numbered. In all likelihood, this maneuver was strictly a one-year rental. However, Berkman can still take advantage of the remainder of the season. In fact, I can’t really envision two parties who have such a mutually beneficial opportunity. The Yankees seek a 28th title and an offensive surge from Berkman will alleviate some of the pressure from other key contributors. Similarly, Berkman isn’t getting any younger and will soon be facing the grim world of the aging free agent veteran. He doesn’t have a ring to his name and this year could certainly represent the best opportunity to win a championship since his last chance in 2005. What better way is there of raising one’s stock?

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