Results tagged ‘ Lance Berkman ’
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.”
Lance Berkman, one of the most accomplished and most popular players in team history, could be returning to the Astros next year in free agency. Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow said Friday he plans to reach out to the Big Puma to gauge his interest in returning.
“Lance can still produce at the Major League level,” said Luhnow, who was with St. Louis when Berkman played a huge role in the Cardinals’ run to the 2011 World Series. “He’s a guy a lot of clubs are going to be interested in. We’ll have a conversation with him and see where it goes.”
Berkman, who’s been hobbled by bad knees the past few years, could get extended time at designated hitter for the Astros, who are moving to the American League next year. He lives in Houston year round and could opt to finish his career in his hometown.
“He is an offensive weapon and has been his entire career,” Luhnow said. “No matter how you get that bat in the lineup – and obviously in the AL you have an opportunity to use him as a DH – he’s an offensive force, no question about it.”
Berkman, 36, played the first 12 years of his career with the Astros, hitting 360 home runs with 1,200 RBIs. He was traded to the Yankees midway through the 2010 season before signing a pair of one-year deals with the Cardinals.
He hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs in 2011, but was limited to 81 at-bats last season because of knee injuries. The Cardinals have said they’re not interest in bringing him back, and Berkman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week he’ll wait until December to decide if he wants to keep playing.
“Clearly, Lance has a great history here and was a key part of a great franchise at a great time,” Luhnow said. “If we feel there’s a fit in terms of what we need and what he can provide, we won’t hesitate to pursue it. We have a lot of different options out there and we’re not going to leave any stone unturned.”
With the World Series suddenly over in four quick games, the hot stove season is underway. Teams can begin signing other club’s free agents on Friday night, and the Astros will be involved. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow will have the flexibility to add some free agents this winter, but the Astros aren’t going to be bidding for any of the big names on the market at this stage of their rebuilding process.
So what kind of players will the Astros be targeting? Luhnow would like to add a starting pitcher, some bullpen help and a bat or two to increase run production, which is vital when you consider Houston is now an American League club (get that in your head, folks). With that in mind, here’s a list of some players the Astros could target in free agency (please note some of these players have options for 2013):
2012 club: Detroit.
Salary: $3 million.
Analysis: The former Astros has 13 Major League stops under his belt, but he keeps going strong. He’s a hard-thrower with plenty of closing experience.
2012 club: Tampa Bay.
Salary: $3.3 million.
Analysis: He wasn’t quite able to duplicate his stellar 2011 season, but that could drive down the price enough for the Astros to land an experienced arm.
2012 club: New York Mets
Salary: $3.5 million.
Analysis: Workhorse reliever appeared in 73 games last season and has handled a heavy load the last few years. Perhaps he could be a fit in the late innings for the Astros?
2012 club: Pittsburgh.
Salary: $1.1 million.
Analysis: His best days may be behind him, but he took the ball 64 times for the Pirates last season and posted a 2.91 ERA, saving a pair of games.
2012 club: Philadelphia and Los Angeles Dodgers
Salary: $8.5 million
Analysis: If he’s willing to take a big pay cut at this point of his career, Blanton could be plugged into the rotation and guaranteed 30-plus starts if he’s healthy.
2012 club: Pittsburgh.
Salary: $3 million.
Analysis: He’s won 12 games three times in the past 10 years on sub-par teams and could be a solid option to eat some innings in the middle of the rotation. He hasn’t pitched in the AL in his 10 years.
2012 club: Chicago Cubs and Texas.
Salary: $14 million.
Analysis: Probably way too rich for the Astros’ blood, but he would certainly solidify the top of the rotation alongside Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles and Lucas Harrell.
2012 club: Miami and Detroit.
Salary: $8 million.
Analysis: Sanchez would have to take a pay cut to come to Houston, but he would be a good fit. He’s pitched at least 195 innings in each of the last three years.
2012 club: Washington.
Salary: $11 million.
Analysis: Another veteran arm who would have to take a pay cut to Houston, but some of his best days came while he was pitching in the American League for Tampa and Detroit.
2012 club: Milwaukee
Salary: $7.725 million
Analysis: He topped 200 innings in his first year in Milwaukee in 2011, but was limited to 21 starts last year. Perhaps a move back to the American League would be welcomed.
