Houston Astros 2013: Finding a designated hitter

Bob Levey

The Houston Astros plan to reach out to Lance Berkman this offseason to see if the former Astros star is interested in returning to the team. Houston is need of a designated hitter in its move to the American League in 2013.

The Astros could use help in a lot of areas. That would've been the case for the back-to-back 100-loss team whether it made the move to the American League or stayed in the NL, wrestling with the Cubs for the Central Division's most embarrassing squad.

But the jump to the AL calls for a designated hitter, something that's been in the back of my mind these last few seasons as more and more reputable bats have left the city. There were reports over the weekend that the Astros would reach out to Lance Berkman in free agency this offseason to see if the former Astro would be interested in coming back.

"He is an offensive weapon and has been his entire career," Astros general manager Luhnow said. "No matter how you get that bat in the lineup - and obviously in the AL you have an opportunity to use him as a DH - he's an offensive force, no question about it."

Berkman posted .259/.381/.444 for the Cardinals in 2012 before a knee injury ended his season and his career seemed to be hanging in the balance. But if Berkman is healthy, he certainly fits in a role that doesn't require to do anything but swing his bat. There was no such role for Berkman the last time he wore an Astros uniform, or with St. Louis.

There's also the long shot of going after Josh Hamilton in free agency. An acquisition like that would make filling the need at DH a bonus rather than a necessity. The Houston Chronicle addressed this as barely being a possibility, with Hamilton being out of the Astros' budget. Hamilton, perhaps fittingly, would make more money than the combined Houston roster if the slugger gets the seven-year, $175-million deal he's reportedly seeking.

Berkman has said that he's waiting until December to decide if he wants to continue playing. If he's this close to retirement, you'd figure only special situations would keep him active. Special situations include being on a contending team like the Cardinals, or in a comfort zone with a light workload on the home team trying to rise from the ashes in what seems like an uphill climb.

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