ST. LOUIS -- As the Cardinals surge toward an improbable 2011 playoff berth, they also continue to look to 2012. Lance Berkman became the second Cardinal this month to agree to a new contract when he came to terms with the club on a one-year deal for the '12 season.
Berkman will make $12 million in 2012, a 50 percent raise over the one-year, $8 million deal that brought him to St. Louis in December. He joins Chris Carpenter in re-upping beyond this year, and it looks more and more as though the '12 Cardinals will look an awful lot like the '11 club.
The switch-hitting outfielder has been one of baseball's best stories this year. After seeing his numbers decline in each of the past two seasons, a healthy and re-energized Berkman has put up one of the best seasons of his career. He entered Thursday's game against the Mets with a .300 average, a .412 on-base percentage, a .555 slugging percentage, 31 home runs and 91 RBIs.
Berkman's home run total is his highest since 2007, and his slugging percentage is his highest since '06. He's also been an extremely popular figure in the clubhouse.
"This is a great place," Berkman said. "It's a great place to be. Having been in one great place for a long time and having to experience being traded and being bounced around a little bit and after the opportunity of free agency, you realize there are other factors besides the dollars that come into play, and certainly comfort is a big part of it."
With the Berkman deal, the Cardinals have approximately $62 million committed to players on their 2012 roster, assuming that Adam Wainwright's option is exercised -- as the club has said it will be. That does not include options on Yadier Molina (very likely to be exercised) and Octavio Dotel (somewhat less likely).
The Cards still hope to re-sign Rafael Furcal to a new deal, and of course Albert Pujols' free agency looms over all personnel decisions. Questions also remain at second base and in the bullpen, but securing Berkman's services was a major priority for the club heading into the winter.
"We wanted to have some flexibility as we look to the future," general manager John Mozeliak said, "because obviously we want to address Albert's situation and having the most payroll flexibility would help that. That was part of the compromise on Lance's part. He recognized that and wanted to make sure our hands weren't tied in that process."
The Cardinals hoped to have Berkman back regardless of whether Pujols returns, so the signing is not necessarily any indication of their confidence in getting a deal done with the three-time National League Most Valuable Player. However, the signing does provide a fallback in case Pujols departs.
In that case, Berkman would likely move to first base with Allen Craig taking right field. If Pujols is also back, Craig's role would likely be diminished, but the team remains confident that there will be plenty of at-bats for Craig.
"We don't know what 2012 is going to look like for sure, but we do know Lance Berkman is going to be a part of it and [Matt] Holliday is going to be a part of it and we know that Craig is going to be a part of it," Mozeliak said. "As the puzzle pieces continue to fall into place, then we'll have a better idea of playing time and amount. But you just look at what Lance did for us, to go into this offseason with sort of the unknown just really wasn't a comfortable thing for us."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.