After shipping Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda, the Yankees were left with one minor hole in their lineup: a designated hitter who can do some damage against right-handers. This, by the way, is the epitome of Yankee Fan Problems.
There’s a growing consensus that the Yankees can make due in the DH spot with Andruw Jones facing lefties and a revolving door of veterans switching off a couple times a week. And it’s mostly true. It wouldn’t be the end of the world starting the season without someone to platoon with Jones – Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira figure to get at-bats there against lefties, and Alex Rodriguez against righties. Teixeira’s OPS against RHP last year was .779 compared to .967 against LHP. His career splits aren’t as drastic, so if Kevin Long and Teixeira can fix this that gives the Yankees even more of an advantage.
But rotating old man infield — and occasionally Nick Swisher or Curtis Granderson — through the DH spot means more appearances on the field from Jones and the defensively challenged Eduardo Nunez. And to maximize both the defense and the offense it’s best to keep Rodriguez, Jeter, and Teixeira on the field as often as possible. Since we’re all in agreement that Jones shouldn’t be hitting against righties – he had an OPS of .709 against them last year in 76 plate appearances (seems like 76 too many) – the Yankees would be a better club by having an option on the bench who can hit right-handers.
They’re just not willing to spend more than $1-2 million to get one. Carlos Pena seemed like a good fit, but he just signed with the Rays and would have cost too much anyway. They could decide to promote from within and give Jorge Vazquez a shot, but there is that small matter of Vazquez’s horrid strikeout-to-walk ratio in Triple A: 166 strikeouts in about 500 at-bats, and only 30 walks. Maybe it’s worth giving him a chance — he has a ton of power, and he comes cheap (but not young, as he’s almost 30 years old).
Last year, it was Jorge Posada who handled DH duties against righties, but he’s on his way to retirement. The Yankees simply need to find someone who can improve upon – or, at worst, duplicate – Posada’s production at the plate. That sounds like an easy task, because Posada hit a meager .235/.315/.398 last year. But his final line was destroyed by the fact that he’s about as pathetic against lefties as Jones is against righties. Against RHP in 2011, Posada hit .269/.348/.466 with an OPS of .814. It’s certainly not 2003 or 2007 levels of production, but it’s right around league average for a DH.
There are a few veteran free agents who might be able to plug the hole effectively enough for one season. I’d prefer if the Yankees found someone more versatile who was capable of playing different positions on the field. Possessing a one-note aging slugger to sit on the bench doesn’t offer the Yankees much in the way of roster flexibility.
People seem to be clamoring for Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui to make another appearance in the Bronx. But last year, Johnny Damon had an OPS of .715 against righties. To compare: Jones’ was .709. Hideki Matsui, for his part, had the worst year of his career in Oakland, compiling an anemic OPS of .654 against righties. Matsui’s best years are most likely behind him. Is it possible he could benefit from hitting half the time in Yankee Stadium instead of in Oakland? Sure, but I wouldn’t count on it. His home and road splits last year weren’t drastically different. (Sidenote: Are we still calling it the Coliseum? Overstock.com? O.Co? Does anyone care?).
Both of them are getting up there in age, and I don’t know that either is the answer, but forced to choose between the two I’d pick Damon. He’s still capable of playing the outfield (not very well, mind you) and stealing some bases. Plus, signing Damon would mean we might get to his experience his noodle arm again. Come on, who among us hasn’t missed that?
Other names that have been tossed around include Vladimir Guerrero and Raul Ibanez. Guerrero hit .291/.315/.428 with an OPS of .743 against righties. He does have more pop facing righties, as he hit 11 of his 13 home runs against them. Ibanez, who had a bad year with the Phillies, fared much better against righties than he did lefties (against whom he was almost completely inept). Facing righties, he hit .256/.307/.440 with an OPS of .747. By the way, after spending a few minutes looking at Ibanez’s 2011 campaign, it became very clear to me why my dad spent a good portion of the season shouting obscenities whenever Raul came up to bat.
Wilson Betemit is also an option. He hits well against righties, and fits the team’s budget. If Eric Chavez doesn’t re-sign with the Yankees, Betemit could backup at third nicely. Well, not nicely. But probably better than Nunez can. I’d almost prefer Betemit to Chavez, because Chavez is a china doll, and it’s possible to have a repeat of 2011: where his and A-Rod’s injuries overlap and I look up one day and find Brandon Laird manning the hot corner.
Oh, I almost forgot. Does anybody want to take a flyer on Manny Ramirez?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.