HOUSTON - JULY 24: First baseman Lance Berkman #17 makes a play atr first base against the Cincinnati Reds at Minute Maid Park on July 24 2010 in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
I would have liked this move a little more in the Baseball Prospectus 2003 days, when defense was something we all laughed about while excoriating Derek Jeter, but I'm still excited: The Cardinals have signed Lance Berkman to a one year, $8 million deal to be their starting left fielder. Matt Holliday moves to right, Colby Rasmus moves ten or fifteen feet toward left field, and Dave Duncan's pitchers get ground-ball religion once and for all.
Berkman's knees could go at any moment; his left one bothered him last year, and he tore his right ACL prior to the 2005 season—at which point he was, you know, moved to first base. But he had a 140 OPS+ in 2009, and a 122 OPS+ before the Yankees traded for him and then forgot they had him. And it's Lance Berkman! The guy who hit 39 home runs with an OPS over 1000 in 154 games against the Cardinals!
On the field this seems like a risk worth taking; Berkman's only a year removed from being outstanding, and the Cardinals' previous corner option, the Allen Craig/Jon Jay platoon, is still around and still cheap if his knees give out. Jack Cust might have been cheaper, but without lowering their floor at the position the Cardinals have raised the ceiling significantly.
Off the field I just think it makes this team more fun to watch; Berkman could find himself on base a lot in front of Albert Pujols, to say the least, and his past as a Cardinals Killer who always remained vaguely likable in spite of it would make it all the more rewarding to see him contribute to a playoff team in 2011.