Berkman lets Rangers take time with Profar, Olt

By T.R. Sullivan /01/07/13 11:00 PM ET

ARLINGTON -- Lance Berkman officially joined the Rangers on Monday night. He is coming to Arlington to be primarily the Rangers designated hitter in a lineup that is expected to have Ian Kinsler at second base and Mitch Moreland at first base.
Berkman has played both outfield and first base in his career, but he underwent two surgeries on his right knee last season and will likely be limited to how much he can play in the field.
"I primarily see myself as the DH, particularly in the first part of the season," Berkman said. "If I progress and stay healthy, I'm not ruling out playing first base and playing some outfield. It's a matter of what [they] want to do, but I'm going to make myself physically able to play the field."
Right now, Moreland is the starting first baseman. The club discussed the possibility of moving Kinsler to first base as a way to get rookie Jurickson Profar into the lineup at second. But the Rangers have decided against that, at least for now.
"The way we're looking at it, Ian is the second baseman and Mitch is the first baseman," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We want to give Mitch every chance to have a full healthy season and see what he can do. The more we talked about it, internally and with Ian, it was not something we wanted to force. We believe in Mitch Moreland."
Profar and infielder Mike Olt will most likely start the season at Triple-A Round Rock. Olt is a right-handed hitter who could conceivably spell both Moreland and Berkman, but the Rangers don't want him or Profar to miss reps while serving as a part-time player.
"We don't see either one of those guys sitting on the bench," Daniels said.
Berkman has been in the National League for almost his entire career so his only experience as designated hitter came in either Interleague Play or during a two-month stay with the Yankees at the end of the 2010 season. Berkman has 147 career plate appearances as a DH with 87 of them coming in 2010.
"When I went to the Yankees, I was completely opposed to the DH," Berkman said. "I felt it should be outlawed all around baseball. But as I got used to it and got into the routine, I started to like it. Who doesn't like to go up there to hit and rake then go sit on the bench while everybody else plays defense? Being in New York helped prepare me for that."
Berkman was supposed to be the Cardinals' first baseman in 2012. He was their right fielder in '11, hitting .301 with 31 home runs and 94 RBIs before re-signing with them in the offseason to replace Albert Pujols. But he was limited to just 32 games because of injuries. He was on the disabled list three times and had surgery on his right knee in both May and September to repair torn cartilage.
There was speculation at the time that Berkman's career was over. But he has worked his way back into shape and passed his physical on Monday without any issues.
"Physically, I'm good," Berkman said. "Obviously when you're coming off a year where you play in [32] games and have two knee surgeries, there's a lot of work to do to get back the strength that will allow me to play my best. I like where I am right now. I don't have any issues. I just need to continue my strength work and maintenance into the season. But as of Jan. 7, I'm as good as could be expected. After what happened last year, that doesn't allay many concerns, but I feel good about it."
The Rangers felt good enough to commit to a $10 million salary for 2013 with a $12 million club option for 2014. The second season can be bought out by the club for $1 million, unless Berkman gets 550 plate appearances this season, in which case his 2014 option automatically gets picked up for $13 million.
"Every player and every acquisition has some sort of risk," Daniels said. "It being a one-year deal helps mitigate the risk. You look at Lance and the type of player he is and the kind of career he's had, if he's on the field, he's going to produce. He's a really good fit for us, so we're willing to take a little bit of the risk on the health side."
The Rangers needed a power bat in the middle of the order after Josh Hamilton left to sign with the Angels. Texas had pursued various options, including discussions with the Arizona Diamondbacks involving outfielders Justin Upton and Jason Kubel.
But right now, the Rangers appear set with a lineup that includes David Murphy in left, Nelson Cruz in right and a potential platoon of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin in center. Daniels didn't rule out looking for one more hitter before the offseason is over.
"We don't need to make any more additions," Daniels said. "We like our club. There's still some good players on the market, and we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't at least look, but we're real comfortable with our outfield."
The Rangers needed a bat more than a glove, and Berkman is a .296 hitter with 360 home runs and 1,200 RBIs in 1,806 games over a career that began with the Astros in 1999. He has a career .409 on-base percentage and a .544 slugging percentage.
The Rangers talked about signing Berkman after the 2010 season before he left the Astros for St. Louis, but they ended up signing third baseman Adrian Beltre and moved Michael Young to designated hitter. The Rangers also tried to get Berkman in a trade from the Cardinals in August 2011.
At the time, the Cardinals were falling out the pennant race and the Rangers had concerns about Moreland, who was dealing with a sore right wrist. But the Cardinals made a late-season comeback and Berkman stayed in St. Louis. He had the game-tying hit against the Rangers in the 10th inning of Game 6 in the World Series and the eventual world-champion Cardinals ended up winning the game in the 11th.
Now he's on the other side finally.
"Two years too late," Daniels said. "It would have been great to have him two years ago, but it's still great to have him."
Berkman is a native Texan. He was born in Waco, played high school in New Braunfels and collegiately at Rice before being selected by the Astros in the first round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft.
"This, to me, is a natural fit," Berkman said. "It doesn't feel weird at all. I'm excited by the opportunity. It will be fun to represent the state of Texas and looked down on my jersey and see Texas across my jersey."