In fact, he had an outstanding 2011 season in general, hitting .301 with 31 home runs and 94 RBI. He was a leader both on the field and in the clubhouse.
However, no one saw that level of production coming from Berkman, especially after a dismal 2010 season in which he hit just .248 with 14 homers and 58 RBI between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees.
He has yet to hit a home run for the Cardinals this season, but has only played in nine games so far because of injury.
He still has something left in the tank, but the Cardinals are going to have to start considering a very tough decision: should they trade the slugger who played such an instrumental role in last year’s playoff run?
His potential replacements at first base, Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter, are both much younger and have been very productive at the plate this season.
In just 12 games since coming back from an injury of his own, Craig is hitting a whopping .404 with five home runs and 18 RBI. Carpenter, who has filled in for Berkman most often, is hitting .273 with three homers and 18 RBI.
Clearly, these guys are ready to play. Craig would be a starter on nearly every other team and Carpenter would find plenty of starting opportunities with other teams as well.
So, should the Cardinals trade their aging slugger?
It’s a tough call, and I certainly don’t envy John Mozeliak in this situation, but I’d have to say no.
As mentioned before, Berkman still has something left in his tank if he can stay healthy. Plus, he’s become such a popular player in his year in St. Louis that fans would be very upset if he were traded.
Loyalty is hard to find in baseball nowadays. Players are traded and released like stocks get bought and sold on Wall Street. It’d be nice to see one team take a stand and keep the players that meant so much to their championship teams and to their fans, especially players who still have something left to give to the team.
That leaves the question of what to do with Craig and Carpenter’s at-bats, so I’ll go ahead and solve that problem too.
Carpenter is going to get plenty of at-bats as the backup at both third base and first base, so Mike Matheny won’t need to worry about him.
The solution with Craig is to put him at second base. He’s a much, much better hitter than Tyler Greene, Daniel Descalso and Skip Schumaker, and the team won’t be sacrificing too much defensively either.
Look at this batting order when Craig plays second base:
- Rafael Furcal, SS
- Carlos Beltran, RF
- Matt Holliday, LF
- Allen Craig, 2B
- Lance Berkman, 1B
- David Freese, 3B
- Yadier Molina, C
- Jon Jay, CF
That lineup is nearly as potent as the Texas Rangers' lineup from top-to-bottom. There are no easy outs in this batting order.
That also leaves a very potent bench unit of Schumaker, Carpenter, Greene, Descalso and Tony Cruz.
So, Matheny should use that lineup for the rest of this season and into next year. Then, when Berkman’s contract runs out, move Craig over to first base and go from there.