Backing up the brittle DH


Updated (9:50 a.m.) When Nick Johnson was scratched from the lineup yesterday afternoon with a sore back, the Yankee Universe let out a collective groan. Here it goes again; the injury bug bites Nick Johnson.

Of course, the injury ended up being nothing very much, and the Yankees say the team is just taking it slow during day two of Spring Training. Nick caught his cleat while taking some swings in the cage, and he could have played had it been the regular season. He’ll sit out a day or two and find himself right back in the lineup this week. Lest we forget, Jorge Posada‘s surgically repaired shoulder was giving everyone conniptions last spring as well. There’s always a sore something somewhere.

But Johnson’s injury got me thinking. What if Nick were to go down? What would the Yankees do with that DH slot? Johnson has been summoned to replace Hideki Matsui as the Yanks’ go-to guy for DH. The team rightly doesn’t want to use the DH as a rotating half-day rest slot for their veterans because that would necessarily force Ramiro Peña or Francisco Cervelli, weak offensive options, into the lineup nearly every day. So Johnson, a high OBP guy with a lefty swing designed for Yankee Stadium, seemed an ideal choice.

In a sense, the Yankees don’t need a lot from Nick Johnson. Hideki Matsui hit .274/.367/.509 with 28 home runs last year in 142 games, and he put up a WAR of 2.7, eighth best in a powerhouse lineup. If Johnson, a 2.5-win player last year, can give the Yanks a pair of wins for $5.5 million, the team will be quite pleased.

A problem emerges, though, if Johnson can’t do that. If he doesn’t make 135 starts, doesn’t get his 500 plate appearances, doesn’t produce a few wins out of the DH slot. If he gets injured and misses significant time, always a distinct possible with him, the Yankees will be out a DH.

Behind Johnson, the options for designated hitter are slim. The team has Randy Winn, Marcus Thames and Jamie Hoffmann in camp fighting for two roster spots. Last year, Winn was a 1.7-win player based on WAR, but that’s because he was 16.5 fielding runs above average. His offensive output — a .302 wOBA with 2 home runs in 538 plate appearances — makes him a non-option for the DH spot. Marcus Thames had a 0.1 WAR last year. No matter how that breaks down, he wasn’t doing much hitter at all. Jamie Hoffmann has played just 72 games at AAA.

Beyond these guys making waves in camp, Juan Miranda would offer the Yanks another lefty option for DH. He’s the first guy called up when the team needs a bat, and as his prodigious home run in Tampa at the end of 2009 showed us, he can certainly hit. He’s a career .280/.366/.474 hitter in the minors and blasted 19 home runs last year at AAA. He isn’t too vulnerable to lefties either, hitting .291/.367/.507 against them in just under 200 ABs last year. His Major League Equivalents don’t scream out success, but he’s an option.

The Yankees do have a rather tantalizing ace in the hole, but would they dare use it? Jesus Montero is, acccording to a video interview he did with YES, working hard to get to the Majors, and by all accounts, he has put on a hitting clinic in batting practice this spring. In his one in-game at-bat, he singled. He has the power and the stick to DH, but the Yanks shouldn’t rush him. He needs his AAA seasoning, and when the 20-year-old shows he can mash at AAA, the Yanks can begin to think about it. In the meantime, the team has three in-house choices, and Gary Sheffield remains a free agent.

For now, we’ll rely on Nick Johnson to carry the designated hitter slot for six months this year. He gets an Interleague Play break when the Yanks hit the NL in May and June, and with Robo-Tex manning first, Johnson won’t be asked to exert himself in the field. He should be able to withstand the pressures of the season, but if any player can’t stay healthy at DH, it’s Nick Jonson. And, please, no more cleats in the batting cages.

Photo by Kathy Willens/AP

Categories : Spring Training


  1. Isn’t Miranda first in line for replacing NJ in the event of an injury? Shouldn’t he be, rather than Montero?

  2. A.D. says:

    Wouldn’t Juan Miranda be the natural replacement option if NJ had to miss an extended period of time?

    Then if it is a day to day thing, rotate someone through, or something like Swisher and then can have a UZR wet dream OF.

