Astros owner Jim Crane meets with Lance Berkman who is working a - Houston weather, traffic, news | FOX 26 | MyFoxHouston

Astros owner Jim Crane meets with Lance Berkman who is working as volunteer at Rice

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane told FOX 26 Sports he met last week with free agent first baseman Lance Berkman.

"We had a chat in my office," Crane said. "He was just seeing where we were at. He expressed some interest in maybe working a deal out.

"We haven't gotten to that (discuss contract). I think his knee is still up in the air. So we got to get that all worked out. It was a get-acquainted meeting, really."

Berkman's problems with his right knee limited him to 81at-bats last season with the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I think he has an interest," Crane said. "All of that will depend on his knee and probably the price, if he get any other offers.

"If all that works out, and there are a lot of ifs there, possibly he could do some DHing (designated hitter) for us."

Berkman said he initiated the meeting with Crane after general manager Jeff Luhnow reached out to his agent.

He said he has interest in returning to the Astros.

"It just depends on what kind of money they are talking about," Berkman said. "Am I going to come back for a couple of million bucks, no.

"If they want to pay me close to what I feel like my value is in terms of what I bring to the table,  I mean if  they're going to ask me to be there and hit third and play every day and DH every day, I want to be compensated like a guy who is a Major League three-hole hitter.

"Obviously, I would be willing to take a little bit less because it's my hometown and for the opportunity to get back to the Astros organization. I'm just waiting for them to make some sort of offer and go from there."

Berkman said he is wide open in terms of listening to offers from the Astros and other teams as well.

Crane stressed that any decisions made on Berkman returning to the Astros will be made by Luhnow.

"I'm not going to be the guy to make these decisions," Crane said. "That's Jeff's decision with (Astros manager) Bo's (Porter) input.

"I think he is going to meet with Jeff. They are going to talk and see if there's something that works for both sides.

"It's Jeff's decision."

Berkman recently met with the new Astros manager.

"I've actually had lunch with Bo and enjoyed that too," Berkman said.

And yes Porter did touch on the subject of Berkman playing for the Astros in 2013.

"That was why we got together," Berkman said. "I think he was trying to recruit me a little bit.

"I think the Astros have a great manager, a guy with a lot of enthusiasm."

Berkman, who said his right knee will not be a problem if he wants to continue playing, spent the first 12 years of his career with the Astros and was a five-time National League All-Star.

The Astros traded Berkman to the N.Y. Yankees in 2010 and he spent the past two seasons in St. Louis, where he helped lead the Cardinals to the World Series title in 2011.

"If he can still hit and his knee is all right, he might be a good stabilizer in the locker room," Crane said. "That's what we're thinking, but nothing has been cut.

"We're not at that point to make a decision yet or make an offer."

Luhnow said he has spoken to Berkman this offseason, but it was on another matter and not about playing for the Astros in 2013.

However, Luhnow pointed out he will have that discussion with Berkman.

"We're going to be in touch with Lance this offseason," Luhnow said. "He lives here in Houston.

"He's tied into the baseball community. We're going to continue to dialogue with him throughout the offseason."

Luhnow said it will be a "baseball decision" if he chooses to go forward and offer Berkman a contract.

"As we are putting together our roster for next year we have a lot of simultaneous objectives that we are trying to accomplish," Luhnow said. "We are trying to increase our run production.

"We're trying to make sure we have the right person in that DH role on opening day. We're trying to make sure we've got enough pitching depth to make sure we have competition for our fourth and fifth spots in the rotation and our bullpen is strong. We have several objectives and we're looking at all of the different alternatives in accomplishing those objectives. So how Lance would fit into that equation, that's something we are going to continue to explore, but we need to have some certainty he's going to be healthy and interested in being a part of it.

"So there's a long way to go."

Crane also said that if Berkman does not return to the Astros as a player, he his hopeful Berkman will have a relationship with the club after he retires.

"No matter what happens with Lance we want to keep him close to the team," Crane said. "Down the road he can help us, either with PR stuff or possibly with the team because he's from here and everybody loves him.
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"He's one of our best players in the system ever. So we would want to keep him in the mix, if there is something he could do to help us down the road, whether it's working with players or coaching or whatever once he retires."

Crane said he enjoyed meeting with Berkman.

"He's an easy-going guy," Crane said. "He's easy to talk to.

"Lance has his opinions. So he's telling me what we were doing he thought was the right thing.

"He was very positive. More than anything I met him for the PR side of it, and the good will to the team and the fans, whether it's now or later.

If Luhnow believes it is a good fit, Crane would like to see Berkman in an Astros uniform in 2013.

"He's got a great history here," Crane said. "I think he wants to be in Houston. He loves the stadium. He loves the fans. We would have two of the B's helping us if we could get him back."

The other "B" Crane is referring to is former Astros star Craig Biggio, who is now a special assistant to the general manager.

"I think Mr. Crane is a very astute businessman," Berkman said. "I think he is going to run the Astros well. That they have the right idea about how to get that thing headed back in the right direction."

Meanwhile, Berkman is keeping busy in the game of baseball while he makes a decision on his future.

Rice coach Wayne Graham said Berkman has returned to the Owls program as a volunteer assistant coach this fall.

Berkman won National Player of the Year honors at Rice in 1997.

"He's on the staff as a volunteer assistant coach," Graham said. He's been out here now for a week and he's done a great job. He really works with the hitters and he loves it. He absolutely loves it.

"Lance has already added quite a bit. He sees a Lot. Having another set of eyes that are that trained is really good."

Graham's thoughts are music to Berkman's ears.

"I think it's great," Berkman said. "I'm pleased to have the opportunity.

"Obviously, who better to learn from than Coach Graham."

Berkman said he had a great time working with the Rice players last week.

"I had a blast," Berkman said. "I absolutely loved it.

"I always suspected that's what I'd like to do when I get done playing, and now I know that's exactly what I would like to be doing."

Berkman said it is great to have the Rice situation "available if something doesn't work out from a playing standpoint is a huge feather in my cap."

Graham feels the same way.

"If he chooses not to go back into Major League Baseball, he'll be our volunteer assistant this spring," Graham said. If he goes back into Major League Baseball, that's another thing.

"Certainly we are not going to encourage or discourage him either way. My understanding is that Lance wants to play for a contender.

"I think what he wants to do ultimately, he wants to not only come back, he wants to come back to Rice next fall and complete his degree," Graham said. "So there's a possibility, that even he is our volunteer assistant this spring, thatt he will be  studen assistant next fall. I think that's a compliment to me and a compliment to the school that he really wants to complete his degree."

 

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