On July 31st of the 2010 season, Fat Elvis left the building we know as Minute Maid Park. With Berkman off to such a hot start with the Cardinals this season, let’s take a look back to the deadline trade between the Astros and Yankees that sent the Big Puma away from Houston for the first time in his athletic tenure:
Coming right off of the heels of the Roy Oswalt trade (which we will look at next week), the Berkman trade came as no surprise since the Bronx Bombers were looking for a switch hitting answer to their problems at the designated hitter position. Being that the Astros were looking to blow up their older part of the roster in order for the youth movement to commence, trading away Berkman didn’t seem like the high treason it would have been to the fans at this point in the team’s transition. Brett Wallace had just been acquired, and he seemed to the man to take over the first sacker position for the ball club. Also, Lance was going to be 35 going into the last year of his contract in 2011 with a team that was probably going to go up for sale with its owner wanting to strip the team of as many dollars as needed to make his club sell at a rate more favorable to him. Lastly, Berkman was posting the lowest numbers of his career, and rather than sticking it out and seeing if he could overcome the slump, the Astros sold low on a player who had a lifetime batting average of .296 but was batting .245 on the year.
So, the table is set. There is a suitor, a reason, a money problem, and a back up: all the necessary ingredients to send a lifer away from a hometown team. The only question was who the Astros would receive in return for the decorated veteran. The answer would come in the form of two players, RHP Mark Melancon and SS Jimmy Paredes, with a combined 15 games of major league experience, only 1,577 games fewer than the Big Puma.
Mark Melancon, 26, had faltered in his few appearances in New York which landed him an ERA of 4.86 during his first two profession stints. Knocked on for having Tommy John season after leaving the University of Arizona, there was question about whether or not he would end up being the prospect most thought he had the potential to become. His fastball had regained its velocity of around 94 while touching 96 on occasion, but was even more important was the curveball that just made hitters look foolish. The Yankees, though, felt that they had a deep minor system when it came to relievers, and they sent Melancon with the thought of another reliever is easier to come by in the future rather than a switch hitting veteran for a team looking to win a World Series now.
Jimmy Paredes was a switch hitting shortstop with two characteristics that the Astros wanted: youth and speed. At age 21, Paredes had already taken part in 3 1/2 seasons of minor league baseball, and was half way through his first full season of consistent starts. In 99 games for the Class A affiliate Charleston, Paredes had banged out 24 doubles with a .282 average which was impressive to a team that had Adam Everett for the better part of a decade. With 36 stolen bases on top of that in 2010, Paredes had the tools to be a major league SS in the future.
So where are these two youngsters now? Mark Melancon is now the primary set up man for the Astros with Wilton Lopez on the DL. How did he jump up to such an important role with this team so quickly? Well a 9.51 K/9 with the Astros is hard to ignore when your closer fails to get one every third outing. Mark has posted a 1.84 ERA for the Astros over the past two combined seasons, and an ERA of 0.00 so far in 2011. When you are able to work out of jams by locking up batters on a something and 2 count, you are bound for success in the majors. Melancon has a bright future (and present) ahead of him, and you have to imagine that he may be closing for a professional ball club by the end of his career.
Jimmy Paredes is now playing for the Astro’s Class A affiliate Corpus Christi, and he has only struggled slightly so far in this young season. He is batting .263 which is almost 20 percentage points lower than his career average, but already has 7 steals in just 9 games. Jimmy is only considered to be the third best SS in the organization, but his age makes him attractive as a trade asset in the future as well as a possible call up in just 3 or 4 years. One thing that must improve is his fielding as he has already recorded 3 errors in 45 chances so far this year.
And the Yankees? Well Berkman helped them out drastically in the post season, but they failed to make it to the World Series over the Texas Rangers. Deciding to opt out of his option year, Berkman tested free agency for the first time in his career. Reportedly, he did come back to Houston asking if there was a place for him, but the Astros had decided to move on to Wallace permanently. Lance, the last of the true Killer Bees, would wind up in St. Louis, the rival of the Astros, and has been hot to start off the year. With 6 homers in just 13 games, Berkman has shown the pop that everyone wrote off due to age last season. Regardless as to where he succeeds, Houston fans will appreciate all that he has done for this franchise, and wish him the best. No matter how his career is remembered, he is a tremendous man and father that any team would want strictly to influence the younger players.
End the end, the Astros were able to get younger and acquired a great set up man in the process. This team’s window is not in 2011, but in the future, and this trade showed that they were willing to let go of a player that isn’t going to fit in that window. The Yankees got the seasoned veteran they needed, but their inability to resign him makes you ponder if they gave up too much for a renter for the … oh wait, the Yankees? Money will lead to set up men like Rafael Soriano for years to come. Ramiro Pena is the short stop in waiting in the Bronx, so trading Paredes isn’t too much of a surprise. All in all, both teams got what they needed and the trade didn’t exploit either team.