Phillies Interested in Uehara, Berkman

Via Ken Rosenthal:

The Phillies, in their search for a setup man, are asking around about Rangers righty Koji Uehara, whose $4 million salary in 2013 might be more than Texas is willing to pay.

Via Alex Speier:

Free agent Lance Berkman told Joseph Duarte of the Houston Chronicle (as reported via twitter) that the Red Sox are one of four teams in “tire-kicking mode” on the 36-year-old free agent. Berkman, who was introduced as a volunteer assistant coach at Rice University (his alma mater), has said that he will make a decision later in the offseason about whether to retire or continue playing. According to Duarte, the Sox, Rays, Phillies and Astros have shown interest in him.

Let’s start with Koji Uehara. The Japanese reliever turns 38 years old in early April, so a multi-year deal is out of the question. He earned $4 million last year with the Texas Rangers, finishing with a 1.75 ERA and a 1.83 SIERA, thanks in large part to a strikeout-to-walk ratio in excess of 14. You read that right: for every one walk Uehara allowed, he struck out 14 batters. In fact, over his career spanning over 211 innings, he has averaged eight strikeouts for every one walk, an incredible ratio. A single-season double-digit strikeout-to-walk ratio has only been accomplished nine times, many of them in the last three years.

Player SO/BB IP Year Age Tm
Dennis Eckersley 18.33 57.2 1989 34 OAK
Dennis Eckersley 18.25 73.1 1990 35 OAK
Koji Uehara 14.33 36.0 2012 37 TEX
Sergio Romo 14.00 48.0 2011 28 SFG
Mariano Rivera 12.83 70.2 2008 38 NYY
Edward Mujica 12.00 69.2 2010 26 SDP
Rafael Betancourt 11.13 62.1 2010 35 COL
Koji Uehara 11.00 44.0 2010 35 BAL
Wilton Lopez 10.00 67.0 2010 26 HOU
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/21/2012.

The combined leaderboard for the 2009-12 seasons is even more ridiculous.

Player SO/BB IP From To Age
Koji Uehara 7.97 211.2 2009 2012 34-37
Sergio Romo 6.10 199.1 2009 2012 26-29
Rafael Betancourt 5.83 238.1 2009 2012 34-37
Mariano Rivera 5.61 196.0 2009 2012 39-42
Edward Mujica 5.06 304.2 2009 2012 25-28
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/21/2012.

Uehara is one of the few veteran relievers that should be on the Phillies’ radar. His defense-independent skills (lots of strikeouts, very few walks) make him a solid bet in 2013, and his age inhibits him from demanding a rich multi-year contract. A one-year deal in the $4-5 million range would be perfect and prevents the Phillies from wildly spending on other inferior, experienced arms.

Lance Berkman, another veteran free agent in his late 30’s, is just as interesting. He clearly has something left in the tank, as evidenced by his aggregate .378 wOBA over the past three seasons  spanning 1,165 plate appearances. Over those three years, however, he has missed a lot of time with lower-half injuries. He needed surgery on his right knee last year after tearing his meniscus. Berkman wasn’t the same, posting a .675 OPS between his return after the injury, and his return to the disabled list in early September. There are two obvious questions: can Berkman stay on the field consistently going forward, and is he completely devoid of mobility?

The first question is important because it would impact the other personnel the Phillies acquire. If they see Berkman playing in the outfield as he did for 126 games in 2011, they would need a center fielder with a lot of range — say, Michael Bourn as opposed to Josh Hamilton. Additionally, the Phillies would need a contingency plan in the event Berkman misses a lot of time. Perhaps they utilize the John Mayberry/Nate Schierholtz platoon I have been harping about so much, or maybe they rely on Darin Ruf. The second question impacts where Berkman would play. If Berkman has been rendered immobile, then he can only play first base and come off of the bench as a pinch-hitter not unlike what Jim Thome did in 2012. Ryan Howard is still a question mark, so giving him scheduled days off, particularly against tough left-handed starting pitchers, would be a good idea.

Berkman turns 37 in January and will receive only one-year offers. He earned $12 million last year with the St. Louis Cardinals, but he will not command as much this off-season for obvious reasons. Although it is not a terribly expensive risk to allot — spitballin’ here — $5 million to a guy with All-Star-level offense when he has been able to stay on the field in recent years, he doesn’t really provide anything that the Phillies don’t already have. A Mayberry/Schierholtz platoon, when you factor in defense and base running, would very likely out-produce anything Berkman would do in the outfield, and using Ruf (or Mayberry) in the role Berkman would be used in as a 1B/PH is a cheaper, less risky play. Despite being a fan favorite and surprisingly productive at the age of 41, Thome was more of a nuisance than anything last year. Thome started in only three non-interleague games and took a grand total of 71 at-bats before being sent to the Baltimore Orioles at the end of June. Berkman could be more of a hassle since Howard is expected to be ready to go by spring training anyway.

