2013 Season Preview: The Designated Hitters

McCullough: Yankees have not reached out to Aubrey Huff
Hughes fine after live batting practice, will throw simulated game on Monday

The Yankees will open 2013 with their fifth different primary DH in the last five seasons, and that is completely by design. Hideki Matsui‘s knees relegated him to almost exclusive DH duty in 2008 and 2009, creating roster and lineup inflexibility. The team dealt with a similar issue in 2010 with Jorge Posada.

Otherwise, New York has tried to use that DH spot as a revolving door, which is a trend spreading throughout the league. Rather than have one set everyday DH, they’ve picked up a low-cost left-handed hitter to platoon with their older players at the position. Brett Gardner‘s injury forced Raul Ibanez — who was signed to be that low-cost left-handed half of the DH platoon — in the outfield more than expected last season, which is why ten different players started games at DH last year. Only one (Alex Rodriguez) started more than 25 games there.

The Starter(s)
This summer’s low-cost left-handed DH is long-time Cleveland Indian Travis Hafner, who signed a one-year contract with a $2M base salary in early-February. The 35-year-old hit .228/.346/.438 (118 wRC+) with 12 homers in 263 plate appearances last season, including .241/.361/.437 (123 wRC+) against righties. Over the last three seasons, Pronk has hit .267/.363/.447 (124 wRC+) overall and .278/.385/.470 (136 wRC+) against right-handers, which is exactly what the Yankees want him to do in 2013. It’s a very simple job, just hit right-handers and take advantage of the short porch.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees have already admitted their plan to use Derek Jeter as their full-time DH against left-handers, at least early in the season. The move has more to do with getting him off his feet following late-October ankle surgery than his ability to mash southpaws — .364/.399/.542 (157 wRC+) in 2012 and .344/.403/.515 (150 wRC+) since 2010 — which is completely understandable. Jeter, 38, could use the regular rest following surgery even if serving as the DH is only a half-day off, so to speak. That will presumably force Eduardo Nunez into the field as shortstop on a fairly regular basis.

There are two concerns with a Hafner-led DH platoon. One, he doesn’t play a position at all. He hasn’t played first base regularly since 2005 or at all since 2007, so unlike Ibanez last year, he won’t be able to fill-in anywhere in case of injury. That’s already a problem in the wake of Mark Teixeira‘s wrist injury. Second, Hafner himself is an injury risk. He had right shoulder surgery in October 2008 and has been on the DL six times in the four years since, including two times in both 2011 and 2012. Ailments have ranged from shoulder soreness to an oblique strain to knee surgery to a bulging disk in his back. Hafner is a very important part of the lineup early in the season with Teixeira and Curtis Granderson hurt, but he’s unlikely to make it through the entire season unscathed himself.

The Backup
No team carries a backup DH. The position doesn’t exist. If and when Hafner gets hurt, the Yankees will do what they did last year. They’ll rotate players in and out of the position to rest them, with a bench player like Nunez or the right-handed hitting outfielder to be named later seeing more playing time in the field. Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson, A-Rod, Kevin Youkilis, Robinson Cano … all of them would see time at DH should anything happen to Hafner.

Knocking on the Door
Again, no team stashes a backup DH in the minors. The obvious answer for the Yankees here would be first baseman Dan Johnson, who looks poised to open the season as Teixeira’s temporary replacement. Outfielders Thomas Neal and Zoilo Almonte, first baseman Luke Murton, and infielders Corban Joseph and David Adams could all be called up if Hafner goes down and see playing time in some capacity. DH depth isn’t clearly defined like it is for other positions, it won’t be one set guy to come off the bench or up from Triple-A if the DH spot becomes suddenly vacant.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The Top Prospect
I didn’t rank a single DH prospect in my preseason top 30 list because DH prospects don’t exist. The closest we’ve seen to one is Jesus Montero, who is being given every opportunity to catch in the big leagues. It’s the ultimate last resort position. I guess Ronnie Mustelier could be considered the team’s top DH prospect given his good bat and poor defense, but he won’t be moving there anytime soon. Below-average defense is better than zero defense in some instances, especially since most hitters see their offensive production decline when serving as the DH. It’s not an easy thing to do, sitting around between at-bats.

