MLB

Berkman aims to play the field

Lance Berkman (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Lance Berkman has averaged 33 HR and 109 RBI per season over his 12-year career.
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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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The first-base market remains plentiful, even after the Giants’ re-signing of Aubrey Huff to a two-year, $22 million contract.

But Lance Berkman, a free agent for the first time in his career, does not consider himself a first baseman only.

“The way I look at it, I could still play first base and the outfield,” Berkman said Tuesday.

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“A lot of people have asked me, ‘Do you still want to play the field?’ My answer is that not only can I play the field, I still can run around the outfield. I’m not a DH-slash-first baseman. I’m a first baseman-slash-outfielder.”

Berkman, who turns 35 on Feb. 10, has not played the outfield since 2007. He was the Astros’ full-time first baseman before getting traded last July 31 to the Yankees, who used him mostly as a left-handed DH.

What would be different for him in 2011?

Berkman underwent arthroscopic surgery to clean out loose cartilage in his left knee last March 12, and says the injury limited him all season.

No more.

“I can go back and play either left field or right field,” Berkman says. “I don’t think I’d have any problem with that at all. I’ve talked to some teams that agree with my assessment of where I am physically, that think I’m still moving around good enough to play out there.”

Berkman, who batted a combined .248/.368/.413 with the Astros and Yankees, says he is drawing varying levels of interest from eight teams.

The A’s have been the “most aggressive” in terms of contact, he says, and the Cubs have checked in, informing him of their opening at first base. The Rockies also have shown interest, according to a major-league source.

Ideally, Berkman says he would prefer to return to the National League, where he played with the Astros from 1999 until his trade to the Yankees. He praises the A’s young pitching, but does not want to be restricted to a DH role.

“I’m certainly talking to them,” Berkman says of the A’s. “But that’s a situation where they’ve got a very good young first baseman defensively (Daric Barton), and a glut of outfielders.

“I think they’re looking for a DH. I’m not ready to be a full-time DH. I’m not ruling them out. But I’m not jumping up and down excited about going out and DHing.”

Berkman is coming off a $14.5 million salary. He has earned more than $94 million in his career, according to baseball-reference.com. He says that playing for a contender “is definitely up there in terms of my wish list.” But more than anything, he wants a chance to become the Lance Berkman of old.

“I’m probably viewed as a declining player,” Berkman says. “I don’t blame teams for thinking like that. But I don’t view myself that way. If I was to honestly assess where I’m at, I feel like last year was the result of me being hurt.

“My knee was hurt all year. The kind of injury I had prevented me from using my legs when I hit. In my mind, I can scratch that off and say that I’ll be healthy next year, be the player I was prior to the 2009 season. That’s kind of how I’m looking at it.

“Obviously, I’ve got to get an opportunity. I’ve got to go out there and prove it. Guys get to be 34-35-36, their production starts to drop off for whatever reason. There is always that (red) flag or question mark. But in the history of game, there are plenty of guys who have been extremely productive into their middle and late 30s.

“I plan to be one of those guys who bounces back and re-establishes myself.”

Tagged: Yankees, Lance Berkman

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