2009/2010 Free Agent Tracker: DH

The designated hitter only applies to the American League, sorry National League fans. Love the position or hate it, it exists, and warrants its own free agent category.

I hate it. I grew up with Edgar Martinez, perhaps the best designated hitter in the history of the position (is it really a position?) and I hate it. I think that it deserves mention in almost every major problem facing baseball (steroids and PEDs, bean ball incidents, American League imbalance, etc.), that stated, there are quite a few good hitters that will be on the market that are bad fielders, guys who should be relegated to the bench for defensive innings.

*Note: Players with options will be kept off the list unless their options are projected as unexercised. No arbitration-eligible players will be included unless they are projected as non-tender free agents. Ages represent age on June 30, 2010

1. Bobby Abreu, 36 years old

Bobby Abreu
Image by RSzepan via Flickr

Abreu has been one of baseball’s unsung players for a long time. Even after cashing in on his combination of above-average power and speed and then being traded to the Yankees, he became just another soldier in the “Evil Empire,” his gigantic inherited contract and elite production hidden behind the on-and-off-the-field actions of higher profile Yankee stars.

From 2004-06 Abreu had three straight seasons with at least 30 steals and a .400 on-base-percentage. He was 30 years old at the beginning of that run, and in pinstripes at the end. But even at 35 years old, Abreu managed 30 steals and 94 walks in 2009 for a .293/.390/.435 line. However, Abreu has gone from an above average outfielder, to one that is pretty crappy.

Vladimir Guerrero at bat, August 28, 2005. 23:...
Image via Wikipedia

2. Vladimir Guerrero, 34 years old

At one point Guerrero was perhaps the most complete player in baseball. In 2002 he was a homerun shy of being the fourth member of the 40-40 club, stealing 40 bases and hitting 39 home runs. In the same season, despite his free-swinging reputation (well deserved), he walked 84 times.

His legs have since begun to fail him, and injuries combined with age robbed him of his ability to be a viable option in the outfield. However, in a mostly-healthy 2008 season he hit .317/.384/.585 as a designated hitter in 44 games at the position. In 2009 he managed a .291/.330/.453 line in 95 games at DH, despite battling a pectoral tear.

Carlos Delgado, New York Mets
Image by Rafael Amado Deras via Flickr

3. Carlos Delgado, 38 years old

Like Guerrero, Delgado spent a large chunk of the 2009 season on the disabled list. Delgado had a hip injury surgically repaired and played only 26 games in 2009. Delgado started the year slow, hitting .250/.346/.471 in April, but blew up right before going on the DL, hitting .423/.516/.654 in only eight games in May.

Were it not for his advanced age and injury, Delgado would have topped this list by a long shot. He hit 38 home runs in 2008, and showed that his ability with the bat still exists, if only in a reduced form. Delgado will probably sign a low-salary, low-risk contract or retire, but if he refrains from the latter it is likely that some team will get a very good hitter.

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 25:  Russell Branyan #30 o...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

4. Russell Branyan, 34 years old

Branyan could have spent the first half of the season counting future millions and even the most conservative accountant or economist couldn’t have faulted him. Then back injuries and bad luck changed that sentiment. The slugger hit .280/.382/.573  before the All-Star break, and only .193/.274/.414 after.

The operative question with Branyan is one of fiction versus reality. Was his first half a fluke? Or did he finally become the major leaguer that scouts projected when he was a top prospect with the Indians early in his career? It’s probably somewhere in the middle, and a short-term risk on a bat with that kind of power is an easy one to apologize for if it fails.

Mets outfielder Fernando Tatis during a Mets/D...
Image via Wikipedia

5. Fernando Tatis, 35 years old

Tatis used to be the “remember that guy who hit two grand slams in one inning? Where did he go?” guy. In many circles he still remains that, but Tatis has matured into a pretty decent hitter. In two seasons with the Mets he’s compiled 685 plate appearances, about a full season’s worth. He’s also compiled 19 home runs, 37 doubles, 5 triples and 51 walks, all for a .289/.352/.458 line.

The—ahem—versatile Tatis has also played six positions with the Mets, missing out on pitcher, catcher, and center field. However, just because he has played those positions doesn’t mean he should play those positions. Tatis sports a negative UZR at three of those positions for his career (second base, third base, and right field), a zero UZR at shortstop, and a modest 1.2 UZR at both first base and in left field.

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  1. Tom Zocco

    October 17, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Designated hitters are welfare cases. Paul Molitor never would have three thousand hits if he played in the National League. David Ortiz would be nothing but a pinch-hitter. It is sad to see a great hitting pitcher like C C Sabathia not getting a chance to hit.

  2. Peter

    October 17, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Thank you! You often write very interesting articles. You improved my mood.

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