What Lance Berkman is, and isn't.

What is Lance Berkman?

For starters, he’s not Josh Hamilton.

At least not the 2010 version, probably.

Then again, neither was Hamilton in 2011, or 2012.

In fact, in eight of Berkman’s 14 big league seasons, he had a higher OPS+ (a park-adjusted measure of on-base plus slug) than any Hamilton season other than his 2010 MVP campaign.

Take it a step further: the season Berkman had in 2011 (.301/.412/.547) – good for a 164 OPS+ – was more productive than all but three Rangers seasons (of 100 games or more) in the organization’s 41 years: Mike Napoli’s 2011 (173 OPS+), Hamilton’s 2010 (170), and Juan Gonzalez’s 1993 (169).

None of Alex Rodriguez’s seasons here measured up to Berkman’s 2011.  Gonzalez’s two MVP seasons fell short.  Rafael Palmeiro, Ruben Sierra, Pudge Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre – none of them had a season at the plate in Texas like Berkman’s 2011 in St. Louis.

Lance Berkman is not like most Rangers hitters, because he routinely walks as often as he strikes out. 

The only two Rangers hitters to have a season of more walks than strikeouts in the last 10 years are Ian Kinsler (2011) and Palmeiro (2003).  In that span Berkman has done it twice – and two other times been one walk short.

And he’s done it in 146 career plate appearances at Rangers Ballpark (22 walks, 21 strikeouts).

Kinsler has it within him to be that guy again, of course.  It’s in Jurickson Profar’s game, too, even if that part doesn’t fully mature until after Berkman is done.  But nothing wrong with the veteran helping to set a tone that even Beltre can’t.

This is going to take some getting used to, but I can’t wait.  Embrace ball four.

Lance Berkman is a health risk.

He’ll be able to DH for a full season, a luxury he’s never had – but a pair of right knee surgeries in the last year, at his age, obviously makes him somewhat of a gamble from a physical standpoint.

So was Vladimir Guerrero.

So was Joe Nathan.

So were Milton Bradley and Eric Gagné and Joakim Soria.

So was Hamilton.

He might be Brandon Webb, or Adam Eaton, or Keith Van Horn, but I’m thinking positive on this.  Berkman passed what (given the investment) had to be a rigorous physical, something Napoli has been unable to do in Boston, and if the Rangers feel good about the risk – and their checkbook says they do – I’m optimistic.

Lance Berkman is no bargain.

At $10 million for 2013, and a $12 million club option ($1 buyout) for 2014 that becomes a guaranteed $13 million if Berkman reaches 550 plate appearances (something he did nine straight years until 2010, then again in 2011), many are saying Texas overpaid.

They said that about Guerrero, too.

And Beltre.

And Nathan.

And Yu Darvish.

And lots of those same folks thought Texas should have tendered $13.3 million for one year to Napoli, whose hip is in such bad shape that the Red Sox have tried for five weeks without success to rework the three-year, $39 million deal they’d agreed to pay prior to a physical.

Berkman’s deal has more team safeguards in it than the two years and $26 million that St. Louis gave Carlos Beltran when Albert Pujols left, and it should.  Beltran was coming off a 2011 season when he signed last winter that was nearly as productive as the season Berkman is a full year removed from.  His two-year guarantee was justified in comparison, and some reports had Texas in the mix along with St. Louis to sign him.

Ask the Cardinals how they feel about that two-year commitment in comparison to the 10 years committed to Pujols, the player he basically replaced, by someone else – the same someone else who just committed five years to Hamilton and guaranteed 10 times more money than the Rangers are locked into Berkman for.

Lance Berkman isn’t much of a fan favorite around here at the moment, maybe less so for the comments he’s made than for the two-out, two-strike, Scott Feldman pitch he swatted to center on October 27, 2011.

But Vladimir Guerrero was the enemy for a long time, as were Charles Haley and Deion Sanders, and Brett Hull and Adrian Dantley.

