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Lance Berkman: The Outfielder

So the St. Louis Cardinals, needing to do something awesome to placate fans who are kind of pissed about the Brendan Ryan trade-baiting, have signed Lance Berkman. We've known for some time that Tony La Russa likes the guy, despite his height and his ability to hit, but since the best player in baseball plays first base for them it seemed like a weird fit. Today John Mozeliak said: I am ready to make a weird fit. And now St. Louis is vastly more interested in Lance Berkman's history in the outfield than it was yesterday. 

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The major question about Berkman's defense at this point is the health of his knee, which was the prime suspect in his .248/.368/.413 2010, but even with a healthy knee this is a gamble on the Cardinals' part; Berkman hasn't played a full season in left field since 2004, when he was 28 years old, and he hasn't played there at all since 2007, when he looked less than spritely in a 31-game stint in right. 

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Keep in mind that this is the team that has, for the last four seasons, played Carlos Lee in left field. This could mean two things: Either Berkman is so terrible in the outfield that Carlos Lee, who's listed at 6'2", 265, is a better option, or, more optimistically, the Houston Astros clearly have no idea what constitutes a passable defensive outfielder, and put Berkman at first base because somebody told them they had to have a guy standing there. 

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Berkman, who famously started a year and a half in center at the beginning of his career, hasn't always been a terrible outfielder; for his career Total Zone Rating has him at -3 for a full season. The concern comes not only from his last 30-game stint in the outfield, in 2007—the defensive metrics hated him in what is far too small a sample size to make much of a judgment—but from how long it's been since he spent significant time out there. He was originally moved in 2005 following nothing short of another knee injury—that was the year he tore his ACL in his right knee. 

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For now, though, I'm not going to worry about defense. I'm going to remember the healthier, younger Big Puma who's hit .313/.415/.601 in his career against the Cardinals, and I'm going to find John Mozeliak and give him a high five. (High five negotiable pending further upsetting moves in the middle infield.)