Coming in to the 2013 season, the Astros already have three first base options with potentially a fourth. As it stands right now, Brett Wallace, Carlos Pena and superstar-in-waiting, Jonathan Singleton, are the options at first base, yet the Astros still have not ruled out signing Lance Berkman.
The signing of Berkman would accomplish two things: Firstly, it would make Brett Wallace expendable. Wallace was drafted 13th overall in the 2008 amateur draft and was acquired by the Astros in exchange for Anthony Gose on July 29, 2010. Wallace was almost immediately promoted and made his Major League debut on July 31, 2010. However, Wallace quickly fell out of favor with both the fans and the organization with his mediocre bat and surprising lack of power, despite showing both in the minors. Fans have already started calling for him to be traded, and the addition of Berkman should facilitate that, though the market for Wallace remains unclear.
Another benefit of Berkman signing would be to get more fans in the seats. As any Astros fan would know, Berkman was a fan favorite for many years and most hated to see him go. The Astros are already struggling to fill the seats, and Berkman would certainly help this to a certain degree.
During the offseason, the Astros acquired Pena in a surprise move that some have questioned. Despite his declining numbers, Pena will surely provide a good on base percentage, probably somewhere around 20 home runs with the potential for more, and an excellent glove at the first base position. A left-handed power bat is always desirable around the trade deadline, so Pena’s low salary and bat could be highly desirable at the trade deadline should he have anything that resembles a bounceback season.
Last on the list would be Jonathan Singleton. Depending on who or what you’re reading, either Singleton or Carlos Correais the Astros #1 prospect and Singleton certainly appears to be ready for the big leagues. The reason why he will not be the Astros Opening Day first baseman is one word: Arbitration. If Singleton broke camp with the big club, his MLB clock would start. Instead, I look for the Astros to hold him back to push back his arbitration status, but fully expect him to be called up the first day possible, assuming Wallace is not batting .350 and leading the league in home runs at the time.
While possible, I view the Berkman signing as a longshot which would further create a logjam at the first base position. I envision Brett Wallace breaking camp as the first baseman with Pena as the full-time designated hitter. However, Singleton will not stay in the Minor Leagues for long and will quickly push Wallace completely out of the organization… one way, or another.
I believe the only way the Astros sign Berkman is if he shows a willingness and ability to patrol the outfield. Should he be able to and actually sign, it would immediately mean the end of days for Wallace in Houston. Under this scenario, Berkman would break camp as the first baseman, again with Pena as the DH. Singleton would still be called up shortly after the season started and push Berkman into the outfield.
I don’t know about you, but a 3-4-5 of Berkman, Pena, Singleton certainly seems more appealing to me than one of Pena, Singleton, Wallace. What do you think?