Berkman wants to play in '13, but no offers yet
Astros meet with slugger, interested in bringing him back as DH
HOUSTON -- Lance Berkman said Friday he plans to be in a baseball uniform next season, but in what role remains to be seen.
Berkman said he will become a volunteer assistant coach at Rice University in Houston -- his alma mater -- if he doesn't return to play another Major League season in 2013, but the Astros have expressed an interest in bringing back Berkman to be their designated hitter next year.
Berkman initiated a meeting with Astros owner Jim Crane last week to talk about the team and get to know each other better, and the slugger recently had lunch with new manager Bo Porter as well. Berkman has lived in Houston since he played at Rice from 1995-97.
"It was kind of a state of the Astros meeting," Berkman told MLB.com. "There was absolutely no discussion of me signing a contract. They've said they have some interest, but so far, they haven't made an offer. I've met Jim Crane, but I hadn't had a chance to talk to him and get to know him. That meeting was more about, 'Hey, let's get to know each other.'"
Crane told KRIV-TV in Houston the meeting with Berkman was informal.
"He was just seeing where we were at," the Astros' owner said. "He expressed some interest in maybe working a deal out. We haven't gotten to that [discuss contract]. I think his knee is still up in the air. So we got to get that all worked out. It was a get-acquainted meeting really."
Berkman, 36, spent part of the fall assisting the coaching staff at Rice. Berkman is close friends with legendary Rice coach Wayne Graham, who guided the Owls to the College World Series title in 2003. He'll suit up as Rice's volunteer assistant coach if he doesn't play in '13.
"Quite frankly, that's an extremely appealing option," he said. "I helped this fall some and it's absolutely been as much fun as I've had in a long time in baseball. I really enjoyed it."
Berkman said that even if he doesn't wind up playing for the Astros, he will always have an interest in the franchise that drafted him in the first round in 1997 and watched him blossom into one of the greatest players in team history.
"You never know what opportunities could be there, and I still hear a lot about the Astros organization," he said. "I just kind of liked to meet the boss. In fact, I initiated the meeting. I called him and said, 'Hey, I'd like to visit with you,' and he said, 'If you have time today, come over.' That's how it happened."
Berkman could be an option for Houston as a designated hitter as it prepares to move to the American League. He played the first 12 years of his career with the Astros, hitting 360 home runs with 1,200 RBIs before being traded to the Yankees in 2010. He played the last two years with St. Louis, which isn't going to retain him.
"I don't mind DHing," Berkman said. "I think, actually, that would be good for me from a health standpoint because it's definitely less wear and tear on the body and you could stay in the game more. That aspect of it is fine."
But Berkman said he would only play if he's offered fair market value by any team, the Astros included.
"A lot has to do with compensation," he said. "I'm not going to come back for a song, but depending on what kind of offer they talk about, I'm really considering anything right now."
Berkman hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs while helping St. Louis win the World Series in 2011, but was limited to 81 at-bats last season because of knee injuries. He sounded Friday like a man who wanted to keep playing.
"You have to have a place to play and so far, nobody has made me an offer, which I don't think is unusual," he said. "There's been a few free-agent signings, but it's not like there's been a ton of them. There's definitely teams that are interested and I've been contacted by some, but I haven't received an offer from anybody."
Crane told the TV station any decisions about Berkman's return to the field would be made by general manager Jeff Luhnow, who said earlier this month he plans to reach out to Berkman to gauge his interest in returning.
"I'm not going to be the guy to make these decisions," Crane said.