Talk to just about anyone who follows baseball with a level head and they’ll tell how unlikely it is that 35-year-old Lance Berkman is going to be able to maintain good health all season while playing regularly in right field for the Cardinals.
He hasn’t made starts in the outfield on a daily basis since 2004 and he’s undergone surgery on both of his knees since the winter of 2006.
But Berkman doesn’t care about the doubters. And neither do the Cardinals, who signed the veteran to a one-year, $8 million contract this winter with full knowledge that they will have nowhere to hide him should his knees, shoulders or elbows begin acting up. First base, after all, is occupied.
Berkman played right field in Thursday’s Grapefruit League game against the Marlins for the first time in a couple of weeks and told B.J. Rains of FOX Sports Midwest that he felt “great” physically:
“I’ve got no problems,” said Berkman. “My arm feels great. I’ve got no problems playing the outfield. It’s not like the thing is just going to blow up. It was a little bit sore but there’s nothing wrong with it. It was a pretty basic day really.”
The proud Waco, Texas native also had a message for those who have questioned his abilities:
“I’ve got almost 1,000 games in the outfield, so I can play the outfield,” Berkman continued. “You all can write this: I am an outfielder. I came up as an outfielder. I’ve played a full year of center field in the big leagues. I can play the outfield. I can catch the ball. I can throw it. It’s funny to me but I guess I can understand why people were questioning, or wanted to see me catch a ball or hit a cutoff. It’s basic stuff.”
Berkman still has a great bat and elite plate discipline, but luck will have to be on his side this year for everything to go as smoothly as he wants. He has already battled minor elbow and knee injuries this spring.
A report from the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly suggests that free agent catcher Welington Castillo currently tops the Orioles’ list of potential backstop targets for the 2017 season. With Matt Wieters on the market, the Orioles lack a suitable platoon partner for Caleb Joseph behind the dish, and Connolly adds that the club has been discussing a multi-year deal with Castillo’s representatives since the Winter Meetings.
Castillo batted .264/.322/.423 with the Diamondbacks in 2016, racking up 14 home runs and driving in a career-high 68 RBI in 457 PA. His bat provides much of his upside, and Connolly quoted an anonymous National League scout who believes that the 29-year-old’s defensive profile has fallen short of his potential in recent years.
For better or worse, both the Orioles and Castillo appear far from locking in a deal for 2017. Both the Rays and Braves have expressed interest in the veteran catcher during the past week, while the Orioles are reportedly considering Wieters, Nick Hundley and Chris Iannetta as alternatives behind the plate.
The Phillies reportedly signed veteran outfielder Daniel Nava to a minor league contract, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Nava began the season on a one-year contract with the Angels, during which he slashed .235/.309/.303 through 136 PA in the first half of 2016. He was flipped to the Royals in late August for a player to be named later and saw the remainder of his year go down the drain on an .091 average through 12 PA in Anaheim. After getting the boot from the Angels’ 40-man roster in November, the 33-year-old outfielder elected free agency.
Nava is expected to compete for a bench role on the Phillies’ roster in the spring. As it currently stands, the club’s projected 2017 outfield features Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, with precious little depth behind them. Nava’s bat is underwhelming, but at the very least he offers the Phillies a warm body in left field and a potential platoon partner for one of their younger options, a la Tyler Goeddel or Roman Quinn.