At Home Plate: Rangers place pressure on Berkman to regain form

Lance Berkman is no youngster, but the 36-year-old veteran will be getting a new beginning in 2013 with the Texas Rangers — and a nice new paycheck as well.

The Rangers signed Berkman to a one-year, $10 million contract (with a $12 million team option for 2014) to be the team’s primary designated hitter. But given his recent injury history, Texas really rolled the dice on this move.

Rangers manager Ron Washington plans to use Berkman in the No. 3 spot in the lineup to fill the void left by Josh Hamilton, who signed a mega-deal with the division rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Lance Berkman (Photo by Keith Allison, used under Creative Commons License)

Lance Berkman (Photo by Keith Allison, used under Creative Commons License)

Berkman actually has a higher on-base percentage (.401) than Hamilton (.363) over the past five years. Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz will follow Berkman, respectively, in the batting order.

So not only are the Rangers counting on Berkman to stay healthy all season, but they are also expecting the “Big Puma” to regain his All-Star form.

It might be too much to ask of a player coming off three stints on the disabled list in 2012 and a season-ending knee surgery that ended his season. The injuries initially looked like they would force Berkman into retirement.

But he’s gotten himself back into playing shape and will attempt to provide the Rangers lineup with some much-needed offense.

This isn’t the first time that a team has faced criticism in signing Berkman. The St. Louis Cardinals signed a then 34-year-old Berkman to a two-year, $20 million contract after a brutal 37-game stretch for the New York Yankees in late 2010.

However, Cardinals’ general manager John Mozeliak looked like a genius when Berkman hit .301 with 31 home runs and 94 RBIs for a team that won the World Series.

Berkman’s luck ran out last year though, as he only managed 81 at-bats over 32 games while earning $12 million.

Maybe the Rangers are on to something in making him a full-time designated hitter. Without having to play the field, Berkman will maintain his durability and will be able to focus on his forte: hitting.

But even so, $10 million for a player who bats four times a game, doesn’t play the field and is coming off an injury-laden season? It almost seems that the Rangers were so desperate after losing both Hamilton and Michael Young that they are going all-in on a gamble.

Just because he will be back in Texas — Berkman played parts of his first 12 seasons for the Houston Astros — doesn’t mean Berkman will revert back into the offensive threat he once was.

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