The Deep Sleeper
The Yankees don’t have a true DH prospect at all, nevermind in the lower minors. If someone is stuck playing DH semi-regularly in a short season league, they ain’t no prospect. I’ll take Yeicok Calderon, who I mentioned yesterday in the right field write-up. He can hit a little but stinks defensively, so maybe he winds up a DH down the line. Otherwise, nothing to see here.

* * *

The Yankees will rely on Hafner and Jeter at DH this year, especially early in the season. Others like Youkilis and Cano will see some time at the position as well, just to get a day away from the field, and guys like Almonte and Mustelier provide some depth in Triple-A. Hafner is very important to the Yankees though, especially while Teixeira and Granderson are out. It’s not at all a stretch to call him their second best offensive player at the moment.

Other Previews: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops, Third Basemen, Left Fielders, Center Fielders, Right Fielders

McCullough: Yankees have not reached out to Aubrey Huff
Hughes fine after live batting practice, will throw simulated game on Monday
  • Eddard

    Hafner is going to mash RHP in YS. Since he won’t be playing the field or even DHing every day he should be able to stay healthy. I think they’ll be fine with flexibility. Nuney, Nix, Cervelli, 4th outfielder, Hafner. Nuney can always play LF if something goes terribly wrong.

  • nsalem

    Sort of like the way Nick Johnson was going to be able to stay healthy just DHing for the Yankees.

    • MannyGeee

      Some MAJOR differences here:

      – Nick Johnson got $6M to get hurt in April, Pronk is looking at $2M plus incentives

      – Nick Johnson was never EVER as good as Pronk. Significantly less risk (financially), significantly more reward

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I also can’t recall Samuel Jackson ever portraying Travis Hafner in a movie opposite Bruce Willis.

        • nsalem

          However in the 7th and 8th inning of a Tiger-Oriole game on September 21, 1970 The battery for the Orioles was Hall and Oates. Oates helped win this extra inning game with a lead-off triple in the 11th or 12th inning. To the best of my knowledge this was the only time they appeared together in an MLB game. There were some Wall and Oates performances with the Dodgers in the late 70’s but it was not as wildly popular as the original pairing.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            I know what you were intending to reply to here, but who was “Hall?”

            I can’t go for that. No can do.

        • TomH

          I’ve been laughing over your comments on the power-outage thread. You should have a tv comedy show–or, at least, be a writer for one. I mean this as a compliment.

      • nsalem

        I was speaking in the context of injury histories as opposed to on-field performances or salary. I maybe wrong but I think both have made it to the DL while serving as DH’s.

    • Ted Nelson

      If it happened once in a somewhat comparable situation, it has to happen every time: fact!

      • nsalem

        Far from a fact, but probably more likely than most. I would imagine that DHis the most likely position for one to remain healthy Hopefully he gets his 500 PA’s this year as lefty DH. If so I think he may help us in a big way.

        • Ted Nelson

          Good chance he gets hurt, but not that likely he puts in less than 100 PAs like NJ.

  • pete

    Are the Yankees trying to convince Chipper Jones out of retirement

    • Ted Nelson

      Hopefully they are trying, though his alleged attempt to have David Ross start a false rumor he is going to the Red Sox would seem to eliminate almost any hope that existed.

  • trr

    Hoping Edd + Manny are right that Hafner stays healthy, as we certainly need that power! It’s obviously a team friendly contract… I’m thinking that RH DH will be often be Derek, especially early in the season, and a bit of a mixed bag later on…A-Rod, anybody?

    • Laz

      If all goes right they will have plenty of choices midseason. Really is too early to plan though. Arod, Teix, Jeter, Pronk are all great hitters, but injuries/setbacks are possible.

    • Ted Nelson

      He’s not very likely to play all season, but I do think he’s pretty likely to be productive for at least like a third of the season, maybe half.

  • Ted Nelson

    Maybe the blue is slimming or maybe he’s lost a few pounds, but he looks more like Jim Halpert than Shrek in that pic.

