ARLINGTON (AP) – Lance Berkman chose the Texas Rangers this time, and is returning to his home state to be their designated hitter in likely the last stop of his career.
The Rangers completed an $11 million, one-year deal with Berkman on Monday after the slugger passed a physical.
“I spent the first part of the offseason really feeling like I was going to retire,” said Berkman, who turns 37 next month and had still been working out as if he would play. “The Rangers made a very strong offer, which got my attention. … The more I thought about it, the more excited I got about it, and that’s when I knew I had to come back and play.”
Berkman gets a $10 million salary this year. There is a $12 million club option for 2014 would become a guaranteed $13 million if he has 550 plate appearances this season. There is also a $1 million buyout for the second year.
Berkman provides the potential big bat for the middle of the lineup the Rangers were seeking after losing slugger Josh Hamilton in free agency and trading Michael Young to Philadelphia. Mike Napoli remains a free agent, but isn’t expected to return to Texas.
The switch-hitting Berkman also adds some versatility to a lineup filled with right-handers. He has a .307 average left-handed and .260 right-handed.
The six-time All-Star is coming off an injury-plagued season in St. Louis, where he dealt with a strained left calf and had two operations on his right knee. He was limited to 32 games.
“I like where I am right now. The structural condition of the knee, I don’t think I’m going to have any issues there,” Berkman said. “I think it’s about as good as could be expected after the trauma that I experienced last year.”
Berkman expects to be ready for the season and to be primarily the designated hitter, especially early. He is willing to play first base and even the outfield when physically able. He feels he could play first now.
Texas also was interested in Berkman when he was a free agent two years ago, after the Rangers made their first World Series appearance.
“I joked with Lance it’s probably two years too late in the making,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “It would have been great two years ago and is still great now. We’re excited to have him in our lineup and our organization.”
Berkman instead went to St. Louis, saying then he thought Texas was going to be an average team. The Cardinals made it to the World Series in 2011 and won the title in seven games against the Rangers.
In the series-turning Game 6, when Texas was twice with in a strike of clinching the title, Berkman had a two-run homer in the first inning and a tying RBI single in the 10th.
As for the Rangers now, Berkman said likes the way the lineup is configured in that “it’s less dependent on one or two guys, and the onus of production is going to be spread out up and down the lineup.”
He also likes the pitching staff, which includes Yu Darvish and left-handers Matt Harrison and Derek Holland.
“It’s not the same situation as it was a couple of years ago,” Berkman said.
While Berkman will play some first base, Daniels said the Rangers have decided to leave Ian Kinsler at second. They will go to spring training with the intention of letting Mitch Moreland have a chance to be the regular first baseman.
Texas designated left-hander Tommy Hottovy for assignment to clear a spot on its 40-man roster for Berkman.
Born in Waco and raised in Austin, Berkman went to college at Rice and began his major league career in 1999 with the Houston Astros, who this year are joining the Rangers in the AL West.
“This to me is a natural fit, it does not feel weird at all,” Berkman said of the Rangers.
After 11 1/2 seasons with the Astros and being part of their only World Series team in 2005, Berkman was traded to the Yankees on July 31, 2010. He finished that season with New York, which lost to Texas in the AL championship series, before going to the Cardinals.
Berkman is a .296 career hitter with 360 home runs and 1,200 RBIs in 1,806 regular-season games, all but 214 of those with the Astros. In 34 career games at Rangers Ballpark, Berkman is hitting .289 with seven homers and 21 RBIs in 121 at-bats.
The Rangers open the regular season at Houston on March 31 in MLB’s first game this season, a Sunday prime-time matchup featuring the new AL West rivalry.
Berkman was an All-Star in 2011 with the Cardinals when he hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs in 145 games. His injuries last season limited him to 81 at-bats, and he hit .259 with two homers and seven RBIs.
“If he’s on the field, if he’s healthy, he’s going to produce, he’s going to perform. I’m very confident,” Daniels said. “He’s a really good fit, and so I think from that standpoint, we were willing to take a little bit of the risks on the health side.”
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