This isn’t Kiki Vandeweghe.

Or David Freese.

Lance Berkman is not like anyone who appeared in 100 games for Texas in 2012 or 2011 or 2010 or 2009, because he switch-hits. 

Whenever Profar arrives (I’m not sold 100 percent that he’s destined for AAA, in spite of Daniels’s comments Monday night), he and Berkman will be the Rangers’ first 100-game switch-hitters since Milton Bradley and Brandon Boggs in 2008.  And batting from both sides isn’t just a novelty.  It makes the opposing manager work a little harder and at least consider extra pitching changes.

No, Berkman isn’t as good from the right side as the left, but a dependable left-handed bat was what this lineup needed most – check out the current state of starting pitching in the division – and here’s the other thing: He’s not a mess from the right side.  His career OPS against left-handed pitching is .777.  In 2011, it was .804.

If Berkman puts up an .800 OPS from the right side this year, he will have been more productive from his weaker side than Kinsler was overall last season (.749).  Elvis Andrus (.727) and Nelson Cruz (.779) and Mitch Moreland (.789), too.  And certainly Michael Young (.682).

Which raises the next point: While Texas has done well to address the loss of left-handed-hitting punch by adding Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski, and while the division is relatively light on southpaw pitching, there will be days when C.J. Wilson or Brett Anderson is on the hill and you might want to avoid running out a lineup that features both Geovany Soto and Craig Gentry and includes Berkman, Moreland, and David Murphy and their weakened splits.

The need for another right-handed bat – someone more bankable than Conor Jackson or Ryan Garko – seems to remain.

Given the club’s remarks at Monday’s Berkman presser, Mike Olt isn’t going to be stuck on the Texas bench waiting on opportunities against lefties.  He needs to play.

Could Napoli be that guy?  With Adam LaRoche re-upping yesterday with Washington, one would think that Boston almost has to get something worked out with Napoli at this point.

Could the LaRoche signing mean Nationals first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse makes some sense here?  Three things: (1) he’s not really a lefty-masher (he put up reverse splits in 2011 and 2012, his two full-time seasons in the bigs); (2) Washington reportedly wants left-handed relief or prospects (to replenish what was lost in trades the last year with Oakland and Minnesota) in return, according to Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM), and Texas has no excess in the former and will need to be protective of key assets as far as the latter is concerned, especially if the club is targeting bigger fish; and (3) there are reportedly about a dozen teams interested in Morse, which gives the Nationals some leverage in terms of what they’re asking for.

For what it’s worth, Gordon Edes (ESPN Boston) suggests Morse could be in play for Boston as an alternative to Napoli.

Justin Upton?  The rumor won’t go away (Ken Rosenthal [Fox Sports] believes Texas continues its “persistent and relentless” pursuit of the outfielder, willing to offer Arizona a package of Olt, a “top pitching prospect” [perhaps from among Martin Perez, Justin Grimm, and Cody Buckel], and a “third quality piece”), and the longer this goes on, you have to begin wondering if Arizona can afford to take him to camp.

The rumors that Seattle could be in the lead on Upton make sense, given the Mariners’ depth in high-end pitching prospects, but the fact that nothing’s gotten done there may indicate Upton meant it as more than just a leverage point when he included Seattle on his four-team no-trade list.  (Could the Mariners will turn their attention instead to Morse, whom they traded away badly three years ago?)

Maybe the answer on the right-handed boost is that Kinsler and Cruz just need to be better in 2013, bouncing back from career-low full seasons at the plate.  Perhaps for different reasons, it’s not difficult to believe both will.

Lance Berkman is going to be a quote machine. 

It’s not going to be what defines his time here – his comments won’t be a daily Mickey Rivers, Delonte West, or Mike Vanderjagt sideshow – but we’ve read enough over the years to know Berkman’s going to speak his mind, just like Pierzynski will, and in the absence of Young in particular, having another veteran presence to speak for what’s likely going to be a younger team will help, particularly when things get tense.  The Young role doesn’t need to fall squarely on Kinsler’s shoulders.

