COMMENTARY | The Texas Rangers have a dilemma on their hands with broken down designated hitter Lance Berkman, whom the team signed to a one-year contract for about $11 million before the season started.
The Rangers knew what they were getting when they offered him the contract, which was a 37-year-old player who was going to be limited to DH duties because of bad knees. Berkman tried playing a few games at first base this year in interleague play, and that did not work out.
What they have now is a player who has not seen the field since July 6, and that player's knees are not going to get better. With about 40 games left in the season, the Rangers are trying to decide whether they should activate a less-than-100 percent Berkman or if they should just shut him down and cut their losses.
How much is Berkman likely to contribute if they activate him? His numbers this year prove he is only a fraction of the superstar he was for so many years with the Astros. He has 282 plate appearances with the Rangers this season, and he has a decent on-base percentage (.355) but his slugging percentage is a paltry .377. Both numbers are well below his career averages. He has only 6 home runs, which is far fewer than the Rangers were hoping he would have in that many plate appearances (he has 366 career homers).
Earlier in the year while Berkman was on the active roster, manager Ron Washington would often sit Berkman for several games at a time to rest his knees even though as a DH he sat on the bench for most of every game anyway. After July 6, Berkman went on the disabled list and has been there ever since while the Rangers have acquired a bevy of players for their stretch run.
The question is probably more "Should the Rangers activate Berkman before Sept. 1 when the rosters expand?" The answer to that question is definitely no. It's only two weeks away and they can wait, since they've already been without him for a month and a half. Activating Berkman before the rosters expand would mean the Rangers would likely have to designate infielder Adam Rosales for assignment after claiming him off waivers from Oakland a few weeks ago -- twice.
If they activate Berkman at all, they need to wait until Sept. 1 when rosters expand. There is not a lot to gain by activating him prior to that date, since he would probably play only every third day, and the Rangers would lose Rosales.
The Rangers could use some power in the lineup, especially since the team's leading home run hitter, Nelson Cruz, was suspended. But since Berkman has hit only six homers in almost 300 plate appearances, he doesn't appear to be the answer there. They acquired right fielder Alex Rios from the White Sox to essentially replace Cruz, and although Rios has hit as many as 20 homers in a season a few times, he still is not what one would consider a "pure" power hitter.
The answer lies in the pitching. The Rangers can win those low-scoring games if the pitching comes through. Derek Holland and Yu Darvish have both been stellar. Martin Perez, a 22-year-old lefthander, is on the rise. The Rangers acquired Matt Garza from the Cubs, and he is 2-1 with an ERA under four and is averaging seven innings per start over five starts. He has been everything the Rangers hoped he would be so far. The Rangers also acquired Travis Blackley, who has struggled as a reliever for Houston this season but had some success as a starter with Oakland last year.
Focus on the pitching and don't bother bringing up Berkman. He appears to be done.
Brian Honea is a Dallas, Texas-based freelance writer who is a lifelong Texas Rangers follower.
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