Any hopes Astros fans had of Lance Berkman returning to Houston to finish his career were ended Saturday when the slugger told MLB.com he had agreed to a one-year contract with a vesting option for 2014 to become the designated hitter for the Texas Rangers.
Berkman, who played for the Astros from 1999-2010 and for the Cardinals the previous two seasons, was mulling retirement before the Rangers made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. He’ll remain in the Astros’ division – the American League West – and the teams will meet on Opening Day in Houston on March 31 on ESPN.
The Astros had several conversations about bringing Berkman back, but he said Saturday a formal offer had never been made and that Houston wasn’t quite the right fit. Houston signed Carlos Pena to be its designed hitter last month.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the Astros organization and the way our negotiations went,” he said. “I understand they’re in a position they have a lot of young players they’d like to get Major League experience, and with the signing of Carlos Pena, that kind of takes care of their DH spot. The fit wasn’t quite right, but I still harbor an extreme amount of good will towards the Astros organization, and I hope to continue that relationship on down the road.”
In November, Berkman initiated a meeting with Astros owner Jim Crane to talk about the team and get to know each other better, and he also had lunch with new manager Bo Porter and had some recent conversations with general manager Jeff Luhnow.
“We talked general range, but they never said ‘Hey, we’ll give you X,’” Berkman said. “I met with Bo Porter and met with Mr. Crane and talked with Mr. Luhnow several times on the phone. We kind of talked parameters, but it never really got past the tire-kicking phase.
“They were very candid and very honest what their goals were as an organization. With where they’re at and what they have planned with their young guys, it didn’t make a whole of sense to get to the Rangers’ level financially. I understand that and I feel nothing but good things towards the Astros organization.”
Berkman said the bum knee that limited his playing time last season has healed enough to where he believes he can provide solid production from the DH spot this year. But there were several things that drew him to Arlington.
“One is the opportunity to DH,” he said. “I think that’s going to be really good for me from a physical standpoint in terms of staying healthy for a full year and obviously geography – I’m a Texas guy all the way – so I could get back to my home state, and being close to home is huge for me and my family. I think the Rangers have an excellent chance to win. I think they have a very solid team, so all those things kind of add up and it makes a lot of sense.”
Berkman, who turns 37 on Feb. 10, was considering retirement after an injury-plagued 2012 with the Cardinals. He underwent two surgeries on his right knee and played 32 games, hitting .259 with an .826 OPS, two home runs and seven RBIs. Berkman appeared in only six games and started two after July 29 and was left off St. Louis’ playoff roster.
“In my mind, I was retired,” he said. “I really felt like I wasn’t going to play and then as I got further into the offseason my knee started to feel better, and the Rangers made me a real strong offer. That sort of got my interest piqued and it just kind of went from there.
“I’m glad that they reached out to me when they did and it kind of worked out. I always told myself I was going to leave the possibility of returning open and let the Lord dictate whether it was time or walk away or there was an opportunity that made sense to keep going. Obviously, this is an opportunity that made a lot of sense.”
Alan Ashby, the former Astros catcher who had called games for the Blue Jays since 2007, has resigned his position in Toronto and has agreed to terms to join Houston’s television broadcast team with Bill Brown on CSN Houston. An official announcement will be next week.
Ashby, who lives in Houston, worked from 1998 to 2006 alongside play-by-play announcer Milo Hamilton, who retired following last season. He’ll serve as the color commentator on television broadcasts and occasionally fill in on play-by-play duties.
“The opportunity in Toronto was for me and my wife a life-saving and career-saving kind of opportunity, and all I can do is thank them for that and everything it’s been to us,” Ashby said. “It’s really given me this opportunity now to come back here and pursue this chance, and I’m just grateful to come back home and work and just kind of continue to enjoy what this special vocation presents.”
Ashby said Brown will work a reduced schedule next year per his wishes.
“Brownie’s a friend of mine so that makes it extra special,” he said. “He’s pulling back a little bit. He’s going to do roughly 100 games and I will do the other games in his seat, so that’s really the reason I chose to go in that direction. I felt, in the long run, the chance to kind of slip in with Brownie and maybe be in a position when he walks away from it to have that seat, to me is an opportunity that just seemed like what I could ultimately like best.”
Ashby, 61, played 17 years in the Major Leagues, including 11 with the Astros (1979-89). He’s a career .245 hitter with 90 homers and 513 RBIs, logging 69 homers and 388 RBIs with the Astros. He also caught a pair of no-hitters with the Astros.
Ashby was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000 and earlier this year was named the Astros’ all-time starting catcher as part of the team’s 50th anniversary.
