One area where the Yankees’ offense stands to improve over 2011 is at the DH spot. Last season their DHs hit a combined .251/.336/.450, which ranked sixth in the AL. Now, with at most half of a DH platoon already on the roster, the Yankees have an opportunity to move up the DH ranks and add to their offense. This morning Mike examined Johnny Damon’s case and determined that if money is truly a factor, Damon makes enough sense. In the post he mentioned another name, though, that makes plenty more sense from a performance standpoint.
The Yankees and Pena are no strangers. In early 2006, following his release by the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees signed him to a minor league contract. A year later he was tormenting them as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He stuck with Tampa for for years, belting 20 home runs against the Yankees in that span. Even before that, the Yankees were part of the trade that sent Pena from Oakland to Detroit. That, as you’ll regrettably remember, was the trade that netted the Yankees Jeff Weaver. Here’s what Pena would bring the Yanks if the two parties were to reunite.
- He absolutely mashes right-handed pitching. Since 2009 only 24 hitters have fared better than Pena’s 130 wRC+ against righties. In terms of pure power only six have hit righties better. That plays well for the heavy half of a platoon.
- He has the experience. Not only did he spend four years in the AL East, producing a 134 wRC+ in that span, but he’s also been around in the postseason. In 80 postseason PA he’s hit .269/.388/.522 with four homers. It’s a tiny sample, but for all the emphasis on postseason failure and success, Pena is a great success.
- He’s worked with Kevin Long in the past. In fact, they worked together during the 2006 season, which immediately preceded Pena’s breakout.
- He’s a quality defender at first, and could step in should Mark Teixeira get hurt. That is, he provides some insurance.
- It’s hard to understate how his righty bashing helps his case. It’s a pretty big point in his favor.
- He probably won’t come cheap. After his 2010 season, in which he produced a 105 wRC+, he took a one-year deal with the Cubs in order to rebuild his value. He did that, igniting in the second half on his way to a 119 wRC+. The Cubs paid him $10 million, so it seems unlikely he’d sign for less than that — unless the market has completely bottomed out on him.
- He’s not effective against lefties, producing just a .306 OBP since 2009 despite a 14.1 percent walk rate. Oddly, though, the three pitchers off whom he has homered the most often — Andy Pettitte, Jon Lester, and Bret Cecil — are all lefties.
- His defensive value is negated by his lack of playing the field. It also means he’s essentially a DH only, limiting roster flexibility.
While it’s not common to see a player of Pena’s caliber take a pay cut, especially after he succeeded in having a rebound season, the market for Pena appears a bit thin. The only two teams connected to him so far are the Indians and the Rays, two teams that aren’t exactly rolling in cash. The Brewers could make sense, but they say they’re maxed out. Other than that, we’re down to non-contenders such as the Orioles and Pirates. The market, then, seems to favor the Yankees. Even near their payroll ceiling, they likely have more resources than all of the above teams. They won’t go out and bid big for him, but if they continue their patient streak, the Yanks could find Pena falling into their laps. He’d be a great fit for a platoon DH role in 2012.