It’s been an offseason of disappointment for the Texas Rangers. They lost Josh Hamilton to a division rival, failed to convince Zack Greinke to head to Arlington, and couldn’t agree to a trade for Justin Upton. For an organization that has created such high expectations, the last couple of months have been a blast of cold water. So, in an effort to restore some of what was lost offensively, the Rangers are bringing a native Texan home, signing Lance Berkman to a one-year, $11-million deal, with a vesting option for a second year that kicks in if he reaches 550 plate appearances.
Berkman has spent most of his life, and the most successful part of his Major League career, in Texas. He went to high school outside of San Antonio and attended college at Rice University in Houston before being drafted by the Houston Astros. He spent 12 very successful seasons with the Astros, hitting .296/.410/.549 and making five all-star teams. A fan favorite there for more than a decade, he was a big part of the teams during the glory days of Houston baseball, which included a trip to the World Series in 2005.
In 2010, however, when it was clear the Astros were far from being a competitive team again, Berkman was shipped to New York to help the Yankees with their postseason run. In 37 games there, though, he only hit .255 with just one home run. In 2011, he returned to the National League where he jump started his career. His .301 batting average and 31 home runs were both second on the St. Louis Cardinals and good enough for his first all-star appearance in five years. He was also a significant contributor in the playoffs, helping to lead the Cardinals to a World Series title. Last year, though, he had trouble staying on the field, only managing to play in 32 games while battling injuries, including right knee surgery mid-season that contributed to a steady decline in his production in the second half of the year.
Through it all, Berkman contemplated retiring this offseason. He was honest in speaking about his plans, saying that it would have to be the right circumstance and it would have to be for an amount of money he considered worthwhile. He did speak with Astros management about making a possible return to Houston, but that failed to gain any traction. The contract he signed with Texas, though, makes sense for both sides.
Berkman has spent his entire career in the National League, save for three months with the Yankees, and, at 36-years-old, having to play defensively in the NL took its toll last year. For Texas, he is being brought in as a DH, a spot that opened up when the team traded Michael Young to the Philadelphia Phillies last month. This should help limit Berkman’s injury potential as he enters his 37- and, possibly, 38-year-old seasons.
From the Rangers’ perspective, relying on Berkman’s health is a gamble worth taking. Not only does his presence allow for some flexibility in potentially trading Mike Olt, but, before having surgery last year, he was actually hitting a solid .333. Just the year before, he showed he still has the ability to hit at a high level. The key to his success in 2013 may be staying off the disabled list and not having to worry about playing nine innings defensively.
Additionally, he will be another left-handed bat in a lineup that is otherwise righty-heavy and provide some potential power to replace what was lost with Hamilton, Young, and Mike Napoli. His .953 career OPS is actually the 21st best in baseball history. Ultimately, though, he is not Hamilton and this signing may only lessen the sting from losing him to a rival, but this is still a deal that has the potential to pay off nicely for both sides.