• Could Lance Berkman Return to the Astros?

    by FootBasket on Sunday, December 2, 2012

    Lance Berkman December 2012

    With the move to the AL West, the Houston Astros are likely years away from contending in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. So basically, the Astros won’t be in the market for immediate impact players because that type of approach likely won’t get them anywhere in the standings. There’s one exception, though: Lance Berkman.

    Berkman played with the Astros for 12 years before being traded to the New York Yankees in the midst of the 2010 season, and eventually signing with the St. Louis Cardinals where he has spent the last two years.

    Given his age (36) and his derailed body, Berkman might choose to end his career with the team that drafted and brought him up. It would be bittersweet for both sides involved, and something positive for a struggling Astros organization.

    The timing for the Astros and Berkman to reunite is seemingly perfect. See, if the Astros still played in the National League, it would be unlikely that Berkman could endure another year of wear and tear on his fragile frame. Well, he could, but the likelihood of him suffering an injury would balloon dramatically.

    Luckily, the Astros now have the benefit of the designated hitter. It’s like adding another hitter. This is where Berkman comes into play.

    Okay he obviously isn’t the hitter he once was with the Astros, but his 2011 campaign with St.Louis — where he slashed .301/.412/.547 and hit 31 home runs — assuredly raised the thought that he can still be an effective force in the middle of any lineup. Berkman’s stellar season also garnered him a spot in the Top-10 for MVP-voting, and was named an All-Star for the sixth time in his career.

    Perhaps his rejuvenated bat was too good to be true. This thought wasn’t a passing whim either, as pundits rejected Berkman’s rebirth. Then, their suspicion was justified this year, as his depleted knee allowed him to log just 32 games for the Cardinals.

    The question is what side of Berkman are you going to get: the productive one, or the injury-prone, aging veteran whose best days are far behind him?

    Houston would have to hope that slotting him in the DH role would avoid him from suffering any major injuries to his wobbly knee. Obviously, the minor injuries are unavoidable, but that’s just what you would have to expect from a 36-year-old who will turn 37 before the season begins.

    However, think about this; what if Berkman acted as a coach or mentor, but played? It’s certainly plausible. The Astros roster is loaded with prospects and potentially star players down the road and Berkman could certainly pass down some of his wisdom.

    According to a report, Berkman has agreed to coach at his college, Rice, in a volunteer role this spring. Depending on whether he comes back for his 15th season, he has an open invitation to stay in his coaching role regardless of his decision. It should be noted that Berkman was a star at Rice, hitting the most home runs in a single season (41) and in a career with 67 blasts.

    So, should we start calling him “Coach Berkman,” or is it too soon to bring out that nickname? Well, this is where things become confusing.

    Reports confirm that Berkman does indeed want to play in 2013, but is it with the Astros? That’s not a confirmed rumor…yet. However, he did say he’d be willing to return to his old team at the right price. The right price might be the wrong price for the Astros, though.

    According to CBS Sports, He says he wants to be “compensated like a guy who is a Major League three-hole hitter.” So $20 million for one year? Probably not, but that’s what some three-hole hitters make.

    As much as he wants to think he’s a three-hole hitter, he’s not at this stage of his career. On the Astros, he could probably bat third. On a contending team though, he would be nothing more than a six-hole hitter at best. Plus, he would have a thinner margin for error.

    To put things into perspective, Berkman made a sum of $12 million in 2012 with the Cardinals. In more realistic terms, he will probably get a contract worth somewhere in the range of $5-$10 million as a DH in the AL.

    Now, don’t count the Astros out of the running just because of the six zeros. They do have just over $25 million committed to players next year and have Carlos Lee’s $19 million coming off the books as well, so they should have the flexibility to sign Berkman if they truly please.

    Here’s another twist, though: reports say Berkman wants to play for a contender. The Astros are not merely a contender by any stretch of the imagination.

    The same report that reported that Berkman will be a volunteer with Rice consists of a quote from Wayne Graham, the head coach of Owls. Graham said Berkman “wants to play for a contender” if he plays next season.

    So obviously we have some mixed thoughts and rumors, which is no surprise. But if we go by Berkman’s words — and we should — he could wind up in Houston for the 2013 season. And when the final dominoes fall, that’s the most likely place he will be in come the spring because everything matches up.

    Berkman will have a bittersweet ending to his highly-respectable career.

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