Some Free Agent DH Alternatives

Recently, I ran down a possible scenario for the Yankees’ outfield. Now, I’m gonna run down some DH alternatives, if neither Johnny Damon nor Hideki Matsui return to the team.

The first possibility (only because the list of free agents I’m looking at is in position/alphabetical order) is Russell Branyan. “Russell the Muscle” is coming off of his best season ever. With the Mariners, playing all 116 of his games at first base, Branyan hit .251/.347/.520/.867 with a career high 31 home runs and a .368 wOBA. Branyan struck out quite a bit, but he still walked 11.9% of the time. Mostly as a back up, Branyan has a career line of .234/.331/.491/.822. His batting average is nothing pretty, and his career OBP is a little lacking (but the .103 IsoD is very nice), but his power is impressive. His .257 IsoP ranks 10th among active players with at least 2800 plate appearances behind Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Adam Dunn, Prince Fielder, Carlos Delgado, and David Ortiz.

Branyan is more of an “outside the box” option because his profile isn’t very high. He’d be a nice fit, but I doubt he’ll be available. Seattle’s offense isn’t very good so I assume they’re going to retain him and bring him back to play first base.

Next is an old friend, Nick Johnson. Traded from the Yankees for Javier Vasquez in December of 2003, Johnson is finally a free agent. Johnson was injury free in 2009 and played in 133 games, racking up 574 plate appearances, the second most in his career. Nick was essentially his usual self at the plate. He walked 99 times and struck out only 84, which led to a .426 on base percentage. However, there was a down side; Johnson had only 34 extra base hits all season, which led to a very low .406 slugging percentage. His .114 IsoP was a career low and was well below his .174 career mark. Nick Johnson may not be the obvious choice because of his seeming lack of power. His .447 career slugging percentage seems low, but it’s worth noting that the average DH in the AL slugged .443 in 2009. If Johnson was brought back to the Yankees, he would likely bat second behind Derek Jeter. A .426 OBP and a .447 SLG behind the Captain and in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would make for an incredibly strong lineup.

Rounding out the first-basemen on the Cot’s Contracts List is veteran and member of the 500 HR club, Jim Thome. Thome played in 124 games this season, his lowest ever aside from an injury shortened 2005 (59 games). He also slugged only .481, the first time aside from that 2005 season that he’s slugged under .500 in a full season. Jim still hit 23 home runs and drew 69 walks, though the latter is a career low in a full season. All signs point towards decline for Jim Thome. He is more of a traditional DH option than Johnson because he definitely can’t play the field like Johnson can and he hits for more power, but I’m not sure if he’s a likely option. As I pointed out, Thome seems like he’s in decline. However, a lefty-power hitter like Thome could benefit from a short porch in right field.

The only other viable free agent DH option is Vladimir Guerrero. However, I think the Yankees will steer clear of him. He played in just 100 games this season and it was not a great year for Vlad. 2009 was, similar to Thome, a season of lows for the Impaler. His decline looks rather sharp and while running the bases, he makes Hideki Matsui look like Jesse Owens.

There are a few decent DH options on the market. They will most likely cost less on short deals than Damon or Matsui, but will those options produce more than Damon or Matsui? If I had to rank these options, I’d do it like this (with reasons both positive and negative):

1. Jim Thome: seems in decline; lack of position flexibility; could bat fifth behind Rodriguez/Tex; more traditional power hitter; could be helped by short porch.
2. Nick Johnson: health risk; position flexibility; great on-base skills; perfect two hole fit if Damon doesn’t bat there; could be helped by Stadium as well.
3. Russell Branyan: unlikely to be available; only brief bouts of success; lefty-power hitter; wouldn’t be center-piece of offense
4. Vladimir Guerrero: old; declining; consistent; still pretty good despite decline

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