Lance Berkman now aiming to return from knee surgery next week

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Lance Berkman said this afternoon that he’s hoping to return from knee surgery for the Astros’ six-game road trip that begins Monday. “I had it in my mind I would like to be back in that series, anyway,” Berkman told MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. “I’m not guaranteeing it … but I’m starting to feel better and that is a possibility.”
Berkman underwent arthroscopic surgery on March 13, received a cortisone shot on Opening Day, and then had his knee drained Monday for the fifth time, saying: “For the first time I feel it is heading in the right direction.” However, some of his other quotes suggest it may take a while before he’s back at full strength:

Getting out of bed is a lot easier, and that helps and makes you feel better. I don’t have to consciously pick my knee up with my hands and stick it in the bed. I can get in now without any assistance. As far as baseball stuff, it feels a lot better than it has, and it’s not as swollen. I can bend it a lot easier.

Houston’s lineup will be bad even with a healthy Berkman, but they’ll be downright terrible offensively if he struggles to get back on track or needs another stint on the disabled list. After all, Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz have batted fifth in the lineup while replacing him at first base through three games, which is all kinds of silly.
They scored two runs against Tim Lincecum on Opening Day, were shut out yesterday against Barry Zito, and currently have one run through six innings against Matt Cain this afternoon. Obviously the pitching matchups will get easier, but Houston ranked 14th among NL teams in scoring last year and things don’t figure to be much different this time around. They may need a healthy Berkman just to avoid finishing with fewer than 75 wins for the third time in four years.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.