    I’m not sure that his inability to play 1B has really hurt the Yankees due to Tex’s injury (maybe it does in other ways, though I think his hitting has the potential to counteract that). If he slid over to 1B , the Yankees would then have to fill a hole at DH. I’ll take, possibly, Dan Johnson 1B/Hafner DH over the reverse. Also, my gut reaction is that I’d rather have Hafner’s strong bat at DH than Ibanez’s mediocre bat and poor fielding in LF.

  • fat jeter

    Not a Hafner guy. The fact that he cannot play a position on the field leads me to believe that he will ultimately be a wasted roster spot by the end of the year. Really hoping his poor spring continues and he doesn’t even make the team. The DH platoon and an extra outfielder would add so much more flexibility to the team. Probably in the minority here in that regard as well, but so be it.

    • LK

      You really want Hafner to play so badly he doesn’t make the team? What other options on the roster are likely to match Hafner’s production when he’s healthy? Flexibility doesn’t help when you’re switching between a bunch of guys who suck.

      • Ted Nelson

        “Flexibility doesn’t help when you’re switching between a bunch of guys who suck.”


        Hafner’s worst season in the last 4 he was 19% above league average offensively. It’s a lot more likely that he’s either hurt (and therefore not taking up a roster spot) or productive than wasting a roster spot, IMO.

        • LK

          Yeah I don’t understand hating on the Hafner signing at all. Sure, he’ll probably get hurt at some point, but it’s for very little money and he’s more or less always mashed when he’s actually played. And, in addition, if you take him out of the lineup currently projected for April sans Grandy and Tex, things start to look really ugly. Far from hoping he gets cut to preserve flexibility, almost the opposite is true: they really need Hafner to hit early in the season.

          • jjyank

            This. Look at the lineup. Ridiculous discussion from earlier today aside, the team needs some power. It can’t all be Cano. Youk might pop a few over, but he’s an injury risk himself and also a RHB. The team needs Pronk on the team to get as much out of him as they can before he gets hurt.

            I thought the Hafner signing was a good, classic low risk/high reward deal.

    • Havok9120

      This is like LoHud’s consensus position with Rivera. They want him to stop hitting so he doesn’t make the team.

      It’s pretty silly.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        What a bunch of intellectuals.


    • Thomas

      Wasn’t Edgar Martinez a DH without playing the field.? Worked ok for the Mariners for many years.

  • John D

    not nitpicking, but Yanks had 13 different players start at DH in 2012 (according to baseball reference). In addition to all the obvious ones (Jones, Ibanez, A-Rod, Jeter, Chavez, etc) Swisher got 1 start, Martin got 4 at DH and you may have forgotten future HOFers Steve Pearce and Casey McGehee who each received 2 starts at DH.

  • the tenth inning stretch

    At first glance, I could’ve sworn the guy in the Mustelier photo was Rock Raines.

  • Mickey Scheister

    I’d be pleased with Rivera at first, Francisco in the outfield and Diaz on the bench until the real starters come back then you could trade/demote/release the worst. By then I’m sure Youk or Pronk can hurt themselves swinging a bat for the obligatory DL stint. It would be great if Austin, Zolo, Musty, Joseph or Mesa could hit themselves onto the big league roster in lieu of trading one for a rental. This is the most open I can remember the Yanks roster in a while, as far as true competition for actual starting jobs on opening day. The only positions 100% known, should they remain healthy are 2B, SS and that’s it really. We know Ichiro and Gardner are starting but at what position, respectively. Same with Youk, he may play first or third. I guess you can add DH, but if they are playing against a lefty than I guess there’s a chance Jeter could be DH’ing and Nunez starting at SS. Who knows, but this is getting interesting.

  • Sharon Leder

    Where have you seen “poor defense” from Ronnier Mustelier this spring? I have watched him in every game he has played at 3rd base (which he didn’t play much last year in the minors) and he has looked very good. He received rave reviews from announcers in the game against St. Louis and also received compliments from the opposing team’s announcers yesterday for a play. I get upset when I read comments from people who just pass on what they have read in the past, rather than from what they see from watching the game.