The answer to the headline question might seem obvious. For the past few weeks we’ve discussed the Yankees’ new situation, which mainly involves filling one starting role. Jesus Montero’s departure and Jorge Posada’s retirement left vacant the regular DH role for 2012. Yet it’s not that simple. While we’ve seen the Yankees enter the past five seasons, at least, with a regular presence at DH, that likely won’t be the case this year. They already have the makings of a part-time DH on the roster.
Andruw Jones represents the first component of the 2012 DH spot. While he’s typically seen as a platoon partner with Brett Gardner and, to a lesser extent, Curtis Granderson, that probably won’t be his only role this season. During the Winter Meetings, Joel Sherman reported that Jones sought a larger role. “The friend also revealed that following offseason knee surgery that Jones has said if he comes back to the Yankees, he is coming in the kind of shape with the idea of winning a corner outfield job, not just accepting a back-up position.” Additionally, ESPN NY’s Wally Matthews talked to a source who said that Jones “took less money to return to the Yankees.” That could mean he’s expecting an expanded role.
While Jones worked out well last season, he played less frequently than he had in the previous two seasons. With Texas in 2009 he came to the plate 331 times, and with Chicago in 2010 it was 328 PA. Last season he was limited to 222 PA. He could instantly pick up more PA by DHing when Gardner starts in LF against a left-handed pitcher. He might also pick up some at-bats at DH against righties. He didn’t hit them particularly well last year, batting .172/.303/.406 against them in 76 PA, but he did flash good power (.234 ISO, just .020 lower than his ISO against LHP), and he maintained a solid 14.5 percent walk rate. In the last three seasons, Jones has produced average numbers against right-handed pitching (101 wRC+). It won’t give him a full-time job, but he could pick up some at-bats vs. righties as the DH.
Alex Rodriguez could also pick up at-bats from the DH spot in 2012. While he’s still penciled in as the starting third baseman, it’s difficult to see him playing there every day all season long. He hasn’t reached the 140-game mark since 2007, and played in just 99 last season. While he could return to form following a platelet-spinning procedure, it’s not something the Yankees can count on. Additionally, the Yankees want to play Eduardo Nunez more often this season, so subbing him for Rodriguez, while the latter fills the DH role, remains a possibility.
It is conceivable, then, that Rodriguez and Jones play up to 60 games combined at DH. That leaves around 100 games for others, though there will certainly be days when Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and even Robinson Cano take a half-day off. These accommodations render the DH a part-time position. Additionally, since both Rodriguez and Jones could fill the spot against right-handed pitchers, and since the DH spot will be open when Jones plays the outfield in place of Gardner against left-handed pitchers, a strict platoon isn’t necessarily the answer.
The Yankees can approach this situation in one of two ways. The most likely route is filling their remaining bench spots with veterans who can handle a part-time role. They might need some versatility, especially if one of the two players doesn’t play a position (ahem, Raul Ibanez). This might be one reason the Yankees are pursuing Bill Hall; he can handle both the infield and the outfield, and is also best suited for reps against left-handed pitching. Ibanez, on the other hand, can take the remaining reps at DH against right-handed pitching. A combination such as this could fit the Yankees needs well.
The other option is to fill the empty spots with young or flawed players. We’ve heard Jorge Vazquez’s name bandied, and there’s a chance he could take those reps at DH against LHP when Jones is in the outfield. There’s also Justin Maxwell for a similar role, though he has the added benefit of playing the field as well. Chris Dickerson, as Mike will discuss in more detail later, could be another fit, playing right field against some right-handed pitchers while Nick Swisher occupies the DH spot. Alternatively, the Yankees could swing a trade for a more versatile player who can provide a role similar to Maxwell or Dickerson (or Hall or Ibanez).
Immediately following the Jesus Montero trade, it appeared the Yankees were in the market for a full-time DH in his stead. But given the way their roster breaks down, they need something less than that. If they were so inclined, they could have half a season’s worth of DH at-bats already on the roster. Given the slow-moving market, they are right in taking their time in finding the right players to fill those last two roster spots. They can go in a number of directions, with each one having its plusses and minuses.