ARLINGTON, Texas – Lance Berkman might not be the missing piece for the Texas Rangers to be successful this season.
But he may have been the piece that brought into focus the lineup the Rangers will be rolling out to start the 2013 season.
Berkman signed a one-year deal for $10 million Monday that includes a vesting option for 2014 that will pay Berkman $12 million of he reaches 550 plate appearances this season. That’s a big change for Berkman in an offseason that began with him expecting to retire. That sentiment changed once the Rangers made contact with him over the holidays.
Berkman, who will turn 37 next month, is expected to be the team’s everyday designated hitter and could also see occasional time at first base and in the outfield.
If Berkman, who missed most of the 2012 season because of a balky right knee that led to two surgeries, plays first base it looks like it will be when Mitch Moreland needs a break.
Texas general manager Jon Daniels said he expects Ian Kinsler to be the club’s second baseman this year after the club flirted with the idea of moving him to first base to create playing time for Jurickson Profar. As things stand now, Profar and Mike Olt figure to open the season in the minors unless they win an everyday spot in spring training.
A big season by Berkman, who was an All-Star with St. Louis in 2011, may take any pressure off the Rangers rushing either of the two prospects. Berkman thinks he has that in him.
“I feel like I’m going to be healthy and I’m going to be productive,” Berkman said. “I like the balance of the lineup. The way that the team is configured it’s less dependent on one or two guys. I feel like the onus of production is going to be spread out.”
The key to that will be health. The Texas native played in just 32 games last year with St. Louis because of the knee problems as well as a left calf strain. But Berkman doesn’t think the knee will be an issue this year.
He’s confident enough where he is that he thinks he could play in the field if needed on Opening Day, which happens to be March 31 against Berkman’s old team the Houston Astros.
“I like where I am right now in terms of the structural condition of the knee,” Berkman said. “I don’t think I’m going to have any issues there. It’s just a matter of continuing the strength work.”
Texas general manager Jon Daniels said the signing of Berkman was two years in the making as Texas pursued him before he signed with St. Louis. That was the same offseason in which Berkman said if the Rangers didn’t re-sign Cliff Lee, he felt like they’d be an average team. The Rangers went on to go to the World Series again in 2011 and lost to Berkman and the Cardinals.
Monday night he had nothing but praise for the Texas pitching staff.
“Some of the same elements are here but guys are older, they’re more developed,” Berkman said. “The two left-handers – (Matt) Harrison and (Derek) Holland – are that much further along and they’re plenty tough. Obviously I’m not a very good handicapper when it comes to the strength of a rotation. But I do believe this rotation is going to be strong.”
Daniels said the signing of Berkman didn’t influence the club’s decision to keep Kinsler at second. Last month Daniels said the club was leaning towards moving Kinsler to first and putting Profar at second. But as the offseason went on, the club backed off the move because they didn’t want to force the move.
Kinsler may see some action at first base this spring, but second base is where he has played on a regular basis since 2006.
“The way we’re approaching it is Ian’s our second baseman,” Daniels said. “Mitch is our first baseman. He gets every chance to hopefully have a full healthy season and show what he can do.”
Daniels doesn’t believe it would help Profar to stick with the Rangers unless he gets a chance to play every day. That hasn’t been ruled out.
“If he’s ready to help us win at the big league level, which our gut right now says he probably is, but until he does it you don’t know 100 percent that’s one thing,” Daniels said. “If there’s an opportunity for him to play regularly and help on a regular basis, then we won’t hesitate to go with him. We think he’s got that kind of talent and makeup.”
The Berkman deal may be the final one the Rangers make before going to Surprise next month. Daniels said the club could make another move, with outfield and starting the primary targets, but he’s comfortable going to Arizona with the club the way it is now.