Lance Berkman himself has made it known that the Red Sox are one of the teams in "kicking the tires" mode on the aging first baseman. And with first base wide open for the team, that much is no surprise.
So how about it, Red Sox fans? Lance Berkman, six-time All-Star, manning first for Boston come April; does it sound good?
If the cheers aren't overwhelming, that's probably because Lance Berkman is 36. It's probably because he missed 130 games last year, undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee. It sounds exactly like an old player injury; one that's brought on by years of wear, and which doesn't heal up too quickly for a guy Berkman's age.
Of course, Berkman was a fine player as little as one year ago. One of the best pickups of the year, the Cardinals enjoyed a .301/.412/.547 performance from Berkman over 145 games with 31 homers. This is not a player whose productivity has been proven lost to old age--at least not yet. When talking about free agents who teams are only "kicking the tires" on, it's rare to find someone whose chances to produce are so high. Usually these are players who are a good two-to-three bad years removed from performing. For Berkman, there's only one injury between him and playing at the top of his game.
For Boston, though, there are other considerations. For one thing--and it's a small thing, given the sample size--Berkman hasn't exactly proven himself in the AL East. His one exposure to the division led to a .255/.358/.349 batting line in 123 plate appearances with the Yankees as Berkman finished the worst season of his career at a crawl. More substantially, though, there's the fact that the Sox shouldn't have to go cheap at first base. Between Adam LaRoche, Mike Napoli, and trade targets like Justin Morneau or Ike Davis, this is one position where the Sox should be able to bring their financial might to bear without getting too heavily invested on a risk.
Berkman, then, is perhaps best viewed as a safety option. The place to turn if all else, against all odds, fails. The problem there is that there is competition. Some significant competition. And so far the offseason has seen plenty of early action on players who will not take large commitments as teams move away from the high-risk signings that have marked recent years. That's not to say Berkman will fall in the next couple of weeks, but it's hard to really put much faith in him being around when the Sox find themselves up against a wall.
It's possible Lance Berkman finds his way to Boston through some scenario before the winter is done. But for now there seem to be only a few scenarios where it makes sense to bring him here, and plenty where he's just too far down the list.