Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Big Hurtin' At DH

This is quite a unique off-season for the Yankees. Quite unique, indeed. It appears as if they won’t be nailing down any of the marquee free agents, which hasn’t happened since the Dynasty. It also appears that the biggest trade they’re poised to make is the acquisition of Jason Michaels from Philadelphia, but that’s far from a certainty. But let’s assume for a minute that they will, since it would provide a better balance and would avoid the risk of playing Bubba in center daily.

In this scenario, the lineup would look a bit like so:
1) Jeter 2) Cano 3) A-Rod 4) Giambi 5) Sheff 6) Matsui 7) Posada 8) DH 9) Crosby/Michaels

Notice the one unknown there is DH. There are two road to take with the DH position. First is to find a guy who can play there nearly every day, but that is compounded because Giambi surely can’t handle 162 games at first base. He’ll need some time to recoup his back, so finding a full-time DH isn’t exactly the best option, unless said DH can play first base. The second option is to spread the DH among bench players, in order to get them some playing time. But we all know how Joe handles his bench (like they’re a group of pariahs, unless named Rueben Sierra).

This presents quite a conundrum. The easy answer is to bring back Bernie as a fourth/fifth outfielder and part-time DH. But realistically, will Bernie be able to put up numbers deserving of a DH? They have this DH up in Beantown who hits the crap out of the ball, allowing the team to put a few fielding-heavy guys out there on a daily basis. Why can’t the Yanks do that?

Well, they can, and his name is Frank Thomas. Okay, so he’s going to turn 38 next season, but that’s only going to drive his price down, as well as keep his contract limited to one year with an option. At a time when the Yankees are itching to develop some prospects, Thomas provides a stopgap for a year.

The problem, of course, is the injury risk. Signing Thomas could blow up very fast, meaning a complete loss of investment. In the last five years, Thomas has managed only two full seasons, and has combined to play 128 games in the other three. Not very promising. Not very promising indeed.

But in the seasons he was healthy, his averages were .252/.361/.472 (ISO of .220) and .267/.390/.562 (ISO of .295). Okay, so his ability to hit for average has declined considerably, but the guy still knows how to draw a walk to compensate, and he can still hit the tar out of the ball. And what more does a DH need to do?

Of course, playing him at first base shouldn’t be an option, since it will only increase his risk of injury. Fine, so the Yanks have to carry another first baseman to spell Giambi. That shouldn’t be a problem, however, due to Torre’s aforementioned disdain for his bench. Assuming they carry 12 pitchers, that leaves 13 spots (duh) open for position players. Nine will be filled by the guys I mentioned up above, so there are four utility positions left. The team has done well with carrying only one backup infielder in years past, and I don’t expect any change in that for 2006. For now, we’ll say Felix Escalona (I wanted Jeff Cirillo, but he re-upped with Milwaukee). The team already has four outfielders with the platoon, so carrying one more will be adequate. Two left. Thomas and a backup first baseman? Sounds logical to me.

This isn’t “THE” answer that will take the Yankees all the way. More accurately, it’s an idea that takes advantage of a relatively weak market. And if Thomas re-ups with the ChiSox despite their desire to use Thome as the DH? Fine. Just move on to the next option, so long as it doesn’t involve multi-year, multi-million dollar deals for mediocre talent.

(Doesn’t that sound quite logical, to avoid doling out large contracts to run of the mill players? And yet we always fear the Yankees will do just that. They say that routing for the Yankees is like routing for US Steel, but US Steel never had to deal with Raul Mondesi.)

The Yankees surely have the money to toss at Thomas for a one-year deal with an option year. And with the market looking bleaker by the day, this alternative is becoming more and more attractive. Thomas is relatively low-risk, in that there would be no long-term investment involved. Of course, this would mean having a solid contingency plan in place, but I’m sure Cashman is creative enough to come up with one. What exactly that contingency plan would be, I have no idea at this point. That’s why Cashman’s the GM and I’m just a guy typing away in my boxers.