The Cheap DH Cycle

While the market for relief pitchers has been brisk, there’s one group of players that have generally been ignored so far this winter – designated hitters. Thanks to the glut of available bat-only players, teams with open spots at DH have been content to sit around and let the off-season play out, and it looks like we’ll head into January with a half dozen or so designated hitters still looking for jobs; Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Johnny Damon, Russell Branyan, and for a team with a serious appetite for risk, Nick Johnson.

Those six guys are essentially going to play musical chairs for the last few remaining starting jobs on AL teams. The Rays, Blue Jays, Twins, and Rangers will almost certainly each land one of these six, leaving two others without dance partners and having to settle for a part-time role. Johnson seems like the most obvious candidate to head to camp fighting for playing time, but barring a surprising move from another team that looks to have already filled their DH position, one of the other five will also end up behind someone else on a depth chart.

With the supply of players greater than the number of available positions, each of these players lack leverage in negotiations. The four teams with open jobs know that they’re in a position of strength, and from the sounds of it, none of them are rushing to be the top bidder for any of the remaining players on the market. While Vladimir Guerrero started out the winter asking for a multi-year deal, at this point he might have to settle for a contract similar to what he got last year.

All of these guys are useful players – more useful than many of the free agents who have already signed and got good money in the process. But it seems like AL teams have realized that the limited jobs for these player types allow them to dictate one year contracts for bat-only players each winter, which perpetuates an annual glut of available designated hitters.

For teams willing to turn over the position every winter, this cycle has made DH one of the cheapest positions to find value in baseball.

How do you think these players will perform in 2011? Click here to enter your projections for Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Johnny Damon, Russell Branyan, and Nick Johnson.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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13 years ago

The Jays already signed Encarnacion. Why would they need two?

13 years ago
Reply to  Kongos

I think the Jays continue to look to at the bargain bin for another bat. EE is best used as the short side of a platoon with Adam Lind and as a part of the committee at 3B (along with Bautista, McDonald and McCoy). Particularly if it adds another midseason trade/compensatory free agent asset.

13 years ago
Reply to  Kongos

Wasn’t it reported the Jays plan to use Encarnacion at first? That would still leave them with a DH slot.

13 years ago
Reply to  sourbob

Lind and E3 will share time at first, with the other presumably DH’ing, with E3 something of a contingency if Lind can’t manage first on a full time basis.

The only hole that they have is in the outfield, or at third, depending on where they play Bautista.