Dissecting the last 48 hours. A new era has begun.
The last 48 hours have been incredibly sad, incredibly eventful, and unbelievably exhausting. So rather than try to come up with an organized way to address the many topics I’d like to talk about, this is going to be more of a random, rambling disorderly blog, which best matches my personality anyway. Here goes.
The trade timeline
Had the Astros acknowledged that they traded Lance Berkman to the Yankees at any point before 12:30 p.m. CT Saturday, they would have been hit with a heavy fine from the Commissioner’s Office. They asked Berkman to adhere to that deadline as well, which he did. He was extremely forthcoming during two separate sessions with the media before and after batting practice Friday, but he never acknowledged that he had already approved a deal and was indeed going to the Yankees.
That said, Friday was complete chaos. During the game, as many of you know by now, the news about the trade was all over the place, with reports emerging mostly from New York that included all of the details — the players the Astros were getting in return, the money the Astros were absorbing, the whole deal.
By the time the game was over, the stories were written and the deal was done and there was nothing left to announce until Saturday, when the trade everyone already knew about became official by the Commissioner’s Office.
This made the postgame situation on Friday extremely difficult. Inside the clubhouse, Berkman was dressed in his street clothes and on his way out, for good. He said his goodbyes to his teammates and then he was gone, before the media was allowed in. This was problematic for reporters, but really was the only option, because again, Berkman could not acknowledge that he was catching the first flight out in the morning to Tampa to join the Yankees.
On Saturday, the Astros scheduled a conference call with Berkman, which followed Brett Wallace’s press conference (which followed Ed Wade’s press conference. Busy day.) Berkman first apologized for slipping out of the clubhouse the night before but asked that they understand that he just couldn’t speak about the trade until it was official.
The media had recorders and mikes around the phone, and the whole thing had a very Charlie’s Angels feel to it, which made me laugh and prompted me to take this picture. Just so you can envision what I’m talking about:
Berkman said he would have probably accepted trade to Texas and St. Louis, and he would have “thought about” Tampa and San Diego. Basically, Wade approached him a couple of days ago and told him there was a chance they might have an opportunity to trade him. Rather than waste his time negotiating with teams Puma wouldn’t approve, Wade gave Berkman eight teams and asked him to name which ones he’d give the green light to. He said no to the Angels and White Sox, and probably a couple of others.
Here are a few more items and quotes that emerged from the conference call (those of you who follow me on Twitter have already seen some of this, but bear with me):
“I keep looking down and seeing navy blue. It’s very strange. It’s like the first day I was with the Astros. You walk in the clubhouse, Bagwell and Biggio are there and you’re kind of nervous and not sure how it’s going to go. But it’s weird to have this at 34 after 11 years in the big leagues.”
On his emotions after he left the Astros clubhouse for the last time: “I almost started bawling on my way home last night.”
On understanding why he was traded: “A big reason why the organization is where it is is because of me. I haven’t played well.”
On getting a new start: “I’m at the point of my career where I either need to retire or light the fire again. This is almost a litmus test for me.”
On breaking the news of the trade to his (somewhat disinterested) daughters: “After I told them, my middle daughter said, “Can I hold the baby?”
Now for the big question…will Berkman return to the Astros in 2011?
I loved that Puma told the media on Friday that his one requirement is that his new team NOT pick up the ’11 option on his contract so that he can possibly return to Houston next season.
During his conference call, Berkman reiterated his desire to at least explore that avenue. Wade was asked about it during his media session and said simply: “He has alluded to that. We’ve got to get through where we are now. He’s joining a rock star band (Yankees) that gets a lot of attention. He might fall in love with that. I can’t go further than that because he is now another team’s player.”
Now, keeping in mind that I a) have no idea if Wallace will work out as the Astros’ new first baseman and b) have no idea how Puma will perform in the next two months, here are my thoughts, as of Saturday, July 31, 2010…
I compare this to the first year of college. When you leave home for the first time, you’re a little scared, a little apprehensive, a little homesick. The only life you know is your high school life and your high school friends and your parents, and while college is eventually great, it isn’t necessarily so right away, because everything is so unfamiliar.
So in the first couple of weeks, or months, you might make a few extra trips home, see old friends, hang out with the family. But soon, unfamiliar surroundings of college life become familiar and enjoyable, you make new friends and you adapt to a new life. And you feel less and less of a tug to visit the old haunts from your hometown.
Berkman fully admitted the idea of leaving the Astros and joining a new team made him “nervous.” I believe him when he said he’s sad to leave and that he will miss the Astros and that Houston will always be home to him. But he’s leaving here and heading to a great team, to play in a packed ballpark every night, where every game matters. And the Yankees win. A lot. And once he gets a taste of winning again, I sincerely doubt he’ll long to be back here when it’s over.
The Astros are clearly moving in a new direction and this process is going to take a while. The losing is what wore on Berkman to begin with and I cannot envision him wanting to return to it, especially if it’s in a supportive role as a backup to Wallace.
But we’ll see.
Did the Astros get enough in return?
As the news of the trade was breaking, we heard from New York and national writers that the Astros were picking up a lot of Berkman’s salary and not getting top prospects in return. Clearly, that wasn’t what anyone on this side of things wanted to hear. And I, like you, wondered, what the heck were the Astros thinking?
Then I looked at the players the Astros received and they both seemed to have potential — 25-year-old Mark Melancon, who has had brief stints in the big leagues, could fit in as a middle reliever, while 21-year-old Jimmy Paredes is a switch-hitting infielder who appears to have good speed and a decent average. Are they top prospects? No. Can they be contributors? Of course.
But was it enough to merit trading Berkman? Well…
If we’re talking about the Berkman who hit 45 homers and drove in 136 runs, as he did in 2006, then no. But obviously, we aren’t talking about that Berkman. We’re talking about the 2010 Berkman and the reality is that he’s hitting .245 and is on pace for the lowest home run and RBI totals of his career. He’s hitting .188 versus lefties and, well, he’s not getting any younger.
In Houston, Berkman is an icon and one of the best hitters to ever play for this organization. To the rest of the league, he’s a hitter who can still make pitchers uncomfortable, draws walks and can hit one out from time to time. But he’s not the player he used to be, and the player he is today isn’t going to bring you back that much in return.
The Astros knew they weren’t going to pick up his ’11 option and they also had concluded they were not going to offer him salary arbitration. That meant that if he signed with another team, which he probably would have, they would have gotten nothing for him. This way, they got something, along with a little payroll relief ($3 million).
And that’s why he’s a Yankee.
Eventually, my stomach will stop turning when I say that.
In the last two days the Astros have traded two of the best players in franchise history and no matter who you got in return, or how much sense it made, or how much we all know it was time for one or both to move on, the process of losing them is painful. I’ve heard from a lot of you who have said, “this stinks.” And yes, anyway you dissect it, it does. The moves were necessary. They’ll help the team in the long run. Soon, we’ll be used to them not being here. But yea, right now, this totally stinks.
When I talked to Roy and Lance, I thanked them both for the laughs. They were always professional and helpful, but they are also really funny. And when you work almost every day for the better part of 7 1/2 months, you need some comic relief.
Like when Oswalt was over-the-moon excited (seriously) to be paired up with Minnie Mouse during the Disney parade during Spring Training:
(And when Lance, appropriately, was teamed up with Goofy):
I end this blog with my favorite picture, I title Puma being Puma:
A tip of the cap to both, and a hearty thanks for the memories.
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