Despite a productive partnership, once the ’09 season is completed, the Yankees will likely cut ties with current DH, Hideki Matsui. The the only reason for the relationship’s end is Matsui’s lack of positional flexibility—that and age. With several large contracts on the books and a number of aging players on the roster, the Yankees don’t want another aging player clogging up the DH spot for the better part of the season. Matsui’s knees prevent him from playing the outfield, even sporadically. Thus, the revolving DH idea has gained a footing.
However, while it’s nice to filter your veterans through the DH role in order to provide them with ample resting opportunities, by losing a regular DH, especially one as good as Hideki Matsui, you create a significant void in your lineup. If your bench is constructed well, then perhaps a team can absorb such a loss, since no regular DH means more playing time for the part-timers. If not, though, the entire offense begins to suffer. For that reason, I believe that the Yankees should, in fact, bring in a new DH, except they should bring in one that can help them on the field a bit, too.
Here are a few options that I think fit the bill:
1. Nick Johnson – Johnson, 31, a former Yankee, would be a nice addition to the lineup. Between the Marlins and the Nationals, he is hitting .301/.427/.423 with 8 HR and 61 RBI. Although his power has diminished, his eye remains a force as he can still get on base with the best of them (17.1 BB%). He would wear the team’s offensive style pretty well. Johnson has dealt with injury issues his entire career, including this season, when he was placed on the DL with hamstring problems. However, when he’s right he can be an extremely productive player. He’s having his worst defensive year at first base, but it could be an aberration or injury-related given Johnson’s historically positive ratings there. If he signs with the Yankees, he can DH to stay fresh and help in the infield when Tex needs a day off. In an effort to keep Johnson healthy, the Yankees could also choose to rest him throughout the season, which would allow others to slot in at DH from time to time.
2. Adam LaRoche - While I think Johnson is probably a better fit, LaRoche could also be a good DH candidate. He has his fair share of problems, in that he’s better known as a second half hitter, he struggles against lefties, and he’s not a particularly good defender, but, as a DH, two of these issues can be resolved (the Yankees can sit him against some lefties so that others can DH for the day). Between the Pirates, Red Sox and now the Braves, LaRoche is hitting .273/.348/.489 and has 23 HR. While powerful, he doesn’t do anything particularly well—he doesn’t walk much and he strikes out a lot (his 0.48 BB/K is the second worst in the NL)—yet his value would be boosted, I think, if given a DH role. Plus, LaRoche will turn 30 in November, so he’s surprisingly young. The Yankees can afford to sit him against some lefties, as I mentioned before, which would open up DH opportunities for A-Rod, Jeter, Damon (if he returns) and Posada. Of course, Teixeira would be well rested, too, since LaRoche can play first.
3. Bobby Abreu – Surprised? Bobby Abreu was one of the best free agent signings this offseason, given his price ($5 million) and his overall value (2.6 WAR). He’s still an awful outfielder, but he’s hitting .299/.399/.435 and has been a force in LA’s lineup. By giving him a DH role, the Yankees get a player capable of stealing 20 bases, driving in 100 runs, and, in Yankee Stadium, maybe Abreu can hit 18-20 homers. Of course, we know what Abreu can do, firsthand. He can help out in right field a few days a month so that the Yankees can rest others and Girardi can sit him based on matchups, so that the others can DH. In terms of Abreu’s fielding, the defensive lapses would be manageable as long as he produces offensively. Abreu may also be a shorter commitment than Johnson or LaRoche, given his age (although he may earn more per year).
These are three options that work, in some way, for the reasons I’ve provided. Each player I’ve listed is somewhat limited in their positional flexibility—Johnson, LaRoche and Abreu only play one position a piece—yet, in terms of fielding value and versatility, they offer more than what Hideki Matsui did as a DH only. Abreu and Johnson seem like the best fits with LaRoche being an outside option. One player that people might mention that I have not is Vladimir Guerrero, although he may be far too similar to Hideki Matsui (why not resign Matsui). The Yankees could also try and bring back Xavier Nady who can play first and right field (health permitting). What do you think? If you don’t like these guys—Johnson, Abreu and LaRoche—are there any other players you’d like to see the Yankees pursue for DH?
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