Hamilton stepped down as the team’s full-time radio play-by-play voice after more than 25 years, and the team didn’t renew the contracts of play-by-play voices Brett Dolan and Dave Raymond. Jim Deshaies left the Astros for WGN last month, leaving Brown as the lone returning holdover of the broadcast team in 2013.
2013 MINOR LEAGUE STAFF
COORDINATORS, ROVERS & MEDICAL STAFF
Field Coordinator Paul Runge
Pitching Coordinator Dyar Miller
Hitting Coordinator Ralph Dickenson
Roving Pitching Instructor Craig Bjornson
Roving Hitting Instructor Jeff Albert
Strength & Conditioning Brendan Verner
Medical Coordinator Jamey Snodgrass
Rehab Coordinator Daniel Roberts
Manager Tony DeFrancesco
Pitching Coach Steve Webber
Hitting Coach Leon Roberts
Infield Coach Tom Lawless
Athletic Trainer Mike Freer
Strength & Conditioning Alex Pounds
Manager Keith Bodie
Pitching Coach Gary Ruby
Hitting Coach Tim Garland
Catching Coach Mark Bailey
Athletic Trainer Bryan Baca
Strength & Conditioning Trey Weidman
Manager Rodney Linares
Pitching Coach Don Alexander
Hitting Coach Darryl Robinson
Infield Coach Morgan Ensberg
Athletic Trainer Grant Hufford
Manager Omar Lopez
Pitching Coach Dave Borkowski
Hitting Coach Joel Chimelis
Outfield/Baserunning Coach Vince Coleman
Athletic Trainer Steve Miller
Manager Ed Romero
Pitching Coach Doug White
Hitting Coach Russ Steinhorn
Athletic Trainer Michael Rendon
Manager Josh Bonifay
Pitching Coach Josh Miller
Hitting Coach Cesar Cedeno
Athletic Trainer Corey O’Brien
GULF COAST LEAGUE
Manager Edgar Alfonzo
Pitching Coach Hector Mercado
Hitting Coach Marty Malloy
Coach Gordy MacKenzie
Athletic Trainer Christian Bermudez
DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE
Manager Johan Maya
Pitching Coach Rick Aponte
Hitting Coach Luis Mateo
Outfield Instructor Juan Zapata
Catching Instructor Sixto Ortega
Athletic Trainer Ambiorix Reyes
Strength & Conditioning Geremias Guzman
Former Astros pitcher Brett Myers passed his physical and officially became a member of the Cleveland Indians on Friday, reuniting him with former Astros manager Brad Mills. In fact, Myers told MLB.com on Friday that Mills was a big reason he was able to sign with the Indians.
Mills managed the Astros from the start of the 2010 season until Aug. 18 of last year when he was let go. He will be the Indians’ third-base coach this season, reuniting him with close friend Terry Francona. Mills was Francona’s bench coach for six years in Boston.
Myers said Mills called him about two weeks ago to gauge his interest in joining the starting rotation.
“He asked me where my head was and I told him I was ready,” Myers said. “I told him I was willing to start and he said they could use me here. The next thing you know they called my agent and it was like, ‘Hey, let’s work something out.’ Millsie was a big part of me getting over there.”
Myers also was recruited by Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash, who caught him for half a season with the Astros in 2010.
“He called me about 2 ½ months ago and talked to me about it, and it all fell into place,” he said.
The idea of returning to the rotation after pitching in the bullpen for the Astros and the White Sox last year was appealing. He said his arm is in good shape.
“I came off hip surgery in ’09 [with Philadelphia] and only threw like 70 innings that year and then went out and threw 224 innings for Houston [in ’10],” Myers said. “Hopefully I can repeat that performance again. I have Cash here and he’s going to help me out with all the reports and stuff like that.”
The Astros will begin the 2013 season at 7 p.m. CT on March 31 against the Rangers at Minute Maid Park – two days earlier than previously scheduled – to accommodate the game being televised nationally on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. The full schedule can be seen here.
The game will mark Houston’s debut in the American League after playing the first 51 years of its existence in the National League. It will also be the debut for Astros manager Bo Porter and will be the first look at the team in their new blue and orange uniforms.
Prior to facing the Rangers on Opening Day, the Astros will play two exhibition games against the Cubs at Minute Maid Park on March 29 and March 30.
The Astros were originally scheduled to open the season on Tuesday, April 2 against the Rangers with the series continuing on April 3 and April 4. Instead, the Astros will have off days April 1 and April 4 before the A’s come to town for a weekend series.
The Astros will open at home for the 29th time in the last 35 years.
Astros pitchers and catchers will report for Spring Training in Kissimmee, Fla., on Feb. 11 and work out for the first time on Feb. 12. The report date for position players is Feb. 15, with the first full-squad workout set for Feb. 16. Houston will open Grapefruit League play Feb. 23 against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla.