COMMENTARY | While everyone in Philadelphia is wondering who is going to roam center field for the Phillies in 2013, it's easy to forget the team has other roster spots to fill. This season, unlike any other before it, will bring some unexpected -- if not unusual -- signings.
Several sources have reported that slugger Lance Berkman has been contacted by at least four teams about returning for a 15th major-league season. Teams interested include the Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies.
Berkman spent 2012 with the St. Louis Cardinals but only played in 32 games due to injuries. He had a great season for St. Louis in 2011, hitting .301 with 31 HRs and 94 RBIs, helping the Cardinals to a World Series title.
It looks like Berkman is in no hurry to make a decision, however, seeming happy right where he is -- volunteer assistant coach of the Rice men's baseball team -- and would reportedly have to be "blown away by an offer" if he is going to return.
Out of the teams who have shown interest, it would seem the Phillies are at a steep disadvantage being the only National League team in the mix and no steady designated hitter position, something the 36-year-old Berkman would likely desire.
In 2013, interleague play will be spread out over the course of the season, with at least one interleague series happening at all times. This will require NL teams to prepare for a DH the entire year. Berkman could play that role for Philadelphia, but his expressed indifference in the matter is a huge red flag for me.
Since its inception in 1997, teams play a stretch of 3-4 series against teams in the opposite league, adopting the league-specific rules of the home team. This has always put NL teams at a disadvantage because they have to use a spot on the active roster for a player who could DH during interleague play.
Last season, the Phillies re-signed Jim Thome to fill this role. They had a small hope he could still play a little first base, but at 41 he wasn't quite up to the challenge. Thome was used as a DH during interleague play and was traded to the Baltimore Orioles soon after.
There has been increasing dialogue over the past few years about adding the DH to the National League. It is as polarizing a debate as any in the league, but the recent increase in the use of instant replay followed by the changes to the playoff structure and interleague play show the league is ready to be progressive.
I think the Phillies will be in good shape for the new interleague schedule without having to bring someone in just to DH. Once they sign a new center fielder, one of the incumbent outfielders -- Darin Ruf, John Mayberry or Dominic Brown -- will likely either platoon in a corner outfield spot or be used in a utility role. They could use one or all of these players in a DH role as needed and leave the roster spot open for a utility infielder or backup first baseman.
No decision is imminent, as Phillies GM Reuben Amaro Jr. is likely to use his reliable "kicking the tires" phrase if asked about having contact with Berkman. It is, however, more indication that once the Phillies sign a center fielder, many other chips are likely to fall.
Scott Lentz is a regular contributor to Football Nation. He was raised in the Philadelphia and currently lives in the nearby suburb of West Chester. Follow Scott on twitter: @scottlentz27.
All statistics and figures courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
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