Yes, Berkman’s coming back to the “Mickey Mouse” AL, in the DH role that he “hates,” joining the club that “reached” for Beltre after its “lightning-in-a-bottle” 2010 season, but unlike C.J. Wilson and Dennis Rodman and Thomas Henderson – and Hamilton – Berkman isn’t the type who’s going to regularly put himself in a corner needing a dose of damage-control assistance.

Berkman’s manner with the media reminds me of what Gabe Kapler and Dan Campbell would have been if they were core players.  Pierzynski is more likely to play the Deion Sanders role.

Will Clark was quotable.  So was Michael Irvin.  Tyson Chandler was, too.  I miss them all.

Lance Berkman is not Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton or Matt Kemp, even though he’s going to wear number 27, which he’s never worn in the big leagues, and I doubt it’s in tribute to Todd Zeile or Frank Catalanotto, but maybe it’s a tip of the cap to Carlton Fisk and the 19 seasons he played after his career-threatening knee injury.

Or to Vladdy.

Lance Berkman is not Mario Ramos, Matt “The Pitcher” Williams, Vincent Sinisi, Dane Bubela, Craig Crow, Jason Gray, or Dave Pavlas.  After the season-opening homestand he’ll have played as many games as a Ranger as all the previous Rice University products who have come through this organization combined.

Lance Berkman isn’t Randy Williams, and I’m guessing New Braunfels Canyon High didn’t play Buna High outside Beaumont when the two of them were playing high school ball, but I bet Rice played Lamar University a time or two before both were drafted in 1997, and while I know Berkman wasn’t one of the 399 big league hitters Williams faced and that they never teed it up in the minor leagues, either, I’m also sure that they were the two players whose roster spots Texas (Monday) and Boston (in July 2011) cleared by designating lefthander Tommy Hottovy for assignment, and that was a long sentence.

Lance Berkman doesn’t have as cool a “Big” nickname as Frank Thomas, David Ortiz, Andres Galarraga, Randy Johnson, Bryant Reeves, or Sam Perkins, and while he probably embraced “Fat Elvis” more than Hideki Irabu accepted “Fat Toad” but probably not as willingly as Lafayette “Fat” Lever wore his nickname, I’m not about to start referring to the shortstop as “Nonfat Elvis,” and so there’s only one Elvis on this team, and the one whose signing was announced the day before Elvis Presley’s birthday is going to have to settle here for Big Puma, which I think he’s going to be more than good with.

Lance Berkman is not Julio Franco, however old he was when he arrived in Texas, and he’s not Palmeiro, who became a Ranger one day before Franco did, but he brings a new dimension to this offense just as those two did 24 years ago.  One regular Texas hitter reached base at better than a .354 clip last year, and that was Murphy’s .380 spike.  Only twice in Berkman’s 14 seasons has he had that low an on-base mark: his rookie season (.321) and 2010 (.368).

In fact, Berkman’s career .409 on-base (.404 in 146 plate appearances at Rangers Ballpark) is better than Franco’s as a Ranger (.382), better than Palmeiro’s as a Ranger (.378), and better than the only four hitters who had higher Ranger clips than those two: Mike Hargrove (.399), Alex Rodriguez (.395), Clark (.395), and Rusty Greer (.387).

Dave Magadan is going to love how Berkman makes pitchers work, and so will we.

And, speaking of Palmeiro and Franco, whom the Rangers traded for on December 5 and December 6, 1988, Texas added another veteran that December 7, a man whose career was thought to be in its twilight and who, two dozen years later, sat down with Berkman to take his temperature on the idea of giving the game one more shot, in Arlington.

Like Nolan Ryan was, maybe Lance Berkman is a roll of the dice this late in his career.