  3. DH depth chart:

    1-Nick Johnson
    2-Marcus Thames
    3-Juan Miranda
    4-(insert aging free agent veteran bat still on the market here)*
    5-Jesus Montero


    * as in: Gary Sheffield, Jermaine Dye, Rocco Baldelli, Carlos Delgado, Fernando Tatis, Hank Blalock, Tony Clark, Feared Williams, etc.

  4. Steve H says:

    What they said ^. Let’s say Johnson gets hurt in May and is out for the year, bring up Miranda, give him a good shot and he fails. In this worst case scenario, there will still be a ton of DH types available at or before the deadline. DH is always the easiest position to fill, which has only been increased the last few years. As much as I’d like to see Montero raking in the majors this year, not at the expense of his development as a catcher.

    • As much as I’d like to see Montero raking in the majors this year, not at the expense of his development as a catcher.

      Repeated for emphasis. Getting Montero another solid year’s worth of development behind the plate is more important to the long-term success of the franchise than any marginal benefit his bat may have over Juan Miranda’s or Marcus Thames’s or Gary Sheffield’s or Jermaine Dye’s, especially when you consider the fact that his MLB learning curve means he may not even be an upgrade over those veterans anyway.

      In general:
      Zeus >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> everyone on the planet

      …but, for the 2010 emergency DH:
      Miranda/Thames/Sheffield/Dye >>>>>>>>>>>>>> Zeus

      • Jermaine Dye? No, thanks. If it’s June and Montero’s ripping the cover off the ball, I’d be tempted to go for him over, say, Dye.

        • Really? You’re willing to cut short Montero’s seasoning at C for a stopgap? Guess you’re pessimistic on his long-term ability to stay at the position.

        • What if it’s June and Montero’s ripping the cover off the ball, but Dye is also ripping the cover off the ball in workouts?

          Isn’t it worth a half-year’s pay for a guy like Dye to get solid DH production at the ML level while still being able to give Zeus a full year’s work behind the dish refining his defense and prepping for 2011? I think it is.

          • Michael says:

            Dye might be a risk worth taking, but I wonder why no one is trying to bring him in? Two years ago, he was very good. Last year, he was just okay.

        • Steve H says:

          In a sense, the Yankees don’t need a lot from Nick Johnson. Hideki Matsui hit .274/.367/.509 with 28 home runs last year in 142 games, and he put up a WAR of 2.7, eighth best in a powerhouse lineup.

          Replacing a beat up Johnson with Montero would be shortsighted. It would be a luxury, not a necessity. If this team is struggling on offense so badly that Montero is needed, then they are in some serious trouble.

          • Michael says:

            Matsui was incredible last year. He was the best DH in baseball, and it wasn’t even close. he played in 142 games, but that’s misleading because he was often pinch hitting—and hitting home runs doing so.

            Nick Johnson has his work cut out for him to have a year like that. If NJ bats .280 with 10 home runs I’ll be impressed.

            • Rick in Boston says:

              Eh, some nitpicking on that point since there’s definitely some selective bias there:

              Matsui pinch hit 26 times during the regular season last year and homered once. Overall, he went 8/21 with 5 walks.

        • Michael says:

          I think it would be great to bring in one of our own like Montero. Dye is old, and he’s having more trouble playing the field every year.

          Arod and Jete are getting old. It’s time to give some of the younger guys a shot, and this way, they can bring him along slowly, instead of throwing him in at catcher, and it’s sink or swim.

          • andrew says:

            Yea, but a ton of his value is tied to him at catcher, so we probably shouldn’t give up on him there yet.

            • Michael says:

              They wouldn’t need to give up on him at catcher,
              just give him a chance to get his feet wet.

              I don’t think they’d make him the only back up until he shows significant improvement.

              Cervelli is a capable back up. Maybe they’ll carry 3 catchers at some point.

              Didn’t we have Girardi, Jorge and Leyritz at one point?

  5. mustang says:

    Anyone who thinks that Bo can be out there sometimes should read the local papers today they are taking the NJ injury to a whole new level of “sport writing”.
    Come on guys it’s the THREE GAME OF SPRING TRAINING.

