How the Cardinals added Lance Berkman ahead of the 2011 season

The St. Louis Cardinals didn’t want to wait until the winter meetings to establish their roster for the 2011 season.

On November 16, 2010, they re-signed starting pitcher Jake Westbrook to shore up the rotation. Two weeks later, they traded pitching prospect Blake Hawksworth to the Los Angeles Dodgers for shortstop Ryan Theriot. Then, on December 4, the Cardinals added switch-hitting power to their lineup by signing Lance Berkman to a one-year, $8 million contract.

Berkman had just completed a five-year, $72.5 million contract that he originally signed with the Houston Astros, where he was a five-time all-star and enjoyed tremendous success against the Cardinals. In 154 games against St. Louis pitching, he had hit .313 with 39 homers and 118 RBIs.[1]

Arthroscopic surgery on his left knee had forced Berkman to open the 2010 season on the disabled list and he had never quite gained his offensive form. At the trade deadline, the Astros dealt Berkman to the New York Yankees for Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes.

In 37 games with the Yankees, Berkman hit .255 with one homer and nine RBIs as a designated hitter and occasional first baseman. He finished the season batting .248 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs, his lowest totals since he played just 34 games as a rookie in 1999. He batted just .171 against left-handed pitching.

“The older you get, you never know what you’re going to deal with,” Berkman said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to be as good as I can for the Cardinals.

“Everybody is going to say they feel great, but if I didn’t feel good about it, I wouldn’t have put myself in this position. It’s almost good to have a little chip on the shoulder and have something to prove.”[2]

La Russa said he expected Berkman to bat in the middle of the Cardinals’ order, likely fifth when cleanup hitter Matt Holliday was playing and cleanup when he wasn’t.

“I really believe we just got deeper in the middle of our order,” La Russa said. “You talk about a track record hitter in the middle and he’s got it. I’d put him in the top five or six in the league.”[3]

For the Cardinals, the bigger question was whether Berkman could play the outfield, a position he hadn’t played regularly since 2004. The Cardinals had a vacancy in right field since they had traded Ryan Ludwick to the San Diego Padres the same day Berkman was dealt to the Yankees.

“That’s going to be everybody’s big question,” Berkman admitted, “but whether I signed with the Cardinals or somebody else, I didn’t want to limit myself to first base or DH. I know I can run around in the outfield.”[4]

Before Berkman’s arrival, left fielder Matt Holliday had made clear to the Cardinals that he was willing to play either outfield position, which meant the Cardinals could place Berkman in left if he was more comfortable there.[5]

“When we get down to work, if Berkman prefers left we’ll have Matt work out in right,” manager Tony La Russa said at the winter meetings.[6]

The contract made sense for both sides. For Berkman, signing with the Cardinals allowed him to return to the National League and to rebuild his value after a down season. Mozeliak admitted that Berkman had more lucrative offers, but “this was just a place he wanted to play.”[7]

“It worked out how I wanted,” Berkman said. “I love the National League. I’m very familiar with the Central, and I know enough of the guys over there to realize it’s a real good situation.”[8]

For the Cardinals, Berkman’s one-year deal meant his salary would be off the books as they attempted to retain Albert Pujols, whose contract was scheduled to end after the 2011 season. More importantly, the additions of Theriot and Berkman added veteran leadership both on the field and in the clubhouse.

“Lance’s talent, his character, and what he brings to the club makes us a better team and changes the makeup of the clubhouse,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “It’s a big add.”[9]

It certainly was. Not only did Berkman’s presence add to the Cardinals’ grinding personality, but his offensive return to form played a key role in the St. Louis lineup. Berkman hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs, earning an all-star game appearance and a seventh-place finish in the National League MVP voting. In September, the Cardinals rewarded him with a one-year, $12 million contract for 2012.

As important as he was during the regular season, Berkman was even more crucial to the Cardinals’ postseason run to the world championship. Though he went just 3 for 18 in the National League Division Series against the Phillies, Berkman hit a three-run home run off Roy Halladay in Game 1, then batted .300 in the NLCS against the Brewers.

Berkman hit .423 against the Rangers in the World Series and was one of the unsung heroes of Game 6, where he hit a first-inning, two-run homer off Colby Lewis and kept the Cardinals’ hopes alive in the 10th inning with a two-out RBI single.


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[1] R.B. Fallstrom, “Cardinals, Berkman Agree To Deal,” Greenville (S.C.) News, December 5, 2011: Page C11.

[2] Joe Strauss, “Berkman will fill outfield slot,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 5, 2011: Page C10.

[3] Joe Strauss, “Berkman’s arrival may mean a change for Holliday in the Cardinals’ outfield,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 6, 2011: Page B2.

[4] Joe Strauss, “Berkman will fill outfield slot,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 5, 2011: Page C10.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Berkman’s arrival may mean a change for Holliday in the Cardinals’ outfield,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 6, 2011: Page B2.

[6] Joe Strauss, “Berkman’s arrival may mean a change for Holliday in the Cardinals’ outfield,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 6, 2011: Page B2.

[7] R.B. Fallstrom, “Cardinals, Berkman Agree To Deal,” Greenville (S.C.) News, December 5, 2011: Page C11.

[8] Joe Strauss, “Berkman will fill outfield slot,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 5, 2011: Page C1.

[9] Joe Strauss, “Berkman will fill outfield slot,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 5, 2011: Page C10.

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