2012 club: St. Louis.
Salary: $11.875 million.
Analysis: Considering he’s won 30 games the past two years for the Cardinals, he’s probably going to be priced out of Astros range. But don’t underestimate Luhnow’s Cardinals ties.
2012 club: Pittsburgh.
Salary: $4.5 million.
Analysis: This could be the type of player that will attract the Astros – a veteran coming off a sub-par season and looking for rejuvenation. Hasn’t lived up to hype since winning 15 games for Baltimore in 2006.
2012 club: Baltimore
Analysis: Could be had on the cheap if the Astros are looking for a left-handed arm to plug into the rotation, but it’s been five years since he started more than 13 games.
2012 club: Washington and San Francisco
Analysis: He’s been reduced to a part-time role at age 33, but he’s versatile in that he could play first base, outfield and handle designated hitter duties.
2012 club: San Francisco.
Salary: $4.85 million.
Analysis: Coming off one of the best years of his career and a World Series championship with the Giants, Pagan would fit nicely into the Astros’ outfield if he’s not too pricey.
2012 club: New York Yankees.
Salary: $1.1 million.
Analysis: He’s 40 years old, but he proved in the playoffs he’s got plenty remaining in the tank. He would be ideal to be a designated hitter at this point in his career.
2012 club: New York Mets
Salary: $1.1 million.
Analysis: He had his best power season of his career in 2012 when he slugged 20 homers for the Mets. He’s never appeared in the playoffs in nine years in the league, which could be a priority at this point in his career.
2012 club: Pittsburgh.
Salary: $4 million.
Analysis: Barajas would be an ideal backup for Jason Castro and provide the Astros some much-needed power at the position.
2012 club: Arizona.
Salary: $1.2 million.
Analysis: He hasn’t played much the last two years and might not bring enough offense to the table. If the Astros are looking for a cheap back up, he could be an option.
2012 club: Baltimore
Salary: $1 million.
Analysis: He hasn’t been a bad offensive player throughout his career, but doesn’t have much power anymore. Another cheap option as a back up.
2012 club: Atlanta
Salary: $1.625 million.
Analysis: He’s done a nice job backing up Brian McCann the past four years and last season hit .256 with nine homers and 23 RBIs. He could get more playing time in Houston in ’13 considering DH options.
2012 club: New York Mets.
Salary: $1.35 million.
Analysis: His production and playing time have slipped the last few years, but maybe a move back to his native Texas and a return to the American League could provide a career boost.
2012 club: St. Louis.
Salary: $12 million.
Analysis: Yes, it would be a great feel-good story if Berkman returned to his hometown Astros, where he could DH and save his knees. He’ll have to decide if he wants to keep playing.
2012 club: Tampa Bay.
Salary: $7.25 million.
Analysis: He doesn’t hit for a very high average anymore, but he could be plugged into the DH role and be good for 25-30 homers.
2012 club: Oakland.
Salary: $1 million.
Analysis: If you’re looking for an ideal designated hitter candidate, Gomes is your guy. He hit 18 homers in only 279 at-bats for the A’s last season and comes on the cheap.
2012 club: Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston.
Salary: $6.375 million.
Analysis: Houston native’s game has slipped the last few years, but his hometown could be attractive to give him a season to get his left-handed swing back together.
2012 club: New York Yankees.
Analysis: Chavez stayed healthy and had a nice bounce-back season for the Yankees last season, which could mean he’ll be looking for a bigger payday than the Astros are willing to offer.
2012 club: Washington.
Analysis: His game has really slipped offensive the past few years, but the Astros could be willing to take a flier on him at 37 years old.
2012 club: Cincinnati.
Salary: $6.5 million.
Analysis: Rolen’s power numbers have dropped dramatically since his heyday with the Phillies and Cardinals. Could be undergo an offensive surge if he doesn’t have to play defense.
Despite playing for the Phillies for the final two months of the regular season, right fielder Hunter Pence was still voted as the Astros’ Most Valuable Player for 2011 by the Houston chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Pence, who was traded to the Phillies on July 29, hit .308 with 11 homers and 62 RBIs in 100 games for the Astros. It’s the second consecutive year Pence has been named the team’s MVP, but this one caught him off-guard.
