Jesus Montero was going to be the Yankees’ regular, or at least part-time DH in 2012. We were pretty sure of it all offseason long … until the Yankees traded him to the Mariners for Michael Pineda. With just a month left until Spring Training opened, the Yankees were without a DH and the search was on. Names like Carlos Pena, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Russell Branyan, Bobby Abreu, Garrett Jones, and Travis Hafner were all connected to New York at some point, either through legitimate reporting or speculation. Instead, the Yankees went in another direction.
Just days before camp opened and month after the Montero-Pineda trade, the Yankees agreed to sign then-39-year-old Raul Ibanez to be the left-handed half of the DH platoon. His performance had been in clear decline in recent years and he didn’t offer the True Yankee™-ness or name value as some of the other DH options, but it’s clear at this point the Yankees picked the right guy for the job. Ibanez has hit a respectable .243/.304/.461 (100 wRC+) in 293 plate appearances this year, seeing far more time in the field than anyone could have expected. He’s also come up with several big hits.
Meanwhile, the other free agent DH alternatives have pretty much flopped. Pena is hitting .198/.321/.364 (96 wRC+) with a 30.6% strikeout rate in 445 plate appearances for the division rival Rays. Damon signed with the Indians a month into the season and owns a .222/.281/.329 line (70 wRC+) in 224 plate appearances. The media in Cleveland is calling for him to be released so the kids can play. Matsui was released after signing with the Rays at midseason and produced a .147/.214/.221 line (18 wRC+) in 103 plate appearances. Branyan signed a minor league deal with the Yankees but has missed most of the season with back problems. Abreu has been designated for assignment twice and trade talks for Jones and Hafner were never really serious.
Ironically enough, part of the reason why the Yankees preferred Ibanez to Damon and Matsui was his ability to play the outfield. All three are terrible defenders, but Ibanez was the only one to spend significant time in the field in recent years. When Brett Gardner went down, Raul stepped right into left field and the Yankees nary missed a beat. He’s out-hit the other DH options and despite his general defensive shakiness, he’s been reliable in the field as well. The Bombers could have gone in any number of directions to fill Montero’s roster spot before the season, but they made the right call by bringing in the guy who few fans felt was the best candidate for the job.