Free agent Lance Berkman still has not decided that he will play in 2013. But he is talking about a possible return with multiple clubs, including the Texas Rangers, major-league sources say.
Berkman’s hometown team, the Houston Astros, remains open to bringing him back, even after signing free-agent first baseman Carlos Pena. But the Rangers stand a much better chance than the Astros of competing in the AL West next season.
Either team could use Berkman as a designated hitter, the role that suits him best at this stage of his career. Berkman, 36, injured his left calf and underwent two surgeries on his right knee last season, appearing in only 32 games for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The season before, he played in 145 games, his most since 2008, batting .301 with 31 homers, 94 RBI and a .959 OPS, and helping the Cardinals win the World Series.
The Rangers still need offense, and Berkman is one of many options they are considering, sources say. The team lost free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton to the Los Angeles Angels, traded third baseman Michael Young to the Philadelphia Phillies and likely will lose free-agent catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli to the Boston Red Sox.
Napoli reached agreement with the Boston Red Sox on Dec. 3, but the deal still is not official. A physical examination revealed a problem with one of his hips, sources say, and the two sides have yet to find common ground on that issue.
The chances of Napoli returning to the Rangers, however, are slim. The team already has added free-agent catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto. Berkman would further replenish the offense, and the team remains interested in acquiring other hitters, notably Arizona right fielder Justin Upton.
Berkman has said that he wants to spend more time with his family, and that he is intrigued by the chance to become a voluntary assistant coach at Rice, his alma mater.
But in a recent interview with MLB Network, he acknowledged that money will be a consideration in his decision, and that a team effectively could buy him out of his retirement.
“Well, I think so,” said Berkman, who earned $12 million with the Cardinals last season. “It’s awfully hard to make the kind of money that we’re able to make doing anything else and I think I certainly have a realization and appreciation for that. So, if it comes down to it, there are definitely amounts of money that you just can’t turn down.
“That is a scenario that could happen although I don’t see that as being extremely likely given the fact that I didn’t play hardly at all last year. I’m sure a lot of teams would have a question about if I could hold up over 162 games and things like that so there’s some factors there that I think are going to limit the offers that I get from some of these teams.”