Berkman out to perform before '11 option
Astros slugger wants to end his career playing in Houston
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros fans have been fortunate in recent years to have seen fan favorites Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio play their entire careers in Houston, something that's rare in this day and age of free agency and big-money contracts.
While star players from other teams have commonly switched uniforms and leagues multiple times, Bagwell and Biggio went out as Astros, much to the delight of the hometown fans. Slugger Lance Berkman could be poised to join his fellow Killer B's as a Houston lifer, but fate may not be so kind.
Berkman, 34, is entering the final year of a six-year, $85 million contract extension signed in 2005. He will make $14.5 million this year, and the Astros hold a $15 million option for next year. There is a $2 million buyout.
Coming off a season in which he posted his lowest full-season batting average in the Major Leagues (.274) and well-below career averages in home runs (25) and RBIs (80), Berkman knows another subpar season could force the Astros to take a long look at passing on his hefty option for 2011.
"They have an option on me for the next year, so if I play well, I guess they'll pick it up; and if not, then I'll be looking for work elsewhere," Berkman said. "I may have to, whether you want to or not. It may come down to a situation where if things don't go well this year and they don't pick up my option, I probably won't be back."
Berkman, 34, is entering his 11th full season with the Astros, who selected him in the first round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft. He ranks in the top 10 in every major offensive statistical category in club history, including second in home runs (313) and third in RBIs (1,049), walks (980), doubles (359), runs (969) and total bases (2,923).
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Berkman has proven to be relatively healthy throughout his career, though he missed nearly a month last year with a strained calf. He remains one of the most popular players in Houston history, but not many players in their mid-30s are making the kind of money that Berkman could make with the Astros in 2011.
When asked he if would consider negotiating a contract with the Astros in the event they didn't pick up his option, Berkman didn't hesitate.
"Probably not," Berkman said. "If they don't pick it up, I'll probably take my ball and go home."
Astros owner Drayton McLane, who addressed the team Wednesday, said he's not given much thought to Berkman's contract situation.
"That's a long way down the road," McLane said. "We have an option for next year. This is Spring Training and we're starting 2010, so let's focus on getting this started, and we'll focus on [Berkman] during the season or the latter part of the season."
Berkman, who was born in Austin, grew up in Waco and New Braunfels and played college baseball at Rice, would like to finish his career in Houston. But he's prepared to play elsewhere.
"Seriously, if they don't pick up the option and I had to retire at the end of this year, that wouldn't bother me," Berkman said. "I probably would play somewhere, but it's not like I'm sitting here saying, 'Oh my gosh, I've got to make them pick up that option.' I don't feel that way at all."
McLane took pride in the fact Bagwell and Biggio were able to play their entire careers with the Astros. Bagwell played 15 years in Houston before a bum shoulder forced him to retire following the 2005 World Series run, and Biggio played 20 seasons and retired in '07.
"Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were the heartbeats of the Houston Astros," McLane said. "The heartbeat of the Houston Astros [now] is certainly Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. They both were drafted and spent their whole careers here and have built our success.
"One thing that's different with Jeff and Craig is they helped propel us to winning our [division] championships and moving forward to the World Series. That's what we've got to do and show what we can do. Lance's and Roy's [contract] are not an issue right now."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.