Lance Berkman Rumors
In today's column, Buster Olney of ESPN.com (Insider sub. req'd) looks at the best second-tier and third-tier free agents remaining. Here's a look at the highlights..
- Joe Saunders is receiving interest from four clubs and the Orioles have ramped up their efforts to retain him. It seems Saunders would be in position to get more than the two-year, $15MM deal signed by Joe Blanton.
- Scott Hairston is looking for a significant raise over the $1.1MM he earned last season and he might wind up being too rich for the Mets' blood. Jonny Gomes is a similar player and got $10MM over two years from the Red Sox.
- Some teams see the significant increase in walks allowed last season by Joel Hanrahan as a red flag. After posting a 2.1 BB/9 rate in 2011, Hanrahan jumped to 5.4 in 2012. There is also some concern among rival evaluators that his diminished control is a sign of an arm issue. Hanrahan would argue that the control problems may have stemmed from the inconsistent save chances that a Bucs closer gets.
- Free agent reliever J.P. Howell should sign soon, perhaps with the Nationals. Other interested clubs include the Phillies, Cubs, Mariners, and Rangers.
- Travis Hafner would be a classic make-good guy to bring to spring training, but he won't fit all rosters because he can't play a position.
- Executives have reservations about Lance Berkman, including his health, overall shape, and motivation to play.
- Some have said that the Cubs overpaid for Edwin Jackson ($52MM over four years), but new financial restraints in the draft and international market have forced clubs to pay more. In short, the Cubs basically paid the going rate for a 29-year-old healthy pitcher of his caliber.
Berkman told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that he’s still undecided about whether he’ll play in 2013 (Twitter links). He’s intrigued about the possibility of spending more time with his family and helping coach the Rice baseball team. The Astros are open to bringing Berkman back and other clubs are interested, Rosenthal reports.
Berkman recently met with Astros owner Jim Crane, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (Twitter links). At this point the switch hitter seems to be a "backburner issue" for the Astros, according to Heyman.
Here's the latest from the American League's newest team, the Houston Astros...
- Lance Berkman remains atop the team's DH wishlist according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter). There are still issues to be resolved before a reunion takes place.
- Crasnick notes that if the Astros can't bring Berkman back, they're likely to seek a late-20s player who's been blocked and needs an opportunity to serve as DH (Twitter links). They don't have interest in players like Luke Scott, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, and Travis Hafner.
- A few teams are considering right-hander Bud Norris as a back-end rotation option, reports Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe (on Twitter). The 27-year-old pitched to a 4.65 ERA in 168 1/3 innings last season and projects to earn $2.9MM through arbitration next winter.
WEDNESDAY, 7:52pm: The Astros have touched base with Berkman and his agent, GM Jeff Luhnow told Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com. The talks are not too far along, as Luhnow expects a conclusion by early next year.
MONDAY, 12:26pm: As they prepare to move to the American League West in 2013, the Astros are looking for a player they didn't need in the National League: a designated hitter. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (via Twitter), Houston would like to add Lance Berkman if the price is reasonable, with guys like Travis Hafner and Carlos Pena also potentially in the mix.
Berkman expressed some interest last month in rejoining the Astros, and Houston was said to be one of a handful of teams kicking the tires on the switch-hitter. However, even after an injury-plagued 2012, there's no guarantee Berkman would come cheap. Pena, coming off a .197/.330/.354 season with the Rays, and Hafner, who was limited to 63 games in '12, both figure to come cheaper than Berkman.
Until this point, the Astros are the only team that has been largely connected to Berkman this offseason. Astros owner Jim Crane had a "get-acquainted" meeting with Berkman recently, and Big Puma expressed interest in returning to Houston where his career began. In that interview, Berkman said he wanted to be paid like a Major League three-hole hitter, though he'd take a bit of a discount for the Astros.
The Phillies presumably have visions of Berkman seeing some time on the field as a first baseman or outfielder. The same could be said for the Red Sox, who recently re-signed David Ortiz to a two-year contract. The Rays and Astros could both elect to use Berkman as their primary DH, with no concrete incumbent in place for either organization.
Berkman hit .259/.381/.444 in 97 plate appearances for the Cardinals in 2012 but was hobbled by a pair of knee surgeries. He's a career .296/.409/.544 hitter with 360 homers between the Astros, Yankees and Cardinals.
Lance Berkman is interested in returning to his hometown Astros, reports Mark Berman of FOX 26 Sports Houston. If Berkman does decide to keep playing in the wake of recurring knee problems, regular playing time and money seem to be Berkman's primary concerns for not just the Astros, but any team looking for his services.
"It just depends on what kind of money they are talking about," Berkman said. "Am I going to come back for a couple of million bucks, no. If they want to pay me close to what I feel like my value is in terms of what I bring to the table...if they're going to ask me to be there and hit third and play every day and DH every day, I want to be compensated like a guy who is a Major League three-hole hitter.
"Obviously I would be willing to take a little bit less because it's my hometown and for the opportunity to get back to the Astros organization. I'm just waiting for them to make some sort [of] offer and go from there."
Berkman has hinted at retirement following a tough 2012 season that saw him undergo two surgeries on his right knee and limited him to just 97 plate appearances for the Cardinals. Berkman will be 37 on Opening Day but isn't far removed from a 2011 season that saw him hit 31 homers and post a .959 OPS in 587 PAs for St. Louis.
