Lance Berkman, 2011:
“I felt like if they didn’t re-sign Cliff Lee that they were going to be an average team and I feel that’s probably what’s going to end up happening. I feel like  was one of those special years where you kind of catch lightning in a bottle and…they had some guys that I felt like were pitching better than their talent level. “
“They were itching to spend some money. I probably could have gotten the best deal out of them, especially in light of what they gave Adrian Beltre, which I think is pretty much of a reach for him.”
Lance Berkman, 2013:
“In a way they have to buy me out of retirement, and I know that sounds crass — I wish it didn’t — but it’s a big commitment. It can put a strain on the family. If I’m going to play, I’m going to give my heart and soul to the team. But if the carrot’s not big enough, the mule isn’t going to want to go.”
Well, the mule, Lance Berkman (aka the Big Puma), has arrived in Arlington, and he’s brought an elephant into the room.
Jon Daniels seems to be conducting a chemistry experiment in the Rangers’ clubhouse. Gone are Mike Napoli, Michael Young, and Josh Hamilton, replaced by the “clubhouse cancer” AJ Piersynzki and the opinionated mercenary Lance Berkman.
“It’s a little overrated, honestly,” Ian Kinsler said about clubhouse chemistry when asked about it in early December after Michael Young’s departure. Rangers fans who believe in chemistry need to hope that is indeed the case. It’s not as if the clubhouse chemistry will be particularly bad - how could it, with Adrian, Elvis, Jurickson and Ian – but it won’t be improved. How important was that chemistry to the success of the team in recent years? It’s impossible to quantify, but the changed dynamic will be another story for fans to watch in 2013.
What does the Big Puma bring to the Ballpark besides a small bit of baggage? Power. The dude can bash. The big concern is his health. Berkman is 37 years old and is coming off a season in which he played 32 games and had only 97 plate appearances. Obviously though, the Rangers think he is healthy, and they’re hoping he can return to his 2011 form when he hit .301/.412/.547 with 32 home runs. There is the park factor in play, too, now that Berkman will be playing half his games in a great hitters’ park.
Considering Berkman’s age and recent injury, this is somewhat of a risky signing, but some of that risk is mitigated by the length and reported terms: 1 year with a vesting option for a second year, activated if he reaches 525-550 plate appearances, according to Jeff Wilson’s MLB source. This isn’t a move that will cripple the Rangers in the long term if it’s a bust. It could pay off quite nicely if Berkman stays healthy. A healthy Berkman is probably the Rangers best hitter in 2013. He is a switch-hitter, which will help break up the Rangers’ right hand heavy lineup, and he is a better option at DH than Mitch Moreland, the Rangers’ most likely alternative at DH.
There is a lot to like about this deal, from the terms, to the power potential. The negatives are mostly imagined in the minds of those who place importance on chemistry and think that players will care about what Berkman said about the 2010 version of the team. My guess is that the players don’t care, and are happy to have a veteran power bat back in the lineup, just like in 2010 when Vladimir Guerrero joined the team. And if this bet on an aging, recently injured power hitter works out as well as that move, I’m betting Rangers fans won’t care about Berkman’s past comments either.