ARLINGTON, Texas -- Newest Texas Ranger Lance Berkman said he expects to get most of his 2013 at-bats as the designated hitter but added that he feels good enough right now to play first base, if needed.
He said his right knee, which underwent surgeries in May and September of last year and limited him to 32 games with the St. Louis Cardinals, feels good.
"Obviously, whenever you come off a year where you have two knee surgeries there's always work to do in terms of maintenance and getting to a strength level that will get me to perform at my best," Berkman said. "I like where I am in terms of the structural condition of the knee."
Berkman signed a one-year deal worth $10 million, sources confirmed. There's a club option for a second year at $12 million, but that option vests and moves to $13 million if Berkman has 550 plate appearances in 2013. He can be bought out of the option for $1 million if it doesn't vest. The Rangers designated Tommy Hottovy for assignment to make room for Berkman on the 40-man roster.
Berkman said last year, he knew he had a torn meniscus and tried to play through it.
"That's not the case this year," Berkman said. "There's nothing structurally wrong, it's just a matter of recovering from the surgery and getting stronger. The surgeries last year fixed the problem."
Berkman, who turns 37 on Feb. 10, is confident he can get closer to his 2011 numbers. That season, Berkman hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs in 145 games. He also hit a big two-run single in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the World Series that tied a game the Cardinals eventually won over the Rangers. They claimed the title the next night in Game 7.
Berkman doesn't think his age will keep him from having success.
"I think that No. 1, my statistics have never been artificially inflated," Berkman said. "You're talking about a natural-type aging process. I think with advances in nutrition and weight training, you can stay healthy and strong and at a peak performance longer. I feel like my bat speed is still there, a big part of my game is plate discipline. You don't lose the ability to judge the strike zone overnight."
The key for Berkman is staying healthy. He told ESPNDallas.com on Sunday that he plans on winning fans over with his play a few years after his comments before the 2011 season, when he said he thought the Rangers were going to be an average team because they didn't sign Cliff Lee. The team ended up going back to the World Series.
"I'm prepared to let bygones be bygones, but I understand the fans remembering those comments," Berkman said Sunday. "Ultimately, I had to eat some crow and I was happy to do that. I tend to share an unvarnished opinion and not everyone was going to like that answer. It was my honest opinion and I was proved to be incorrect in my assessment and it was not the first time I've been wrong.
"This is a different team and a different scenario and I'm happy to be a part of the Rangers organization. It's a winning team. Hopefully by playing well, I'll be able to win over some of those fans I ostracized by shooting my mouth off before."
Berkman said he likes this current Rangers group and is excited to be a part of it.
"I like the balance of the lineup," Berkman said. "The way the team is configured, it's less dependent on one or two guys. I feel like the onus of production is going to be spread out throughout the lineup. I like the pitching staff. There's a lot of potential and everybody knows the game is predicated on your pitching. Handicapping the division, I'd put our pitching staff against anyone in the division and that always warms my heart."
Berkman said his experience in New York as the designated hitter can help him in Texas, as he rejoins the American League. Berkman has played most of his 13-year career in the National League.
"When I went to the New York Yankees initially, I was violently opposed to the idea of the DH and that it should be outlawed from baseball," Berkman said. "But I got to liking it, especially when you're hitting good. Who doesn't want to go up there and rake and then sit on the bench and let everybody else play defense?"