Designating a DH in 2011
Identifying who the best baseball position players are is delicate business for executives trying to field the best team possible. You have to figure out what kind of offensive performer the guy is, and then what sort of glove he has, and then what it all means. You would never want David Ortiz playing outfield for your club, and you would never want Mark Kotsay to be your Designated Hitter. They’re equally preposterous.
The problem is that Kotsay actually does start at Designated Hitter for the Chicago White Sox. Year after year teams squander the opportunity that the DH presents – the chance to increase your odds of getting real productivity by removing defense from the evaluation picture. Whether it’s Jose Vidro, Rondell White, Scott Hatteberg, Carl Everett or even someone like Marlon Anderson in Game 2 of the 2004 World Series, every year there are wholly unqualified players filling the DH slot for teams. I still remember watching incredulously when I saw that Anderson would start at DH for St. Louis in that game.
Fortunately for teams lacking punch at the DH spot, there is an intriguing crop of aging 1B/DH types set to hit the free agent market after the 2010 season. And since only four American League teams have managed a team OPS north of .800 at the position, you’d better believe their services will be in demand. Seattle DH’s have “hit” .182/.260/.303 in 2010.
Joe Pawlikowski took a look back at the 2010 Free Agent DH class last week at Fangraphs, and now I’d like to look forward at the guys who will come available for the 2011 season.
Lance Berkman: It doesn’t sound like the Yankees have any interest in picking up Berkman’s $15 million club option, so it is likely he will hit the market. Berkman has struggled this season, both with his health and his bat and it’s likely those are not unrelated. He’s still flashing impressive on-base skills and as he gets healthier and defense takes less of a toll on his body, it’s reasonable to expect a bump in his batting and slugging averages in the years ahead. Beekman is a fringy Hall candidate who would probably like to pad his numbers in a friendly hitting environment while having a realistic chance at a championship. The White Sox would seem to be a good fit, and so too would the Red Sox should they wish not to re-up with David Ortiz. Speaking of…
David Ortiz: The Red Sox have an interesting decision on their hands. Ortiz has a $12.5 million club option and given his productivity this season – .263/.366/.567 – picking that up and penciling Ortiz in as the 2011 DH for a club with Boston’s resources would be a perfectly reasonable and clean course of action. They could focus their off-season attention elsewhere. On the other hand Boston is taking notice of the other DH types out there, and they have all the leverage here. Declining Ortiz’s option and negotiating a lower AAV contract is one course of action, and so too would be going in a different direction altogether.
Adam Dunn: He’ll only be 31 next season, so there’s a lot left in that bat. He is so obviously a DH at this point, however, he just has to get over to the American League. He’ll have suitors, as only a team or two in the AL could tell you at this point who their 2011 DH will be. We have seen players like Hideki Matsui, Jim Thome and Pat Burrell sign for short money as teams incorporate defensive value in a more sophisticated manner. I think Dunn could be an exception. He’s younger than this crop and as productive as ever. He’ll get his money from someone.
Derrek Lee: He’s struggled badly in 2010, but after such a stellar 2009 campaign, it’s hard to believe that a player in Lee’s physical condition doesn’t have something left in the tank. Lee will be 35 for the 2011 season. He probably isn’t even a DH yet, but he could be a useful platoon player for a team like Toronto, who will have an opening at 1st Base and has Adam Lind (.127/.164/.182 against southpaws in 2010) DH’ing.
Paul Konerko: His glove isn’t what it once was and he’s not getting any younger, so it’s probably time to begin thinking about Konerko as a DH. He’s hitting .301/.381/.575 this season, pacing the White Sox offense and a huge reason the Pale Hose are in contention. That city loves Konerko so maybe he stays put but if not, a team in need of a big right-handed bat would be wise to consider Konerko.
Carlos Pena: To me, Pena looks fine. He’s notched a tiny .237 BABIP and his ISO remains impressive at .227. He’s still going to flash power and when his in-play luck steadies, the team that inks him will have themselves an excellent power-hitting lefty stick.
Jim Thome: Your guess is as good as mine here. He’s been incredible in Minnesota, one of the very best off-season signings of 2010. He hit a walk-off home run in the midst of an intense pennant race last night, and is now at .273/.391/.593 for the season. Thome turns 40 next week so you can’t commit too much money to him. At the same time, .273/391/.593! I think the Twins would have to consider giving Thome another year to come back and try to replicate his incredible 2010.
There are other sticks out there too like Hideki Matsui and Lyle Overbay but the list above represents all the viable DH options for teams looking to fill the slot in 2011. Short of these guys, teams would be best served putting their best AAA hitter in there and seeing how he performs. Whatever you do, just say no to the Mark Kotsays of the world at DH.