Lance Berkman hit .316 with 30 home runs in 2004. (Pat Sullivan/AP)
HOUSTON -- Playing in a church league flag football game, Astros right fielder Lance Berkman tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee and will require surgery in approximately 10 days.
General manager Tim Purpura estimated a recovery time of five to six months, which means Berkman could miss at least the first month of the regular season next year.
Berkman will begin running activities within 10 to 12 weeks of the surgery, and he should be able to get back to baseball-related activities in four months.
"The way these surgeries have evolved, you certainly have a good chance to come back at 100 percent strength," Purpura said. "[Craig] Biggio had this injury a couple years ago [in 2000] and rehabbed diligently during the offseason.
"While ACL injuries in this day and age are serious, this surgery will be done arthroscopically. Your rehab and recovery time are much less. Ten or 15 years ago, you were out a year. We're talking about the possibility of playing Major League Baseball in five or six months."
Berkman has hope that he won't have to miss any of the regular season.
"I heard a lot of doom-and-gloom prognostications on the radio," he said. "The fact is, there's a chance I could be ready for Opening Day. That's a very optimistic projection, but if there's no setbacks, I don't see why I couldn't.
"I've seen guys come back from this. Bidge came back from it. Baseball is the least demanding on an ACL. I'm not the least bit worried that I woudn't be able to come back."
Berkman suffered the injury while running during the flag football game he played in late last week at Second Baptist Church. Berkman, who was not a member of a league, was simply filling in.
"Someone just called up and said, 'We don't have a quarterback,'" Berkman said.
Now the Astros may not have a right fielder, or at least the right fielder they want. How this will affect the way Purpura and his staff compile next year's team remains to be seen. Purpura must first wait for the results of the surgery, which will be performed by team medical director David Lintner.
But considering the scouting and player development staffs are in town for the yearly organizational meetings, Plan B is sure to be discussed.
Lance Berkman / LF
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: L
"This is a pretty recent event," Purpura said. "We certainly have some options. We've got Jason Lane, who certainly has a need to play. The [Carlos] Beltran [free agent] situation is ongoing. I told our scouts to look at the Rule 5 Draft lists and free agents and pay a little more attention to the outfield."
Within the organization, the two outfield prospects that are the closest to the Major Leagues and on the Astros' 40-man roster are Willy Taveras and Charlton Jimerson, both of whom played at the Double-A level in '04.
Jimerson batted .238 (116-for-488) over 131 games with 22 doubles, 18 homers and 53 RBIs. Taveras, who was brought to the big leagues last season as a September callup, hit .335 (137-for-409) with 55 stolen bases for the Round Rock club.
Both are playing in the Arizona Fall League, although Taveras played in only five games before he was sidelined with a recurring hip flexor strain.
Even in perfect health, neither outfield prospect could be expected to immediately fill Berkman's shoes. A three-time All-Star, Berkman batted .316 (172-for-544) with 30 homers and 106 RBIs in 2004.
Berkman's three-year contract expired following the season, and Purpura declined to speculate how this may affect negotiations. Although Berkman is coming off a long-term contract, he still is arbitration eligible for one more year.
"I think it really depends on how the surgery goes, what they find, what the severity is, what it means for his '05 season," Purpura said. "There's a lot we don't know yet and won't know for a while. That was the absolute last thing on my mind and, certainly, on Lance's mind, too."
The Astros strictly prohibit activities such as recreational football and basketball when they sign players to guaranteed contracts, but because Berkman's contract ended with the conclusion of the '04 season, technically, he did not break any rules.
Purpura praised Berkman's honesty on the details surrounding the injury.
"I think it's an unfortunate event, but the fact that Lance was absolutely and totally forthright with us and has absolutely accepted responsibilty for this, it shows the kind of person he is, the kind of character he has," Purpura said. "Players have lives outside of the game. What they do with those lives, that's their decision. They bear some risks. The way Lance has handled this is absolutely first-class and what you'd expect from Lance Berkman."
Said Berkman: "I don't know any other way to be. I'm not going to lie about it. I did something I shouldn't have been doing. I've done it before. We play football all the time and never had problems. I took one bad step and this happened."
Purpura doubts Berkman's injury will drive up free-agent second baseman Jeff Kent's asking price. That being said, the Astros cannot afford to lose two 100-plus RBI producers at the same time, especially since they don't know if their third major run producer -- Beltran -- is returning to the Astros.
But Purpura indicated it would be premature to start thinking about courting veteran free agents, like Moises Alou and J.D. Drew, to fill Berkman's spot in the lineup.
"We have to look internally first, see what our options are," Purpura said. "See how surgery goes, how early rehab goes. I think those two [Alou and Drew] would be extreme options for an injury that [Berkman could be] recovered from early in the season, certainly within the first month."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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