Luhnow contacts Berkman as pursuit continues

HOUSTON -- The Astros aren't done with their pursuit of Lance Berkman.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said he had spoken with Berkman on Thursday and Friday about possibly returning to Houston, but he wouldn't say how serious the team is in its pursuit of the slugger or whether an offer had been made.

Berkman, 36, has yet to say publicly whether he wants to play this season, but he's garnering attention on the free-agent market. In fact, Rangers president Nolan Ryan told MLB.com that the team is interested in Berkman.

Berkman played for the Astros from 1999-2010 and was one of the most prolific offensive players in team history. He was traded to the Yankees in 2010 and had a huge year for the Cardinals in 2011, hitting .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBIs. He was limited to just 32 games last season because of a knee injury.

When asked about Berkman on Wednesday, Luhnow said, "Obviously, if he feels he's healthy and ready to play, we'll have a conversation with him. He's still got a lot of value to add to a Major League team."

The Astros signed Carlos Pena last month to be their designated hitter, and he's going to split time at first base with Brett Wallace, so it's unclear how Berkman would fit into that mix. Houston's 40-man roster is full, meaning a roster move would have to be made to free up space for any additional players.

In November, Berkman initiated a meeting with Astros owner Jim Crane to talk about the team and get to know each other better, and he also had lunch with new manager Bo Porter.

"It was kind of a state of the Astros meeting," Berkman said in November.

Berkman spent part of the fall assisting the coaching staff at Rice University, his alma mater. He is close friends with legendary Rice coach Wayne Graham, who guided the Owls to the College World Series title in 2003. He'll suit up as Rice's volunteer assistant coach if he doesn't play this year.

Berkman said that even if he doesn't wind up playing for the Astros, he will always have an interest in the franchise that drafted him in the first round in 1997 and watched him blossom into one of the greatest players in team history.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.