The Astros are set to make the switch to the American League next season. And they have set their sights on a familiar face to be their designated hitter.
According to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said at the team’s uniform unveiling tonight that he plans to reach out to Berkman to gauge his interest about returning to his roots.
“We’re going to make a baseball decision for the organization and for the future of the Houston Astros,” Luhnow said “Clearly Lance has a great history here and he was a key part of a great franchise in a great time. If we feel collectively that there’s a fit in terms of what we need and what he can provide, we won’t be hesitant to pursue it.”
Berkman, 36, was limited to just 32 games this season due to knee problems and said in September that he was considering retiring and going back to Rice University to finish his degree. Health concerns aside, it’s not clear whether he’s willing to play in a league which he referred to as “Mickey Mouse” last month. And though it was a small sample, he was also pretty terrible as a DH with the Yankees in 2010.
Berkman, who still keeps a home in Houston, was a first-round pick of the Astros in 1997 and played 12 seasons with the club before being traded to the Yankees in 2010. He is fifth in team history in hits, fourth in games played, third in RBI, second in homers and first in OPS.
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.
For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.
Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.