  6. Admittedly, I forgot about Juan Miranda. He’d be in between the Winn/Thames duo and Montero. I think the Yanks would kick the tires on Gary Sheffield too if he remains unsigned and Johnson were to be sufficiently injured. Funny I forgot him considering I advocated for the Yanks to sign him a few weeks ago.

  7. Aj says:

    Ugh. Can’t get on base if he’s not healthy.

  8. A.D. says:

    Bringing up Zeus would give the interesting possibility of having him & Posada split DH and catching duties more regularly, thus allowing Zeus to still work on catching, and Posada to have a little wear and tear over the season.

    That said no reason to get ahead of ourselves, let Zeus get a full year development in AAA, unless he’s really needed.

  9. ADam says:

    Keep Sheff far far far away from this clubhouse… I’d rather have any of the inside guys rather than sheff

    • Production >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> disposition

      • Steve H says:

        Production >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> disposition especially in baseball.

      • steve s says:

        Care to reflect on the meaning of “inexorably destined” as per the discussion we had about Mr. Johnson a few days ago?

        • Care to remember that the post noted “it’s nothing big” and “if this was the regular season he would have played”?

          • steve s says:

            What else are the Yanks going to say about NJ at this point other than its nothing big? I’m certainly hoping its true but this is just not a case of bad luck; the guy will be DL’d sometime this season as sure as he will also be an on-base machine. That’s my only point.

            • Big Juan says:

              Dude. Chill out on this Johnson stuff.

              I have a shitty back. Today when I was walking up the stairs, I stubbed my toe and felt a tweak in my back. It hurt for two minutes than I was fine.

              I’m not saying this is exactly what happened to Johnson, but this shit happens all the time.

              You’d probably be complaining just as loudly if you you found out that Johnson had tweaked his back and the Yankees let him play even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong.

            • KyleLitke says:

              You don’t know that. While he has had some injuries that you could argue make him injury prone, half of his injuries are fluke mishaps in the field, where he’ll barely be playing short of an injury to Teixeira. Yes, there’s still potential for the back or wrist to act up (which I don’t believe it really has in years), but he won’t break his leg in a collision or get hit by a ball taking a crazy hop.

      • Accent Shallow says:

        This is easy for us to say (and I’d certainly hope that Cashman doesn’t weigh personality too heavily in player acquisition), but after Sheff’s comments in re: Jeter, would the Yankees consider bringing him back?

        I get the impression that they would not, barring desperation. Of course, that’s just an impression I got from vague beat writer hints, so who knows.

      • Chris says:

        I’m not convinced that Sheffield’s production would be worth much. Sure, he’s almost guaranteed to be better than Hoffman, Thames or Winn, but that’s not saying a whole lot. I don’t think that a 41 year old Sheffield would be more productive than Miranda.

  10. JobaWockeeZ says:

    In a sense, the Yankees don’t need a lot from Nick Johnson. Hideki Matsui hit .274/.367/.509 with 28 home runs last year in 142 games, and he put up a WAR of 2.7, eighth best in a powerhouse lineup.

    Isn’t that a bit misleading. Matsui played no games in the field last year. Nick Johnson might play some but it won’t be a lot. Since he’ll mainly DH I wouldn’t say they “don’t need a lot” from him since they actually kinda do if he’s only DH’ing.

  11. Stryker says:

    now that edwar’s gone, i expect to see NJ have his 36 back.

  12. Rose says:

    He needs his AAA seasoning, and when the 20-year-old shows he can mash at AAA, the Yanks can begin to think about it.

    People often compare Jesus Montero’s upside to Miguel Cabrera.