If healthy, Berkman would give the Astros lineup some sorely-needed pop from the DH spot as the club moves to the American League for 2013. A healthy Berkman, however, would draw interest from a number of clubs, and the lure of playing for a contender might be stronger than the attraction of returning to the site of his first 12 Major League seasons.
Astros owner Jim Crane met with Berkman last week for what Crane described as "a get-acquainted meeting." There was no talk of a contract as Crane said that all decisions about Berkman and the team would be made by general manager Jeff Luhnow. The GM said that he planned to talk to Berkman later this winter and see if bringing Berkman back to Houston would work as a "baseball decision."
Berkman already has post-retirement plans in place as an assistant baseball coach at Rice University, plus Crane said he wanted to hire Berkman to work for the Astros in some capacity once the slugger's career is officially over.
You've got roughly 24 hours left to participate in our Free Agent Prediction Contest, so make sure you get your picks in before midnight Central time on Wednesday. Here's the latest from around the league...
- "We'll always listen," said Clayton Kershaw to MLB Network Radio's Jim Duquette and Jody McDonald when asked about a possible contract extension with the Dodgers. The left-hander did acknowledge that there have been "no conversations," however.
- "Dan is healthy," said agent Greg Landry to ESPN's Buster Olney (Twitter link), referring to his client and free agent right-hander Dan Haren. There has been speculation that the Haren-Carlos Marmol swap fell apart because of concerns about Haren's back.
- Lance Berkman's agent Michael Moye told Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that his client will play next year if his knees are okay in December (Twitter link). Berkman has reportedly considered retirement due to ongoing knee problems.
- Ken Davidoff of The New York Post writes that the new collective bargaining agreement might speed up the offseason calender. We'll know which free agents require draft pick compensation this Friday, but last year we had to wait until December 7th.
Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow says that he will be in contact with Lance Berkman this winter, writes Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. “Lance can still produce at the Major League level,” said Luhnow. “He’s a guy a lot of clubs are going to be interested in. We’ll have a conversation with him and see where it goes.” It seemed as though Berkman was leaning towards retirement but late last week the veteran said that he would keep his options open and listen to any offer that comes his way. With the Astros shifting to the American League, the 36-year-old could be a solid fit as a DH. Here's more from around baseball..
- As he gets set to hit the open market, right-hander Brett Myers says that he would be open to either working as a starter or reliever, writes Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com. “I’ve got the mentality, I want to pitch,” Myers said. “Whichever way a team wants me to go I’ll do. I think I’ve proven I can start. I’ve proven I can do both. Hindsight is 20/20. Some teams might like me in the bullpen. Some might like me as a starter. It’s up to the team.” The White Sox were evaluating Myers as a potential starter before they declined his $10MM option for 2013.
- Mariners GM Jack Mariners GM Zduriencik says that he expects to have more money available than the $85MM the team opened 2012 with, Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times tweets. The M's agreed to a two-year contract extension with right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma earlier tonight that includes an option for 2015.
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wonders if the Rays might look to trade Jeremy Hellickson rather than the more expensive James Shields. While Hellickson is still quite affordable and won't be eligible for arbitration until 2014, he is a Scott Boras client and not likely to sign a club-friendly extension anytime soon.
- The Rockies won't decide on their managerial situation this weekend and are set to interview Matt Williams on Monday, tweets Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports.
A few weeks ago we heard that Lance Berkman was leaning towards retiring after the season, but yesterday he told Joe Strauss of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he is still "not real sure" about his future. He will file for free agency after the World Series just to keep his options open, however.
"I think it would behoove me to at least listen if there is an offer out there," said Berkman. "But honestly I don't know what is going to happen or what's going to be my thought process."
Berkman, 36, was limited to 97 plate appearances this season due to a pair of right knee surgeries, the fourth and fifth knee surgeries of his career. Just a year ago he hit .301/.412/.547 with 31 homers while starting over 120 games in the outfield with the Cardinals, good enough for a seventh place finish in the MVP voting.
There has been speculation that Berkman could return to the Astros as a DH next season since the club is shifting to the AL. He went to college in Houston and spent the first 12 years of his big league career with the 'Stros. Berkman recently said he won't come back unless his knee is 100% though, even if he is healthy enough to just DH.
Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said "it's hard to imagine finding a fit" for Berkman with the club next year, and Berkman admits that he has a long way to go with his conditioning before getting into playing shape. "My plan right now is to treat the offseason as if I was going to play next season by continuing my knee rehab and getting my legs back under me," he said.
Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse is widely expected to be in for some massive offers when he hits the open market this winter and some agents and executives see him netting a C.J. Wilson-type deal in the $75MM range, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com (via Twitter). Cards General Manager John Mozeliak spoke to reporters about Lohse and more earlier today. Let's check out some highlights, courtesy of Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch..
- Mozeliak said that "it's hard to imagine finding a fit" for Lance Berkman on the roster in 2013. The veteran is considering retirement after undergoing knee surgery but says he may also like to hook on with a contender for next season.
- Former first-round pick Pete Kozma was considered for removal from the 40-man roster several times throughout the season, Goold writes. However, after starting the final 29 games of the regular season and all 13 playoff games, St. Louis won't face that same quandary this winter.
- The Cardinals will be looking for a new bullpen coach after notifying Dyar Miller that his contract won't be renewed for next season. All of the other coaches - including hitting coach Mark McGwire, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, and third-base coach Jose Oquendo - will be offered the chance to return.