For the past few years, the Yankees haven’t exactly embraced the designated hitter position. In 2009, Hideki Matsui made 108 starts as the team’s primary designated hitter. In 2010, no one had more than 41 starts as DH, and this past year, Jorge Posada’s 91 starts led the team as 10 other players also took their turns as the designated hitter.
This isn’t a new approach for the Yanks. As their core has gotten older, the club has embraced the idea of a rotating DH. Give one guy the bulk of the playing time, but keep the spot open to spell A-Rod, Jeter and even Teixeira and Granderson. It keeps everyone fresher, but on the flip side, it means more playing time for the likes of Eduardo Nunez. The Yanks are weakening their lineup without someone to fill the DH slot.
This winter, the Yanks are at a crossroads. They aren’t going to bring back Jorge Posada, and the market for DH types is thin. They could have explored bringing aboard an Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder type, but the Front Office feels that they have a fearsome enough offense without overspending for another first baseman. Plus, Jesus Montero lurks.
Once upon a time, I would have loved to see the Yankees pursue David Ortiz. Despite his generally whiny demeanor and the fact that he’s made a career out of beating the Yankees, Ortiz is a lefty power hitter custom built for Yankee Stadium. After a down year in 2009, he’s hit .290/.384/.542 with 61 home runs over the past two seasons. Even as he ages, he’s still an offensive force.
Yet, Ortiz has drawn nary a lick of interest. His signing would cost a team a draft pick, but I figured that an offensively-starved club — the Orioles, the Blue Jays, the Mariners — would eye Ortiz as a potential short-term solution. Instead, Big Papi is likely to accept arbitration from the Red Sox. Unless the two sides work out a longer solution, he’ll earn a small raise over his 2011 salary and stick with the Sox for another season. That is, frankly, one of the bigger surprises of the off-season.
For the Yanks’ one-time catcher, then, this Ortiz development isn’t a good sign. Jorge Posada is a few years older than Ortiz and isn’t quite the hitter any longer. He can still hit with some pop from the left side, and he doesn’t cost a draft pick. But teams don’t seem to be in the market for DH-only types right now. Rather, the DH slot is today reserved for those MLBers playing out the back ends of their long-term deals. It’s not really about finding a spot for a premiere offensive player who can’t field.
So as Ortiz stays with Boston and Posada rides off into the sunset, likely to scrounge up a Spring Training invite if he doesn’t just call it a career, the Yankees will head into 2012 with a youngster and a bunch of older guys as their designated hitters. Montero will get the chance to shine while A-Rod and his balky legs will need some rest. Jeter might DH a bit too as he nears his 38th birthday. This is what the DH has become, and it’s still far better than watching some pitchers attempt to bat.