    Miguel Cabrera:
    Age, First Year in Majors: 20
    Total Minor League Games Played: 368 (Class A and above: 303)
    Total Minor League PA: 1597
    Total Hits in Minors: 409
    Total 2B in Minors: 103
    Total HR in Minors: 28
    Total RBI in Minors: 228
    Overall Batting Line in Minors: .286/.350/.431 (.782)
    Total Games Played in AAA: 0

    Jesus Montero
    Current Age: 20
    Total Minor League Games Played: 257 (Class A and above: 224)
    Total Minor League PA: 1071
    Total Hits in Minors: 318
    Total 2B in Minors: 65
    Total HR in Minors: 37
    Total RBI in Minors: 176
    Overall Batting Line in Minors: .325/.379/.509 (.888)
    Total Games Played in AAA: 0

    Miguel Cabrera played in 79 more games than Jesus Montero has so far. But we’re not talking about Jesus Montero starting with the team. Say (God forbid) Nick “The Stick” goes down around the All Star Break…in AAA (140 game schedule), Montero could have somewhere around that much time.

    Seems pretty good to me.

  13. dark side of the goon says:

    My only issue is that Mats was a big game guy and his numbers are a bit deceiving. I know he ran hot and cold but when he was hot, he was red hot. I’m trying to be okay with NJ, I was a fan of his when he was here the last time, but I think that some of us will invoke the ghost of Hitdecki a few times this season.

    • Rose says:

      Nick Johnson’s OBP is ridiculous though. Which could be a blessing and burden…because the more he’s on base…the more opportunities he has to get injured. Hopefully Tex or Arod just keep hitting home runs everytime he gets on so he can jog at his own pace… :)

      Matsui was a monster. I’ll always miss Matsui because no matter where the team was in a game…he seemed to remain the same. I’d go to games where the entire rest of the team would seem lathargic and not be able to hit, the pitching would be awful…but Matsui would still be Matsui…roping balls off the wall…hitting home runs. I’ll miss his poise the most. Nothing seemed to ever rattle the guy.

    • Zack says:

      Nick Johnson Career Situational Stats

      Runners on: (1150 AB) .293/.437/.481
      RISP: (652 AB) .279/.457/.470
      RISP w/ 2 outs: (312 AB) .263/.451/.474
      Bases loaded: (69 AB) .377/.440/.536

      Nick Johnson = Good hitter in big spots

  14. AMSkollar says:

    The other option could be to play Winn in RF, where his defense seems to be even more valuable, and have Swisher be the DH. It changes the complexion of the team a bit, but we would still have a great offense, and we would improve our outfield defense. Then you have Thames on the bench for power.

  15. king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

    somebody smart walk the math through here please:

    if the johnson goes soft midseason, could we not also replace him with some kind of swisher? those numbers arent all that far apart…then forcing hoffmann et al to take to right field.


    how much worse are those numbers?

  16. mryankee says:

    I say bring back Frank Thomas

  17. KyleLitke says:

    Well, I doubt Winn would DH if he was the guy, in all likelihood he’d play right field and Swisher would DH, which would increase his value a bit (even though Swisher isn’t awful in the field), or they’d go with Miranda. Either way it’s a dropoff from Johnson and not an ideal solution though.

  18. Charles Hudson says:

    Too bad Frank Thomas – or Chipper Jones for that matter – never had the opportunity to DH for the Yanks. Hearing that his team is being “cautious” or “taking it slow” with Nick Johnson due to a minor injury is like hearing that A-Rod is dating an attractive woman.

  19. chriso says:

    If Nick Johnson goes down with an injury, I wouldn’t worry about it at all.

    Posada would become the DH and Joe Girardi, I mean Francisco Cervelli, would be the full-time catcher. (Easy to mistake Girardi for Cervelli. both +defensive catchers with mediocre RH bats).
    Jesus Montero would become the back-up catcher. And the Yankees might even be a better team that way.

    • Charles Hudson says:

      You make a great point. Pride has probably interfered in the plans somewhat but these days DH is certainly the ideal spot for Posada.

    • MikeD says:

      Having Posada replace Johnson at DH appears fine at first glance, but that’s not what would be happening. Posada’s bat was already in the line-up at the catcher’s slot, so that means it would be Cervelli’s bat that would replace Johnson’s. That’s a big offensive drop. Unless he develops some pop, Cervelli does not project as a regular MLB catcher. He’s a back-up.

      • Charles Hudson says:

        You make a great point too. Unfortunately just signing Johnson to a contract at all virtually assures that someone would need to replace him in the lineup at any given moment.

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