How Did Berkman Clear Waivers?

Lance Berkman reportedly cleared waivers last week. How he went through the waiver process unclaimed is befuddling.

Certain noteworthy players pass through waivers based on a few factors. Some prove too costly in salary or years. Some may make it known they intend to invoke their no trade clauses. Others are viewed as risky and injury prone. The remaining players aren’t great enough to justify the acquisition cost, especially with a mere month remaining.

The Big Puma fits none of these descriptions. Determining why no team submitted a claim proves to be quite the tall task.

Signed to a one year, $8 million contract, Berkman’s salary isn’t at all prohibitive to the various teams that should have expressed interest. With a month left on the deal he is owed approximately $1.3 million. Though he spent parts of the 2009 and 2010 seasons on the shelf, he is healthy right now. Further, those past ailments weren’t so concerning to justify no team submitting a claim.

Berkman cannot veto trades, as his current deal lacks the provision, and his previously attained 10 and 5 rights don’t follow him to each new destination. Lastly, his performance this season merits a slew of interest. This is a superstar playing at a superstar level.

He currently boasts a gaudy .289/.405/.570 slash line and a .407 wOBA in a down offensive environment. Only Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, Matt Kemp and teammate Matt Holliday have outproduced his weighted on base average. Berkman is striking out a career low 15.8 percent of the time, while walking at a clip above his career average. In fact, his walk rate is mere hundredths behind Joey Votto’s league-leading mark. The last time Berkman produced an isolated power this high — .281 — both Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were Astros teammates. Per wRC+, which adjusts for league and park, this is Berkman’s best offensive season since 2001 — his first full year in the majors.

Combine this upper echelon offense with the fact that he isn’t slowing down — .418 wOBA in July, and a .382 wOBA in August — and Berkman is truly having a tremendously valuable season. His fielding leaves much to be desired, but he likely isn’t as bad as his -11 UZR suggests. Sure, he’s a below average fielder, and hasn’t played the outfield since 2007, but his offense greatly outweighs that deficiency.

The most interesting aspect here is that the reasons justifying a lack of a claim deal more with the Cardinals than other teams. The reasons should have, if anything, prevented them from even making him available. For example, Berkman currently projects as a Type A free agent. If a team submitted a claim and a trade ensued, and he then declined arbitration from the acquiring team and re-signed with St. Louis, the Cardinals would have to forfeit a first round draft pick — under the current CBA, at least.

Now it becomes imperative to extract a prospect of value in return, or else the trade ends up looking like Berkman and a first round pick for whomever the Cardinals acquire. The value of that package must be greater than one strictly featuring Berkman or it becomes tougher for the Cardinals to maximize their return. But this is a problem the Cardinals have to deal with, not an interested team that simply had to click a button to express interest in the all star outfielder.

If the Cardinals felt that a deal wasn’t likely given these circumstances, or that dealing Berkman would impact his desire to return next season, they shouldn’t have placed him on waivers to begin with. But they did, and he was available to the other 29 teams, several of whom would have benefited from Berkman’s presence. The Angels and Giants come to mind as teams who would utilize him to make a push for a playoff spot. The Phillies and Braves could have used the added depth to bolster their odds of succeeding in the playoffs. The Rangers need a starting outfielder for three weeks with the Nelson Cruz injury.

At least five teams should have been interested, and perhaps more. Yet, in the end, Berkman managed to pass through waivers. He can still be traded but that isn’t the issue here. Rather, the issue is why teams that should have had interest forewent claiming him. Players with his numbers don’t typically come cheap but he doesn’t make much this year, relatively speaking. Even if a trade didn’t work out, there was little risk in submitting a claim.

If the Cardinals pull him back, so be it. If they let the claiming team absorb Berkman, then they made a bad business decision, but the acquiring team gets a top-tier player and presumably a first round pick when he returns to St. Louis next year. If a trade was worked out, the acquiring team still brings in its all-star. Deals can still be made now that he has cleared waivers, but not submitting a claim feels like a missed opportunity for certain teams from a process standpoint, given that nobody could have known with certainty that he would go unclaimed.

Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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I was thinking this same thing about a much lesser example, the Reds’ Bill Bray. I came to the conclusion that teams just didn’t want to waste their time filling out paperwork and possibly having calls on guys who they are 99.9% sure will just get pulled back.