“Yes, that surprises me,” he said Friday after the Phillies finished working out in preparation for their National League Division Series against the Cardinals.
“Honestly, I’m very honored and humbled that they would select me for that,” he said. “It’s tough to explain. I know there’s a lot of guys that played the whole season there that had good seasons. I don’t really know what to think about that other than it makes me feel better about my accomplishments there and they recognize how I played the game. That’s cool, I guess.”
Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez was named the team’s Pitcher of the Year after going 11-11 with a 3.49 ERA in 30 starts. Outfielder J.D. Martinez was named Rookie of the Year and outfielder Jason Bourgeois was named the winner of the Darryl Kile “Good Guy” Award for his community efforts and good relationship with the media.
Also winning awards as voted on by the BBWAA were Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman (Houston area Player of the Year) and long-time Astros broadcaster Bill Brown (Fred Hartman Long & Meritorious Service). All award-winners will be recognized at the Houston Baseball Dinner in January.
I had a chance to catch up with former Astros slugger Lance Berkman in the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park, trying to dodge the champagne and beer as best as possible. Berkman was beaming after the Cardinals had just clinched the National League Wild Card.
“It’s just great,” he said. “It’s exciting. Any time you get a chance to play for a championship, that’s all you can ask for as a player.”
What a week it’s been for Berkman. He signed a one-year, $12-million contract extension with the Cardinals only a few days ago and then came to his hometown of Houston and helped the Cardinals take two of three games from the Astros to run down the Braves.
“This year has been pretty special in a lot of ways, and certainly this is a great way to cap it off,” he said.
Now the Cardinals and Berkman will get to face the Phillies in the National League Division Series beginning Saturday in Philadelphia. The Phillies, of course, feature three of Berkman’s former teammates – Hunter Pence, Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt.
“If you could round up all the ex-Astros you’d have a pretty good team,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough challenge to play those guys. They have a great team, the best team in baseball this year. So we’ll see what happens.”
Lance Berkman returned to Minute Maid Park on Tuesday wearing the uniform of the rival Cardinals. Berkman even returned to first base, where he got the start with Albert Pujols nursing an injury.
Berkman arrived at the ballpark early zipped past the Astros clubhouse on a golf cart on his way to the visiting clubhouse on the other side of the ballpark.
“It’s hard to verbalize the wide range of emotions you feel when you come back to a place you were for a long time,” said Berkman, who still lives in Houston with his family. “I’ve had a lot of good memories here and there were a lot of good people I interacted with over the years, so it’s certainly different seeing it from this side.”
Berkman was asked about the comments that Astros Hall of Fame announcer Milo Hamilton made on a Houston radio station Monday morning when he questioned Berkman’s workout routine during his final two years with the Astros.
Hamilton, during his weekly appearance on KBME (790 AM) in Houston, expressed regret Berkman wasn’t able finish his career with the Astros and said if he had the same workout commitment during his final two years in Houston, he’d still be here. Berkman battled knee problems last year after undergoing surgery in March and was having his worst offensive season when he waived his no-trade clause and approved a deal to the Yankees last July.
Berkman signed with the Cardinals in the winter and entered Monday hitting a sizzling .377 with six homers and 15 RBIs. Berkman said he had no hard feelings for Hamilton, but he took exception to the comments.
“I want to be careful with my words, but first of all there were some things that were said simply not true,” Berkman said. “I think the comment was made that I didn’t rehab my knee. That’s a blatant falsehood. You can go confirm with the training staff. I came every day and did exactly what I was supposed to do. I do take exception to the questioning of the effort.
“I feel like I’ve done the best that I can and did the best I could over the time I had here in Houston to represent the organization well on and off the field, and that includes effort level and playing hurt and maybe playing some games when I shouldn’t have been out there. In trying to do the best I could do and maintain the feel that both Craig [Biggio] and Jeff [Bagwell] were able to create, and I felt a responsibility in that regard to pass that along.
“One thing that can’t be denied – and that responsibility is on me – that if I had played better, we wouldn’t be having this press conference.”
Check out more that Berkman had to say later tonight at http://www.astros.com
The Astros meet the Cardinals for the first time this year on Tuesday night and there should be plenty of anticipation in the air because of the return of Lance Berkman.
