Prince Fielder soaks up the headlines when speaking of remaining free agents available to cash-flush teams. Young Prince has been so over-analyzed that there is really nothing left to say about him. He will get paid, he will produce a bunch of runs, one team will be happy and at least 10 others will not.
Starting now, and heating up towards the end of the month when players like Prince are off the market, begins talk of teams who will scour the remaining market for hitters. These batsmen are usually former premier sluggers, or just all around pure hitters, who, due to age and circumstance, have been relegated to the designated-hitter position. The teams in the market for these hitters share a few common similarities:
- They missed out on high-priced free-agent bats, such as Fielder.
- They were never in the conversation for said free agents due to fiscal constraints.
- They reside in the American League.
- Officially licensed by the MLB
- Officially licensed by the MLB
So there are 14 teams who require a designated hitter. There are a handful of teams that, at this point, genuinely have a vacancy: the Orioles, Twins, Athletics and Mariners. Yes, other teams could use designated-hitter types or off-the-bench pinch-hitters, but it’s tough to waste a bench spot on somebody who offers so little in the art of versatility. We have five free agent designated hitters who are interesting to consider at this point: Vladimir Guerrero, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Magglio Ordonez and Manny Ramirez. These are just the “cream of the crop” (quotes meant to be taken lightly), in that there are a slew of players who fit the previous description of batsmen but not all will be considered. The point is, there are only four jobs available. The buyers control the market, as there is limited demand. The players can either accept what is likely to be a one-year, incentive-laden contract, wait in purgatory for a call from an injury-strapped team or basically retire.
The exercise here is to match the remaining DH openings with the available bats.
Oakland Athletics: There is this fun game Billy Beane likes to play every year. It’s called, “we have no business signing player X since we won’t compete, but we’ll let him build up his value with us so we can swap him for prospects at the deadline.” The argument against playing this game is the version they played last year cost them $4.25 million, they got zero WAR out of the player and nothing in return trade wise for their experiment (Matsui). Since they won’t go that route again, look for them to really focus on a guy who has the most potential to future trade partners. Ordonez finished last season incredibly strong. His triple slash over his last 28 games was .389/.421/.417. He hit .294 after the break. His broken ankle will have had five full months to heal. That same injury will also scare off plenty of other bidders. Magglio has made a ton of money over his career, so for him to come back at such a pay cut will really say something about his pride and love for the game.
Signing projection: Magglio Ordonez, one year at $1 million plus incentives
Baltimore Orioles: Last year, the Orioles gave the job to Guerrero. He hit .290, but didn’t get on base often or hit for power. The Orioles have a big strikeout guy on the team already in Mark Reynolds, so they do not want another 150+ strikeout guy to pair him with. Ramirez has been rumored here, and I like it. He has 50 games to sit out due to his PED issue, but the O’s will be fine shuffling hitters through that role until he returns. Manny offers them the power and on-base upside that none of the other hitters on the market can. With his improved outlook on life, and commitment to training (check this video of him hydro training with 80-year-old women) he could be a nice value play for the Orioles. The negative stigma of Manny should allow Dan Duquette and his cronies to swoop up Manny on the cheap.
Signing Projection: Manny Ramirez, minor-league contract, invite to spring training and guaranteed one million if he makes club
Minnesota Twins: The Twins have had the luxury of having Jim Thome man their DH position over the past few seasons. With him departing, the Twins will try to replace the power, and the best chance of that is equipping their lineup with Vlad the Impaler. If you look at Vlad’s last season in isolation, it will give you some worry as to his power potential. He hit 10 of his 13 home runs at the friendly confines of Camden Yards. To compound matters, six of those registered as “just enough” to clear the fence according to www.hittrackeronline.com. There is just something about Vladdy, whether it’s his perceived “old man strength” or his crazy hacking that is just fun to watch that is worth a couple million dollars.
Signing Projection: Vladimir Guerrero, one year at $3 million plus incentives (automatic Twins hall of fame enshrinement if he reaches 500 home runs)
Seattle Mariners: This is the best match out of the bunch. Johnny Damon is not going back to Tampa Bay after the Rays signed Luke Scott to replace him. He still loves to play the game and probably has the most to offer out of any of these guys mentioned, thus far. He can still run a little bit, can play defense in a bind and is a great bench presence. The Mariners have a ton of youngsters on the roster and his mentoring could be valuable. It would be unwise for them to invest in an aging slugger to fill the designated hitter position because the confines of Safeco are anything but friendly (if Vlad had played his ’11 games at Safeco, he would have hit five home runs on the season compared to 13).
Signing Projection: Johnny Damon, one year at $2.5 million plus incentives