The Texas Rangers finally added some offense to their team this winter, inking long-time Astros first baseman Lance Berkman to a one-year deal worth $10 million. The deal also contains a vesting option for 2014 based on plate appearances with a $1 million buyout.
After struggling in 2010 after being dealt from the Astros to the Yankees, Berkman signed with the Cardinals for 2011 for $8 million, and served as the team's every day right fielder. Finally healthy, Berkman posted a .959 OPS in 145 games with St Louis, homering 31 times (his highest total since 2007) and walking 92 times (compared to just 93 strikeouts). However, after signing a $12 million extension with the Cardinals for 2012, Berkman played in just 32 games due to calf and knee injuries.
If Berkman is healthy, this deal could be a major win for the Rangers. After losing Josh Hamilton to the Angels and Mike Napoli to the Red Sox this winter (assuming the deal isn't voided), Texas had a major hole in the middle of their lineup that a masher like Berkman could easily fill. Berkman could fill Napoli's role at first base and DH, with Mitch Moreland resting against lefties. Berkman should also stay healthier staying out of the outfield, where he was terrible defensively for St Louis in 2011.
From a purely offensive standpoint, Berkman is an elite hitter when he's on his game. But he'll be 37 in February, and despite that 2011 season that saw him amass offensive numbers that were among the best among all hitters in hte league, there are still questions as to whether or not that was a last gasp for him or a sign of things to come if he's able to play 140 games in a season. Despite the move to the pitching-rich AL West from the weaker NL Central, Berkman's offense should receive a boost from playing half of his games in the Ballpark at Arlington.
There really is no middle ground to this contract. Either Berkman is healthy and provides Texas with enough offense to justify his contract, or he deals with injuries and the contract is a bust. If I had to make a guess as to what would happen with Berkman…well, I really don't know. Leg injuries for an aging power hitter are always a red flag, and if he can't generate enough bat speed, it could be a long year for him and the Rangers.