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Yankees DH: Who Emerges From the Fray?

By Mike Silva ~ February 14th, 2012. Filed under: New York Yankees.

Spring camps open this Sunday and the Yankees hope to have their Designated Hitter in tow. We have been debating the topic since the Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda deal. A month later, where does it all shake out?

Johnny DamonRaul IbanezHideki Matsui and Vladimir Guerrero are names connected to the position. There is also a possibility that Brian Cashman could import a DH as part of an A.J. Burnett deal, with Cleveland’s Travis Hafner floated as a possibility. We also can’t forget internal options such as Jorge Vazquez and non-roster invitee, Russell Branyan.

So what direction should the Yankees go? Guerrero is intriguing to me, but it appears this won’t be the direction the Yankees will go since they prefer a left handed bat. No longer the star we saw in Montreal and Los Angeles, Guerrero still hit .290 with 13 home runs with Baltimore last year. He is also just two years removed from a .300/29/115 season with Texas. You aren’t looking for him to be a middle-of- the-order producer, rather someone who can balance the lineup and add some pop towards the bottom third.

The two sentimental picks would be former Yankees Damon and Matsui. It’s no secret that Damon has been looking to get back in the fold since he priced himself out of pinstripes during the winter of 2009. Damon actually hit better against LHP (.812 OPS) than RHP (.715) last year. In today’s NY Post, Joel Sherman expresses some concern about Damon’s declining OBP. Some executives around the league believe his pursuit for 3,000 hits has transformed Damon from a patient, team-oriented hitter, into a free-swinger that will compromise his game for the magic 3,000.

Matsui dropped off considerably in Oakland last year, producing the worst offensive season (.696 OPS) of his career. Perhaps hitting in a naked lineup and in the horrible Oakland Coliseum had something to do with it. His bat was much perkier on the road and he hit .297 during the second half of the season. He brings the element of New York success and the ability to rise to the big moments.

The likely scenario is the signing of Raul Ibanez. The former Phillie isn’t close to the same player he was in 2009, when he 34 home runs and drove in 93 runs. Ibanez has been a run producer his entire career, averaging 100+ RBI since becoming a regular in Kansas City. He hit .256 with 15 HRs and 64 RBI against RHP in 2011. Who knows, perhaps there is one last drink from the fountain of youth. If so, the Yankees could get a star on the cheap.

The wild card is whether the Yanks could import Travis Hafner from Cleveland. Owed $15 million between his 2012 salary and 2013 buyout, a Hafner for Burnett deal would at least bring something of value in return. Rumors indicate the Yankees would have to swallow as much as $20 million of the $33 owed to Burnett in a deal with Pittsburgh. This would only fetch them prospects that sound more like organizational filler. The question is whether Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti would add about $18 million in payroll in a potential Burnett deal.

Even if the above scenarios fall through, there are internal options. Just like they did with Bartolo Colon in the starting rotation last season, they could cobble together a Jorge Vazquez/Russell Branyan platoon or give the job to either outright.

If healthy, Branyan’s lefty swing would fit well at Yankee Stadium. For his career, Branyan has an .833 OPS against RHP. At the new Yankee Stadium he has 8 home runs in 52 at-bats; good for an OPS of 1.114. The free swinging Vazquez was signed out of the Mexican League in 2008, and been one of the organization’s best power hitters. He hit .330 with 18 home runs and 60 RBI in 212 winter ball at-bats this offseason.

There are lots of intriguing choices. What do you think the Yankees should do?

Personally, I am very interested to see if a Hafner/Burnett deal could be consummated. Hafner isn’t an everyday player, but he would feast at Yankee Stadium. This becomes even more attractive financially if they could save money in comparison to what they would have to send to the Pirates.

If unable to complete such a deal, it appears Ibanez is the best choice of the remaining candidates.

Let’s hear your thoughts below

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2 Responses to Yankees DH: Who Emerges From the Fray?

  1. JNat

    With one exception, all these DH options are reasonable choices. I see the order of preference as being:
    1st – Vlad Guerrero, 2nd – Johnny Damon, 3rd – Raul Ibanez, 4th – Hideki Matsui, 99th – Russell Branyon
    The real issue is not that the Yankees need a left handed hitter, but that they need a hitter who can hit well against right handed pitching. Despite being right handed, Guerrero can hit right handed pitching more effectively than any of the left handed hitters they are considering. His lifetime batting average is .318, and against right handed pitching is actually better. In 15 years he has only had 2 seasons under .300, his last two in which he hit .287 and .291 against righties. Damon’s lifetime average is .286 (over 30 points less than Guerrero), and he has hit righties for a .255, .270, and .288 average his last 3 years; his highest being only 1 point higher than Guerrero’s lowest. Ibanez is a lifetime .280 hitter (38 points lower than Guerrero) who has only hit over .300 once in his career. His batting average against righties over the last 3 seasons was .256, .277 and .267; his highest being 10 points less than Guerrero’s lowest.
    Let’s take this a step further. The Yankees’ biggest offensive need is to reduce the number of men stranded on base. They need more clutch hitters who make contact so that they move the runner or drive in runs even when they make an out, not power hitters who strike out and pop out unproductively when they make an out and fail to drive in a run or move the runner for the next batter to drive in. Vlad Guerrero has one of the lowest strike out percentages in the game. His career strike out average is only 12%. Last year, he struck out less than 9% of the time against right handed pitchers; the year before only 10%. Damon and Ibanez have each struck out about 17% of the time against righties each of the last two years which is also not bad, but is almost twice as much as Guerrero.
    Matsui is a great hitter who also has very good stats in these categories, but there is more uncertainty about his physical condition and ability at this point in his career. As far as Russell Branyan is concerned, there probably isn’t a worse match in all of baseball for the Yankees. Branyan’s lifetime batting average is a paltry .230; almost 90 points lower than Guerrero’s. His batting average against righties over the last 3 years was .198, .254 and .267; his highest being 20 points less than Guerrero’s lowest. He has struck out over his career at the unbelievable rate of over 38% of his at bats. That is almost 4 times as often as Guerrero and even twice as often as Teixeira for those of you who think Tex strikes out too much. How many more men do you think the Yankees would strand on base if Branyan was in their lineup striking out 4 out of every 10 at bats? We keep hearing that Branyan is a low risk signing. I disagree; there is a real risk with serious consequences. The risk is that he has a good spring and the Yankees wind up keeping him.

  2. robert mitchell

    Branyan whiffs 1 out of every 3 ab’s or 3.0 compared to big league sluggers.Bo Jackson was 3.1.Reynolds is now below both.Yeah it’s stinkeroo but Brany is 15 all time in h.r. frequency with a long ball every 14.8 at bats.The cost is $750,000 if he makes the club.If he produces[i think you may want that] he can double$ with incentives.Best case scenario for him he’d platoon with Jones at DH.But he could give Tex a spell at 1st,A-Rod at 3rd,if he can get back to decent at the hot corner in S.T.Thing is Branyan doesn’t tie up the spot against right handers,as Damon,Ibanez or Matsui-Hafner would.Which can give A-Rod,Tex and others some Dh at bats.If Branyan can get 300 or more ab’s he’ll get u 20 plus homers&50 plus ribs.He always has in the past.He averages 30 dingers,71 ribs every 450 at bats as a part time player.

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