Berkman, one of the Astros’ five greatest offensive players, was traded to the Yankees last July and signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Cardinals in the winter after the Astros told him they weren’t interested in bringing him back.
Berkman, who is hitting .377 with six homers and 15 RBIs with a 1.173 OPS, spoke to MLB.com on Sunday about his return to the ballpark he called home for more than a decade.
“I’m not crazy about going back in there,” he said. “I feel like I’ve kind of turned the page, and part of me just wants to be done with it. But I know I’m going to have to go back in there and face a lot of questions and things like that.
“But it boils down to it’s still just a baseball game. Now that I’m on the other side, you’ve got to try to win and do the best you can for the team you’re playing for.”
Much has been made of Berkman reporting to the Cardinals in terrific shape and has prompted Astros fans to wonder if he worked harder this offseason than he did in his last couple of years with the Astros when his numbers declined.
We know that Berkman couldn’t get over the injury hump last year, beginning when he injured his knee in the spring and wound up starting the season on the disabled list following surgery.
“I just feel healthier than I have in a while,” Berkman said. “My legs feel good, my knees aren’t bothering me. I think that has a lot to do with having a good base to hit from. Other than that, my swing feels really good. I hope I can keep it going.”
Berkman didn’t venture a guess on what kind of reception he’d get from the fans, but it should be overwhelmingly positive. He was the offensive anchors of two of the greatest teams in Astros history and was always a good influence anywhere he went in Houston, where he still lives.
“I’m not going to put too much emphasis or stock on this series,” he said. “We go back in there twice more, and they’re games that we need to win. We need to play well. I’m trying to look at it from, it’s not about me going back in there, it’s about we’re going in there to play them.
“Clearly you can see that this is going to be a competitive division, so all these games are important and you’ve got to try to win as many as you can.”
And coming home knowing he’s playing well only helps, Berkman says.
“You just don’t want them to be able to say, ‘Well, we were right to get rid of him,’” he said. “So that’s the only thing from that standpoint. It will be nice to walk in there and feel like I’m swinging the bat pretty well.”
When asked about his best memory with the Astros, Berkman didn’t single out any particular play or home run.
“I think more than anything else, it’s the teammates I’ve had over the years that I’ve really enjoyed,” he said. “I think part of the reason that it’s not nearly as difficult for me as it could have been is because most of the guys that I’m close to are gone.
“It’s really not the same place. It’s not the same team. It’s a totally different environment. It’s a totally different atmosphere from when I was there for most of my career.
“Those are the things that I remember fondly. I miss those people, not necessarily the place, although the place does have a lot of good memories for me.”
Before we break down how the Astros shape up at first base, here’s a reminder that in the next few days I plan to answer some of your questions with a long-awaited Inbox. So if you have some questions you want answered about the Astros, click here.
Now, let’s get back to our series on examing the Astros one position at a time. Today’s topic is first base. And boy, how things have changed at first base in the last few months.
2010 Opening Day starter: Geoff Blum (Lance Berkman would have been starter if not injured).
2010 end-of-season starters: Brett Wallace/Carlos Lee.
Others who were in the mix: Pedro Feliz.
Combined stats of Astros first basemen: .241 BA/.332 OBP/.397 SLG, 30 doubles, 19 homers, 80 RBIs, 72 walks, 127 strikeouts, 585 at-bats.
Free agents: Blum (mutual option for 2011 was not exercised).
Arbitration eligible: None.
What happened: Lance Berkman injured his knee in the middle of Spring Training and had to undergo surgery, which put him out for the first 12 games of the season. Pedro Feliz, who was signed to be the starting third baseman, and veteran utility man Geoff Blum shared the first base duties until Berkman returned to the lineup, April 20, against the Marlins.
Berkman got off to a terrible start at the plate and never really recovered, which along with the early offensive woes by fellow sluggers Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee put the Astros in a huge hole in the NL Central. The Big Puma hit .242 in April and .221 in May and had five homers in his first 37 games. He managed to hit .278 in June, but had only two homers. That forced the Astros to come to the conclusion they wouldn’t pick up his $15 million option for 2011 and they wound up trading him to the Yankees at the Trade Deadline in exchange for right-hander Mark Melancon and Minor League infielder Jimmy Paredes.
