11/23/09 5:12 PM EST
World Series title remains goal for Puma
Astros slugger focused on ultimate prize as years pass
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
Berkman, the longest-tenured player currently on the Astros' roster, will be 34 when he hits the field in Kissimmee, Fla., next spring and understands the challenges his team is facing economically, as well as what he is facing against Father Time.
Astros owner Drayton McLane and general manager Ed Wade are trying to stay competitive in the National League Central while trimming their payroll from last season's club-record $107 million, and Berkman understands contending may be challenging in 2010.
"I think we're going to be subtracting rather than adding this year from a payroll standpoint," Berkman said. "If that's the case, it's going to be tough to add one of those [impact] guys. You never know. It's one of those situations where you don't ever count Drayton or Ed out. They may get something done."
Berkman plugged his way through a disappointing 2009 season in which he hit .274 -- his lowest average in a full season in the Majors -- and 25 homers with 80 RBIs in 136 games. The Astros were one game out of first when he went on the disabled list July 22 with a strained calf and seven games out when he returned Aug. 12.
The five-time team Most Valuable Player has one year and an option remaining on his contract and would love to finish his career with the Astros. He's a Texas native who played at Rice University in Houston and has no desire to uproot his family.
That being said, Berkman's desire to get that elusive World Series ring means the club needs to improve.
"It would be great if we could add another good, quality starting pitcher," Berkman said. "That's the one thing that could help us more than anything else. I feel like we have a pretty good nucleus of guys from the everyday standpoint, but we definitely need some help on the staff. I don't think it's going to happen, but that's what I'd like to see."
Berkman didn't seem too worried when he was asked if he thought time was running out on his window to win a World Series.
"It would be concerning if I didn't have more than this year and maybe one more," Berkman said. "If the club's not going to go in the right direction, I'm a free agent in two years and I have to look at it then. I can't image we couldn't be competitive, given the history and the fact that as long as Drayton's owned the team he's made it a point to contend. So I don't see us taking big steps backwards."
Berkman has liked the changes the Astros have made on the field staff so far this year. Former Boston Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills was hired to take over the club as manager, and Berkman got a chance to talk to him face-to-face at a team charity event at Minute Maid Park in November.
"I'm just getting to know him, but I certainly like what I've seen so far, and from the couple of conversations I've had with him I think we're already developing a good rapport," Berkman said. "I'm excited about getting to know him better. I think he's going to be a good hire."
So far, the offseason for Berkman has been about working out the aches and pains of his 10th Major League season. He's not yet ready to put his body through the rigors of getting ready for 2010.
"The closer you get to Spring Training, the more you dial it up," Berkman said. "It was a long and difficult season this year, and it's taken me longer to get enthusiastic about working out. I'll be ready when Spring Training comes."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.