Berkman's playing for 2011 contract

Bernando Fallas on what's next for the Astros' best player:

Astros first baseman Lance Berkman knows this is a make-or-break season.

If he doesn't play well, that means the Astros likely will struggle. And it could mean he's playing elsewhere next season.

“I may have to, whether I like it or not,” Berkman said Wednesday as the Astros’ held their first full-squad workout. “It may come down to a situation where if things don’t go well they don’t pick up my option, then I probably won’t be back.

“If they don’t pick it up, I’ll probably take my ball and go home.”


Berkman is coming off a subpar season, batting a career-low .274 for a full season with 25 home runs and 80 RBI.

“It was definitely toward the bottom of my statistical performance in years past,” said Berkman, who missed time because of injuries last season. “Batting average was definitely down, but if you want to go down a list of numbers, heck, on-base percentage was OK, and the home runs and the RBIs for missing a month weren’t too bad. It just wasn’t a very good year.”

Essentially the only difference between Berkman's 2009 and his 2007 (when nobody complained) was 20 games. Give him three more weeks in the lineup in 2009 and he hits 30 homers and knocks in 90-some runs and we're not having this conversation.

Not this exact conversation, anyway. There's still a worthwhile conversation to be had about the Astros' 2011 option, which is $15 million but with a $2 million buyout, which means they'll have to decide if Lance Berkman in 2011 is worth $13 million. The Lance Berman of 2007 and 2009 was worth $13 million almost exactly; the Lance Berkman of 2006 and 2008 was worth twice that.

So as annoyed as Berkman might be, the Astros have every reason to let things play out, see what the Lance Berkman of 2010 tells them about the Lance Berkman of 2011. Considering the recent market for sluggers in their mid-30s -- Berkman turned 34 two weeks ago -- he'll have a great financial incentive to play well this year (which isn't to suggest that he needs any extra incentive; most players don't).

From 2000 through 2009, 60 major leaguers totaled at least 5,000 plate appearances. Omar Vizquel created the fewest runs: 602. Alex Rodriguez created the most runs: 1,391. Three other players -- Todd Helton, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez -- created more runs than Helton, who created more runs than Vladimir Guerrero and Chipper Jones and everyone else.

But how often is Berkman mentioned in the same breath as those others? First he was overshadowed by the original Killer B's, and then by the Astros' descent into irrelevance.

That doesn't mean Berkman is irrelevant. He's been an outstanding player for a long time, and in addition to five 100-RBI seasons he's also scored 100 runs in five seasons (and yes, those count too, even for power hitters). Thanks to a late professional start, because he went to college, Berkman hasn't piled up the big counting stats yet and probably won't reach 2,500 hits (stupid walks!) or 500 home runs (stupid line-drive doubles!), and thus probably has very little chance of getting into the Hall of Fame. But if he puts together another five or six good seasons, some of us will be making our best cases for him.

(Glove slap: BTF's Newsstand)