The Astros have interest in Lance Berkman

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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.

MLB executive: Bruce Maxwell’s kneeling may keep him from finding work, not his arrest

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In September 2017, former Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major league player to kneel during the national anthem, joining the handfuls of NFL players who had been doing the same to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Maxwell’s effort was laudable, but he got into trouble a month later when he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. Maxwell allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery person.

Maxwell, 27, played sparingly for the Athletics in 2018 and then was designated for assignment at the beginning of September. He officially became a free agent on November 2 and has had trouble finding work in the month-plus since.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Maxwell fired his agent, Matt Sosnick on Thursday because he’s still jobless. According to an unnamed MLB executive Slusser spoke to, “It’s the kneeling thing that might keep him from getting another job, not the arrest. Owners aren’t going to want to deal with that whole anthem issue.”

That makes a lot of since since abusive players haven’t had too much trouble finding new work otherwise. Addison Russell, Jeurys Familia, and José Reyes, among others have either stayed with their teams or quickly found new work. Given the relatively weak catching market, had Maxwell only had the assault charge, there is no doubt he would have been signed to be a backup catcher somewhere.

In the NFL, Colin Kaepernick — who popularized kneeling during the anthem — has remained unsigned even though teams have opted to sign and start clearly inferior quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, and Sam Bradford, among many others. Team owners tend to run conservative in terms of politics, so they may not like the protest to begin with, then there is the public blowback to signing such a player as those who dislike such protesting make up a slight majority in the U.S., according to various polls including one done by the Washington Post.

It’s worth noting that Maxwell has a career .240/.314/.347 triple-slash line in 412 plate appearances. We’re not talking about J.T. Realmuto or Buster Posey here. That being said, there have been 15 other catchers to have put up a lower aggregate OPS since 2016 (min. 400 PA). One of those players, Derek Norris (.600 OPS since 2016), signed a minor league contract with the Tigers just three months after being suspended by Major League Baseball for violating its domestic violence policy. Makes you think.