Day two of the Baseball Winter Meetings has passed and the Astros search for a Designated Hitter has made little progress. The fact that the Astros are heading to the American League is depressing enough. The names that are being tossed around as possible additions to the lineup are even more disheartening.
Who have the Astros been talking to? Reports have linked three players to the team as possible Designated Hitters for their inaugural season in the junior circuit.
Lance Berkman: The former Astro seems to be everyone’s favorite. Everyone except me, that is. Berkman has already shot his mouth off a few times about how much money he thinks he should be paid. He has also stated that he may retire. The Astros need someone who can hit, not someone who can talk. Bringing Berkman back would be more of a distraction than anything else. An expensive distraction.
In the last three years Berkman has had one good season. Prior to 2010 Berkman’s lowest OPS for a full season was .896. That year he dropped all the way down to .781. In 2011 Berkman was both healthy and in shape. He returned to form, posting a .959 OPS in St. Louis and winning Comeback Player of the Year. Last season, knee injuries limited Lance to only 97 plate appearances and an .826 OPS. In short, Berkman played like the Big Puma in 2011 but has been Fat Elvis for two of the last three seasons. Why would the Astros want to pay millions of dollars for a guy who has no knees?
Travis Hafner (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
Travis Hafner: The longtime Cleveland Indians DH would come cheaper than Berkman but is also a big injury risk. At 35 years of age he is a year younger than Lance, but Hafner has spent significant time on the disabled list in each of the last five seasons. Last year he was limited to 66 games due to back troubles. “Pronk” as he is affectionately called by Indians fans has played in fewer than 100 games in four of the last five seasons. Last year he hit only .228. Signing Hafner just doesn’t seem to have a lot of upside. I say stay away.
Carlos Pena: Since he’s only 34 and he’s a good defender at first base, Pena is probably the most attractive option of the three players that have been linked to the Astros. But there’s plenty of downside with Carlos too. He has batted .227 or lower and struck out well over 150 times in each of the last four seasons. Also, his power production seems to be on the decline. Last season Pena had a .354 slugging percentage, merely a fraction of his .472 career mark. Even Carlos Lee‘s career low OPS of .697 last season was better than Pena’s .684 total. That’s not what we should be looking for.
These three guys are, in a word, uninspiring. Perhaps the Astros will make a trade for a legitimate DH. Multiple teams have inquired on both Jed Lowrie and Bud Norris. Although Jeff Luhnow has downplayed the probability that Lowrie or Norris will be traded, anything is possible. Astros.com quoted Luhnow as saying he had already met with six or seven parties and he expects to get something done soon.
Wilton Lopez was dealt to Colorado late last night. Was that the “something” Luhnow was referring to? If so, internal possibilities at DH include Fernando Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Brett Wallace.