Berkman is one of the Astros’ top five offensive players in club history, and watching him get traded away only hours after Roy Oswalt was dealt to the Phillies was quite a shock. Whether Berkman has any game left remained to be seen, but it was clear the Astros were ready to get younger. Brett Wallace, one of the players they acquired in the Oswalt deal in a secondary trade with Toronto, was plugged in as the starter at first base.
Wallace got off to a nice start in his first week on the job in his Major League debut, but he scuffled offensively for much of the season. The power numbers he put up in the Minor Leagues never materialized. Wallace hit just two homers in 144 at-bats and struck out 50 times, but his September was better than his August at the plate and he turned out to be a surprisingly adept defensive first baseman despite his large frame. Wallace hit .222/.296/.319 with two homers and 13 RBIs.
He didn’t hit right-handers (.218) or left-handers (.240) exceptionally well, but found himself splitting time at first base in the final three weeks of the season with Lee, the team’s starting left fielder. Lee started nine of the final 18 games at first base – primarily against lefties – and was adequate defensively, though not nearly as good as Wallace. Lee hit .235/.257/.456 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 19 games as a first baseman.
Feliz saw occasional time at first base before he was let go, and Blum made 10 starts at the position.
What’s next: Considering Wallace has only 144 career Major League at-bats to his name, the Astros are going into next season with him penciled in as the starting first baseman of the future. The one thing that stands in his way is Lee. It wasn’t by accident that the Astros got a long look at El Caballo at first base in September, and it’s not a stretch to consider Lee will come to Spring Training with a shot to be the starting first baseman on Opening Day.
Not only would this give Wallace some more at-bats in the Minor Leagues, but it would allow the Astros to free up a spot in left field for somebody with more range and a better arm than Lee, who is not a good outfielder. Had Wallace come to the Astros and tore the cover off the baseball in Chris Johnson fashion, Lee likely never would have been taken out of the outfield at any point last season.
Who’s on the farm: Like many of the Astros’ positions, you’ll have to go down to Double-A Corpus Christi to find a player who might have a long-term future at first base with the big club. Koby Clemens started at first for the Hooks and was named team Most Valuable Player after hitting .241 with 26 home runs, 85 RBIs and a .350 on-base percentage. The jury’s out on whether he can be a Major League first baseman, but he might get a shot to come to Major League camp next spring.
Mark Ori (.284) and Brian Pellegrini (.283, 16 homers, 45 RBIs) put up good offensive numbers in Class A Lancaster, and Houston native Kody Hinze had a breakout season at Class A Lexington, hitting .277 with 19 homers and 97 RBIs.
In summary: Unless the Astros acquire another player they feel could start at first base, they will come to camp with Wallace and Lee in the mix. It’s probably going to be up to Wallace’s bat to decide who’s going to be manning first base when the season begins next April in Philadelphia. Don’t be surprised to see an older veteran in camp in the mold of Darin Erstad and Geoff Blum who could play first base in a backup role.
Lance Berkman was one of the most caring, honest and reliable guys you could ever want to meet, in addition to being a heck of a baseball player. Sure, it looks like his skills are declining at age 34, but he can still swing the bat, draws walks and, as we saw a few days ago, knows how to turn on a good fastball now and then.
Simply put, Berkman, traded to the Yankees on Saturday, is the most enjoyable players I’ve covered in my seven years on the Astros beat and he’ll be missed. It’s definitely going to be strange to see him wearing pinstripes.
So long, Puma.
Roy Oswalt, who fell to 6-13 after losing his Phillies debut on Friday, was excited to hear long-time friend and Astros teammate Lance Berkman was being sent to the Yankees in a trade that is expected to be announced Saturday.
“I think it will be good for him,” he said. “Sometimes you get a change of scenery, it turns you all the way around. Sometimes you get in a rut of doing the same thing over and over. I think it will be great for him to get back in a pennant race and feel the excitement of it. In ’04 and ’05 when we made up all that ground and got to go to the World Series, that’s where the real baseball is.”
So what about the prospect of Oswalt’s Phillies and Berkman’s Yankees facing off in the playoffs?
“He was actually the first person I called when I got traded,” Oswalt said. ”He was saying the worst part was going to be facing me. I’ve been watching him for 10 years, so I kind of know where to throw him.