What he told Ryan, evidently sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day, was that he thought he was done when the off-season arrived.  But his knee began feeling better.  The money and the opportunity gave him something to think seriously about.  In the end, Ryan says, Berkman was going to play for Texas, go back to the Yankees because of Andy Pettitte, or hang ’em up.

People thought Pettitte was done when he retired after the 2010 season that ended at the hands of the Rangers.  Berkman’s career appeared to be on life support as well, as he’d struggled through half a season with Houston and then two months with New York.

But the Cardinals signed him and were rewarded with a season that earned him a seventh-place finish in the NL MVP race.

St. Louis rolled the dice and hit big.

So did Texas when it got a commitment for one last guaranteed year from Ryan – who ended up pitching five seasons for the Rangers.

“I am excited about the Rangers.  They have given me an opportunity to stay in Texas, play for a club that is going to be competitive and have a family situation I think is the most workable for my family. . . . The Rangers have shown that they will do everything they can to field the best club they can. . . . Also, I am a die-hard Texan and want to remain in Texas.”

That’s what Ryan said when he joined the final team of his storied playing career.

It’s probably not far from what Berkman and Ryan discussed two weeks ago, and looks a lot like what he said to the press on Monday.

Lance Berkman is a Nolan Ryan guy.

And, yes, so was Roy Oswalt.

But Mike Maddux was, too.  What’s your point?

Lance Berkman isn’t Josh Hamilton, even if some like the estimable Dave Cameron believe that might not be a bad thing:

  • “[I]f we just look at expected performance for 2013, there’s a decent chance that Berkman will put up offensive numbers that are not too different from what Hamilton would have produced [in Texas].”
  • “Especially if he’s platooned and spends most of his time hitting against right-handers, Berkman could easily outpace Hamilton’s offensive levels on a per at-bat basis.”
  • “And, of course, it’s not like you’re getting a lot of extra health certainty with Hamilton as opposed to Berkman.  He was healthier last year, but his injury track record is longer than Berkman’s, and the best we can say is that both are likely to play less than a full season in 2013.”
  • “There’s no question that [factoring in defense] makes Hamilton the better player, and certainly worth more in salary.  I’m not suggesting that Berkman and Hamilton are equally valuable, or that Hamilton and Berkman should have signed the same contracts this winter.  However, I am suggesting that perhaps the overall net effect of the moves on the Rangers and Angels won’t be as big as they might appear on the surface.”
  • “[A]s a bonus, going this direction still allows the Rangers to swing a trade for Justin Upton at some point if they can find a match with Arizona, and an Upton/Berkman combination is almost certainly an improvement over a Hamilton/Cruz duo.”
  • “I think the overall impact of having one or the other on the Rangers roster isn’t too dramatically different.  By going this direction, the Rangers have replaced a decent chunk of Hamilton’s value without absorbing the long term risks of matching the five year deal he got from Anaheim, and they’ve given themselves the option to still acquire a right field upgrade should the opportunity present itself.”

And maybe they will.  Maybe Upton will soon be a Ranger, along with Berkman, a pair of top 10 finalists for NL MVP in 2011 who dropped off in 2012, just as Texas did itself.

It’s all an exercise in seeing into a crystal ball at some level.  We don’t really have any idea what Berkman will be in 2013.  We can’t be certain he’ll give the Rangers any more than Eaton or Oswalt or Brad Wilkerson did.  And we don’t know for sure he won’t be better than Hamilton.

Lance Berkman isn’t going to fit neatly into any category.  A switch-hitting fusion of on-base savvy, an outspoken streak, and a refurbished knee, he’ll probably end up reminding of us of absolutely nobody, like Vladdy and Deion and Tyson – and Josh – and while the outcome is hard to project, it seems fairly predictable that Berkman will manage to carve out a chapter in Rangers history that, for better or worse, we’ll end up talking about for a very long time. 

 
title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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