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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinal Nation Blog top stories of 2010 #10: Puma or Elvis?

The St. Louis Cardinals added veteran Lance Berkman to be their 2011 right fielder.

On December 4, the St. Louis Cardinals announced the signing of free agent outfielder/first baseman Lance Berkman to a one-year, $8 million contract for the 2011 season. The 34-year-old was rumored to have turned down a two-year, $16 million offer from Oakland.

Once nicknamed “Fat Elvis”, Berkman re-christened himself “Big Puma” several years ago. He is a veteran of 11-plus seasons in the majors, most of which were spent with the Houston Astros, with whom he was a key member of the “Killer B’s” from 1999 until last July 31. Berkman was traded to the New York Yankees on July 31 but was not re-signed for 2011.

Berkman has a career batting average of .296 with 327 home runs and 1099 RBI in 1,629 games. His career .409 on-base percentage is fourth among active players and his .545 slugging percentage is ranked 10th. The five-time All-Star (2001-02, 2004, 2006, 2008) holds the National League record for single-season RBI by a switch-hitter with 136 in 2006. He’s had six seasons with 100 or more RBI and hit 25 or more home runs eight times, including a career best 45 in 2006.

Berkman has performed well during postseason play, with a career .320 average, seven home runs and 30 RBI in 34 games. He batted .385 for the Astros in the 2005 World Series. Berkman initially stated a clear desire to return home to play in Houston in 2011, but the Astros were not interested.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has penciled Berkman into his 2011 lineup in the fifth spot, noting the new signee will protect cleanup hitter Matt Holliday as Holliday protects number three hitter Albert Pujols. Despite declining results against left-handed pitching in recent seasons, Berkman is expected to be an everyday player.

Defensively, with Pujols tethered to first base, Berkman is slated to be the starter in right field, pushing the pair of Jon Jay and Allen Craig into reserve roles. Over his career, the Waco, Texs has started more then 100 games at all three outfield positions, but few since 2004. He has made over 700 starts at first base.

A major question regarding Berkman is past knee problems and the potential impact on his defense and availability. He underwent surgery in November 2004 to reconstruct a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. Berkman began the 2005 season on the disabled list and was not activated until May.

Berkman also had minor surgeries on his left knee in 1999 and again during spring training in 2010. He made his 2010 regular season debut on April 20. Berkman also spent time on the disabled list in 2009 due to a left calf strain.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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