After a two-season stint in St. Louis that brought him a World Series ring, the affable Lance Berkman has returned to his home state of Texas. Berkman missed almost all of 2012 due to a series of nagging injuries, and for a while it appeared he was headed toward a teary-eyed retirement. The infielder/outfielder/DH turns 37 next month, and he’s agreed to a one-year deal worth $10 million with the contending Rangers. Should he defy the odds and accumulate 550 plate appearances in 2013, Berkman’s deal also includes a second year that will automatically vest.
It’s fairly difficult to know exactly what Berkman will bring to the table for the Rangers. In 2011, he bounced back in an eyebrow-raising manner, hitting an astounding .301/.412/.547 with 31 home runs and re-establishing himself as a star. Last season, however, he only stepped up to the plate 97 times. hitting .259/.381/.444 in the process. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about what Berkman has to offer going forward, but for a Rangers team that has missed out on just about every other intended target, there are positives to be found as well.
Berkman is likely done being able to do much of anything with a glove on his hand, but he may still be able to wield a bat. For the Rangers to dole out this sort of lucrative short-term contract, they must believe the player to be quite healthy. In the supreme hitting environment of Arlington, some of Berkman’s pain and age should be masked, and there is no indication that his batting eye has even begun to diminish as he gets older. We’re willing to believe Berkman can be a positive offensive contributor for a team that really needs one now that Josh Hamilton is gone. A one-year, $10 million deal is probably just fine, although we’re withholding complete judgment until we know exactly what the deal is with that second year.
By adding Berkman to the fold, the Rangers appear to have paid a high annual price to ensure lower risk in terms of longevity. The Rangers needed to do something with the Angels and A’s on the their heels or better, and Berkman will surely give them an additional offensive weapon for one more season as long as his body finds a way to hold up. Plus, as we know as Cardinal fans, Lance Berkman’s a pretty cool guy. Just don’t bring up politics or guns in conversation with him. Oh, and if you see him, tell him StanGraphs says hello.