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14 comments

  1. David D.

    November 21, 2012 08:43 AM

    If your gonna be old school and spend some coin on the bullpen might as well do it on some of the best. Like how the front office has seemed to get a little smarter these days

  2. JM

    November 21, 2012 09:42 AM

    if Uehara can put up close to those same numbers, he would be a steal at $4-5m. I would think the Yankees would invest more for him though, to set up for Rivera and , well, just in case…
    If Berkman can give us Burrell/Ibanez defense in LF, his bat would be a good pickup. Then you can use Mayberry/Brown in RF and still overpay to bring in Upton. Or better yet, trade Mayberry/Brown/Cloyd to AZ for the other upton. Pretty sure the brothers’ Upton could cover for Berkman’s shortcomings in the field….

  3. Dan K.

    November 21, 2012 10:20 AM

    @JM, Mayberry+Brown+Cloyd doesn’t come even remotely close to getting you Justin Upton.

  4. Bill Baer

    November 21, 2012 10:52 AM

    ^ yup.

    If I’m the Diamondbacks, I look at the Phillies’ farm system and ignore their phone calls. Woof.

  5. EricL

    November 21, 2012 11:19 AM

    Not really thrilled about the prospects of a 38 year old set-up guy who pitched 36 innings last year making $5 million bucks on a team close to the luxury tax chock-full-o young, cheap, power bullpen arms, you guys.

  6. Dan K.

    November 21, 2012 11:30 AM

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but we’re not that close to the luxury tax anymore (shedding Pence and Victorino’s salaries will have that effect), and we’ll be even further from it after next year.

  7. EricL

    November 21, 2012 11:45 AM

    They’re currently at about $152 million going into next season. After that it really depends on what happens in CF and at third. If they go cheap, like say Keppinger or Chavez or Frandsen at third and Victorino in center, then they’re probably going to be comfortably below the tax threshold. If they do something more extravagant, like try to pick up Youkilis and Bourn/Upton, or even consider Hamilton, then they’re basically at or over the cap. Either way, it’s close enough that spending an extra $4.5 million dollars matters, especially if they want to leave any flexibility for mid-season moves.

  8. pedro3131

    November 21, 2012 01:44 PM

    So paying a closer to pitch 70 innings is silly but paying a 38 year old set up guy to pitch 40 innings is smart?

  9. hk

    November 21, 2012 02:38 PM

    pedro,

    1. If they sign Uehara and he passes his physical, I’m sure they’ll expect closer to the 65 innings he pitched in 2011 than the 36 that he pitched in an injury-plagued 2012.

    2. There’s a huge difference between paying one guy $50M/4 to pitch 70 innings and paying another $4M/1 to pitch anywhere from 36 to 65 innings.

    3. With the way Charlie uses the bullpen, there’s a chance that the 8th inning pitcher may pitch in higher leverage situations than the closer during a season.

    Having said all of that, I agree with EricL that I’d rather see them address the other key spots first, especially if they intend to stay under the luxury tax limit.

  10. japanese

    November 21, 2012 08:58 PM

    Uehara is very overrated.
    You know, in Japan Many right handed pitcher throw Fouk bail a lot.
    But somehow MLB pithcer seldom throw fouk ball.
    So MLB hitter strike out by Uehara’s fouk ball.
    Maybe American don’t know tha fact but This year March, Yomiuri Giant VS AL west champ OAK,
    starting pitcher and Rookie Ryosuke Miyakuni struck out 10K per 5 innings. His winning shot is also fouk ball.I saw OAK’s hitter swong stirike many times by unknown Miyakuni.

    I don’t get why American pitcher espesially reliever don’t throw fouk ball. They do nothing but throw two-seam and srider.
    if they throw fouk ball, can earn more money and get fame.
    Remenber fouk ball pitcher Hideo Nomo and Kazuhiro Sasaki.

  11. LTG

    November 21, 2012 11:40 PM

    So, that should probably be taken down…

  12. runyen

    November 22, 2012 11:21 PM

    I still don’t understand how everyone is so excited about acquiring big name free agents. The Phil’s have gotten progressively worse since ’08. The key of their success was that the developed a team. Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Polanco, and Papelbon did not win us a title. The best move this team made this offseason was an extension to Frandsen!

  13. David Molina

    November 25, 2012 01:55 PM

    We need to get younger. Why would we want more in the 35 and older club? I say it’s better to go young and solid rather than old and headed to the down side. In a year or two, money will be available. We’re not going to build what we had overnight. Don’t overpay for anyone that their best years are in the rear view mirror.

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