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Berkman A Nice Gamble By RangersPosted on January 7, 2013 at 09:00 AM.
With the way some talk about Lance Berkman, one would think the switch hitting outfielder/first baseman is in his early 40ís. While the 14 year veteran had contemplated retirement this winter, he has decided to return for his age 37 season. Berkman agreed to a one year deal with a vesting option for an additional year for $10 million with the Texas Rangers. The switch hitter will likely be the primary designated hitter for a club that has lost Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, traded Michael Young, and lost out on Zack Greinke. The Rangers are gambling on the veteran returning to health and being able to transition into a DH role.
It may be because he had that terrible, injury plagued 2010 season when he hit just .248/.368/.413 in 122 games with the Astros and Yankees. It may be because he played just 32 games last season because of a left calf injury and a torn meniscus in his right knee. Those two seasons may be hiding the fact that Berkman has been one of the best hitters over the past decade. Even including the two injury riddled seasons, Berkman has averaged 138 games player per season with a slash line of .296/.411/.546 along with 32 doubles, 28 home runs, and 93 RBI. Those two injury-plagued seasons aside, Berkman has hit at least 21 home runs, has posted an on base percentage of at least .381 and has slugged at least .514 in every full season of his career.
Like Berkman, the Rangers are saddled with some perceptions that look to be false too. Their misperceptions are easy to figure out: they lost the division on the final day of the 2012 season and then lost in the Wild Card game. They followed those defeats up with whiffing on every free agent they have pursued. But, that perception forgets that the Rangers are returning a largely intact pitching staff that was second in Major League Baseball in terms of WAR. It ignores the fact that the returning rotation finished third in the American League in innings pitched, 4th in strikeouts, 5th in walks, and 4th in FIP. With the bullpen still strong, the Rangers will still have one of the best pitching staffs in the league.
Although their lineup lost quite a few names, it still has the best overall third baseman in the sport in Adrian Beltre. Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler are above average hitters. Elvis Andrus is one of the best overall shortstops in the game and David Murphy will finally get his chance to prove that he is an everyday player. The Rangers signed AJ Pierzynski to a one year deal to fill their catching void and form a solid tandem with Geovany Soto. While Pierzynski is unlikely to repeat his career season for the Rangers, a season closer to his career norm will be adequate for the Rangers lineup. All of this leaves out Mike Olt, Jurickson Profar, and Leonys Martin, three of the best offensive prospects in baseball. The organization may have lost their biggest star in Hamilton, but they are still a favorite to win the American League West. Their pitching depth, young offense, and core of veteran players is still enough to compete in a division that features four other flawed teams.
A healthy Lance Berkman makes the Texas Rangers better. He gives them a middle of the order bat that should hit for power in Texas and provide a stable on base presence while hitting between Beltre and Cruz. If Berkman can stay healthy, there is no reason why he canít post a .275/.390/.490 season with 20 to 25 home runs. Because Texas has depth, he can be rested, which could help his production. If heís healthy, Berkman is still at an age where he can produce. Injuries aside, Berkmanís skills havenít regressed all that much.
But, the Rangers risk on two levels. Health is, obviously, a big concern for a number of reasons. He is coming off of knee surgery. Because of that, there has to be a worry about his conditioning entering the season. When Berkman struggled through 2010, he looked heavy and sluggish. His comeback 2011 saw a different player as he obviously lost weight and was in fantastic condition. With the injury and the fact that Berkman was talking about retirement, there has to be a worry about whether or not he is in the same type of condition he was during the 2011 season. Aging players do need to be in that type of shape.
The more real worry is Berkmanís role. When Berkman was with the New York Yankees after a deadline deal, he was honest about not liking the American League game. He looked awkward as a designated hitter. The DH is a great benefit to an aging player, but the most overlooked aspect of the job is the adjustment period. After spending an entire career in the field, it is a difficult adjustment to playing half the game. Veterans like Mike Piazza and Pat Burrell simply couldnít handle it. There is an adjustment and could prove difficult for Berkman as he adjusts to the full-time DH gig. His career numbers say otherwise as he has played 39 games in 14 years as a DH, hitting .323/.401/.508. The sample size is small and 25 of those games were played as a Yankee (.286/.368/.390) so until he gets a full season under his belt, that will be a concern.
In all, the Rangers get a player whose strikeout and walk rates have remained constant. They are getting a player whose on base percentage has remained consistent. And, they are getting a switch hitter with 20 to 25 home run potential. He isnít Lance Berkman the star player anymore, but he is at least suitable replacement for the departed Mike Napoli and an upgrade from the 2012 version of Michael Young. The Rangers take a $10 million chance that Berkman can be healthy enough to be those things. If he can or actually surpasses those expectations, General Manager Jon Daniels got himself one of the best bargains of the winter. If he fails to meet those expectations, the risk was just for one year and the Rangers have quite a bit of organizational depth that could compensate.
The Rangers didnít get Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton signed with their division rival Angels. But, none of that means they are finished as contenders. A year ago, they were the runaway favorite in the division. This year, they simply are not. The Angels have a dynamic offense, but they do have pitching questions. The Aís surprised last year, but must prove that their offense wasnít a fluke. The Mariners have so many questions on offense and the Astros are in full rebuild mode. The Rangers can and wil compete for a title. They still have one of the better staffs in the league and they still have a quality offense in one of the best hitters park in the league. If Lance Berkman can produce within his career rates, theyíve done quite well for the money that theyíve spent.
BORN: April 17, 1975 (38)
JOINED: Oct 26, 2003 (9 years, 213 days ago)
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