Free Agent DH’s – Where will they end up?
Ah the designated hitter. The most controversial of all baseball positions, excluding “all-time home run king.” Then again, it’s not really a position to begin with. Different American League teams have different approaches to this role. The New York Yankees are intent on giving it to their longtime catcher, Jorge Posada, while their arch-rivals are giving Big Papi another go. Some teams have a rotating system to give position players breaks; others are set on one guy. With that said, there are a number of DH’s still available on the open market, but how much will your favorite team be willing to spend on one?
The gentlemen still available follow a pretty constant pattern: once perennial all-stars, these guys still have the stroke to be productive but are old, battered, and unable to be trusted with the glove:
Last Season: w/MIN; 340 PA, .283/.412/.627, 178 OPS+, 16 2B, 25 HR
Breakdown: Jim Thome was a bargain last season at 1.5 million dollars. He stepped up to provide a major bat for the Twins after Justin Morneau went down with injury; he slugged .710 in the second half of the season to help propel his team into the playoffs. This year, he is seeking a contract in the range of about eight million dollars. He’s probably worth somewhere in between what he got last year, and what he wants. As impressive as Thome’s statistics look, he only started 18 games against southpaws, against whom he hit just .241. He can – and will – still provide tremendous offensive production for his team, but not every day – and if I’m going to pay what he’s commanding to a DH, they better play just about every day.
Prediction: Most signs point to him returning to Minnesota, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he’ll end up going to Texas, who is also rumored to be in the hunt. The Rangers have an imbalance of righties in their lineup (Kinsler, Young, Cruz, Beltre) whereas the Twins have mainly lefties in the heart of their order (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel). It wouldn’t shock me if the two teams “traded” DH’s with opposite signings.
UPDATE: Jim Thome signed a 1-year contract today with the Twins. He’ll make a base salary of 3M, plus incentives.
Last Season: w/TEX; 643 PA, .300/.345/.496, 122 OPS+, 27 2B, 29 HR
Breakdown: A once great rightfielder, Vladimir Guerrero demonstrated in the World Series that he no longer has any business playing the field but he can still rake. He rebounded from an injury-plagued 2009 to win the silver slugger as the American League’s best designated hitter. He’s still a feared slugger who could fit in well in a number of lineups and provide protection, just as he did last year for Josh Hamilton in Texas.
Prediction: As mentioned above, I think Minnesota will sneak into the Guerrero sweepstakes, but ultimately I see him returning to Anaheim, where he won the 2004 MVP and finished 3rd in both 2005 and 2007. The Angels have lost out on both Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford, and could very well try to compensate for that by bringing back Vlad to DH.
UPDATE: Guerrero signed a 1-year, 8 million dollar deal with the Orioles.
Last Season: w/LAD+CHW: .298/.409/.460, 138 OPS+, 16 2B, 9 HR
Breakdown: Manny played in just 90 games in 2009 between LA and Chicago. His .460 slugging percentage was the lowest of any season since his cup of coffee with the Indians in 1993. Over roughly a season’s worth of at-bats between 2009-2010, he put up a 147 OPS+, 70 extra-base hits, 105 RBI, and a 50-game steroid suspension. At the same time, he’s a well-documented clubhouse cancer, a documented steroid-user, and all-in-all, a very controversial figure.
Prediction: Manny said that, because of his injuries, he would either retire in 2011, or DH for an American League team, so there’s no worrying about him insisting on playing the outfield and having a costing his team all the runs he gave them at the plate. That said, I think all fourteen teams are, at least for the time being, going to view Ramirez as damaged goods. At most, he might sign on with a team for a stretch run; and if I must predict a team, I’ll go with Detroit. Another option is Tampa Bay, if only to attempt to drum up attendance.
UPDATE: Manny did indeed sign with Tampa Bay. Let’s see what he’s got left.
Last Season: w/DET: 613 PA, .271/.355/.401, 106 OPS+, 36 2B, 8 HR
Breakdown: Johnny Damon received a lot less press than he generally has, but he played about as well as he always does, just not for one of the two teams that 80% of the baseball media pays attention to. He put up decent leadoff-hitter type numbers, but it is questionable how much – or how many years – a DH with career 104 OPS+ can get. Then again, Damon can still wield a glove (though neither well, nor with a complimentary arm) and can probably be counted on for about 50 games in leftfield.
Prediction: I’m guessing he re-signs with the Tigers for about half of the eight million he made last season. He’ll be in more of a platoon situation than last year and probably play around 120 games with under 500 PA.
UPDATE: Damon signed with Tampa; with Manny DHing, Damon will actually see most of his PA as a left fielder.
Last Season: w/COL: 222 PA, .244/.378/.398, 98 OPS+, 9 2B, 6 HR
Breakdown: Jason Giambi showed a patient eye at the plate, putting up 15.7% BB/rate in a 1B/PH role with Colorado. His power stroke has fallen off in his post-Yankee career, however; in 581 PA since leaving the Bronx, Giambi has slugged under .400.
Prediction: Honestly, I think Giambi’s done. Over/under is 2% for the 2016 Hall-of-Fame ballot.
UPDATE: Giambi re-signed with Colorado to be a bench player yet again.
Last Season: w/CLE+SEA: 428 PA, .237/.323/.487, 125 OPS+, 19 2B, 25 HR
Breakdown: In terms of bang-for-your buck, this is a pretty good guy to have. He has hit 56 homeruns in under 1000 plate appearances the last couple seasons with Seattle and Cleveland; last year, he either drove in or scored 41 runs in 57 games with Seattle, which is especially impressive considering how that team scored the fewest runs of the DH era. His downsides are fairly clear: he strikes out a lot (roughly the same career AB/K as Mark Reynolds) and he cannot hit lefties (.207 with 237 K’s in career 619 PA and .190 last year).
Prediction: He’ll get passed up in the off-season (again) and sign with Oakland around June, but he won’t be a DH as God intended, but rather a 3B to platoon with Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Last Season (2009): w/NYM, 112 PA, .298/.393/.521, 142 OPS+, 7 2B, 4 HR
Breakdown: This one I just kind of threw in for kicks. Carlos Delgado hasn’t played since early 2009, but he was considered for the Red Sox, even signing a minor league deal with the team in late 2010 after Kevin Youkilis was lost for the year. The 39 year old’s ability to play the field is probably suspect, but it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibilities for a team to take a low-risk shot on him.
Prediction: I say he finds work with Tampa Bay. He’s going to be cheap, and so are they.