Monday, December 6, 2010
Can Lance Berkman really play left field?
A lot of people are wondering if the Cardinals are daft for thinking Lance Berkman can be their every-day left fielder. Bernie Miklasz doesn't go that far -- Miklasz generally tends toward temperance -- but he does have some legitimate concerns:
* Obviously, Berkman's health and viability are a source of legitimate concern. He'll be 35 on Feb. 10. He's had knee trouble. He's been on the disabled list four times in his career. The physical issues were a significant factor in Berkman's major drop in production in 2010. Berkman told Post-Dispatch baseball writer Joe Strauss that he's lost 13 pounds this offseason, so obviously he's made a commitment to enhanced conditioning.
* I respect Berkman for wanting to play the field, and wanting to be a National League player, instead of sitting in the rocking chair as a DH in the American League.
* That said, it's fair and natural to wonder if he can handle a corner outfield spot. The Cardinals apparently will use Berkman in LF. He hasn't played any outfield at all since 2007, and hasn't been in LF since 2006...Legitimate concerns, all. There's no reason to think Berkman will be average in left field, and adequate might be a stretch.
This is a relatively low-risk deal, though: one year, $8 million. If Berkman's healthy and doesn't embarrass himself in left field, he'll be worth -- well, probably not twice that much money, but more than $10 million, anyway. If he's not healthy, or embarrasses himself in left field ... Well, again, it's only $8 million. And if he can't play left field but he's hitting, the Cardinals can trade him to an American League club.
Remember all the talk about teams shifting away from offense and toward defense? Well, it's long been a truism in baseball that if you can hit, you can play. Berkman's proving that, just as Pat Burrell did with the Giants, just as Adam Dunn did with the Nationals. You might think that 14 American League teams would be enough for all those guys. But apparently they're not.
Meanwhile, with Berkman aboard, (relatively) young Allen Craig would seem to be moderately expendable, and a lot of teams could do worse than working out a deal and handing him a first-base (or DH job).