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November 12, 2010

So You Need

Outfielders and Designated Hitters

by Marc Normandin

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We are finishing up this position-by-position look at the free-agent class with outfielders and designated hitters. While the few players who stick out as the very best on the outfielder list seem an odd fit for a piece that includes designated hitters, be assured there are plenty of names that fit the bill under both headers.

Outfielders

Carl Crawford just came off of the most productive season of his career, and will be just 29 years old in the first season of his new contract. His 7.1 WARP was a combination of a career-best .309 TAv as well as defense that earned him distinction as a Gold Glove winner in both the eyes of those who vote on the award and those who live to criticize the people who do (present company included, of course). There are some worries about Crawford—a large percentage of his game, between his stolen bases, his baserunning and his defensive play—are wrapped up in his speed, and a leg injury over the course of a long-term deal could impact his value significantly.

Then again, players like Crawford tend to age more gracefully, and is likely a better buy because of that even with those risks. Many teams would like to have Crawford in their outfield, but just a handful will be able to compete for his services. The Angels are probably the best bet, given their ability to spend and their outfield need.

There is an argument to be made that Jayson Werth is a better free agent acquisition than Crawford, and the basis of that is in the years he will secure with his deal. While Crawford, with his youth and speed, may be able to get a six-year contract, Werth is more likely relegated to the three- or four-year variety as a 32-year-old in 2011. Werth's new agent, Scott Boras, will push for five years, but with the marked will not be large with the type of money he is seeking, meaning there will have to be some give on his side in terms of either dollars or years. Werth has a history of injury trouble, but it all came prior to 2007. He has averaged 603 plate appearances a season over the last three years, with TAv of .299, .305 and .322 over that stretch.

The 2010 season was Werth's finest yet, and though he may never replicate it given his age, he will come close enough to equal the value of his next contract. His home/road splits are a source of concern to some, but it's not like there is something wrong with a .272/.375/.484 hitter, which he was on the road from 2008-10. If he ends up in Fenway Park with the Green Monster in left field and the triangle in center, his doubles totals are going to stay as high as it was in 2010.

Magglio Ordonez's last contract was questionable when it was signed, and over 40 percent of the win value of the deal was wrapped up in his 2007 season when he improbably exploded for 8.7 WARP. Ordonez barely passed 20 WARP total combined during the other five years of the deal. Despite this, he is worth a look this winter because the price won't be as high this time. Ordonez hit .303/.378/.474 with a .304 TAv in 365 plate appearances this season, nailing the TAv projected by his 70th-percentile PECOTA forecast. PECOTA does not expect Ordonez to fall off the map offensively for a few more seasons despite his age. There is a lot to be said about a consistently high-average hitter who can also draw a walk.

Ordonez's lefty/righty splits are not a problem, and he is expected to be fully recovered from the ankle surgery that cut his 2010 season short. Whoever signs him, whether it is as a full-time player or as the lefty-mutilating half of a platoon, should be happy with its decision. Given he injured his ankle and wasn't the best defensive outfielder around, he could easily fit into the next section as a DH, but his bat still has enough life in it that National League teams should be interested in him.

Designated Hitters Disguised As Outfielders

Johnny Damon is still an above average hitter, and he can be hidden in left field on occasion, even if it's a risky long-term proposition. He will be 37 years old in 2011, but should be able to be had with a one-year deal. Designated hitters posted an average line of .252/.332/.425 in 2010. While Damon may not be able to surpass that .173 Isolated Power anymore, he can certainly end up on base more often than his .271/.355/.401 line of 2010 suggests. The OPS is off by one point, but Damon's line leans more heavily towards the part that matters more in that flawed equation, meaning he still has value to whoever signs him—assuming it sticks him in the DH slot more than the field.

Manny Ramirez was a disappointment for the White Sox because he failed to hit for power after being acquired from the Dodgers, but he did continue to draw walks, and that kept his line more productive than he was given credit for. On the season, Ramirez hit .298/.409/.460—if an American League team could live with Damon as a productive DH, it would be ecstatic to have Ramirez in that role. As odd as it looks, even a repeat of his .261/.420/.319 showing with the White Sox would be useful in a DH role, though expecting him to show that little power over the course of a full season is a joke. Ramirez may never drive the ball like he did in 2009 again—he will be 39 in 2011 after all—but even a slight downgrade from his 2010 production would be a huge boost to the majority of AL teams who struggled to squeeze anything of substance out of a position designed specifically for hitters.

Eric Hinske is another example of a player who could DH, though he may be best suited as the left-handed portion of a platoon at the position. He can play the field at any of the four corners if needed, which is useful to teams who want some more depth on the bench, but everyone is better off on the days he only picks up his bat. Hinske hit .252/.341/.460 against right-handers from 2008-10, and his last poor offensive showing came with the Red Sox in 2007. He's not the sexiest option in free agency, but he works cheap.

Pat Burrell was a no show in the World Series, but had a .304 TAv with the Giants in 341 plate appearances. The lone reason he is in this section rather than the designated hitter one is because, with a .304 TAv, some National League team could put up with his poor defense in left. Considering his WARP value in the AL for his career is -1.0, maybe keeping it in the NL is a solid plan for the 34-year-old. Whoever signs him should make sure it is on a one-year deal, though, as his 2009-10 combined line is just .236/.315/.415 despite the offensive explosion in San Francisco, and no one wants to get stuck with the Tampa Bay version of Burrell again.

Designated Hitters

Vladimir Guerrero hit .300/.345/.496 for the year, which looks impressive and all, but there are a few problems with it that should give general managers pause before giving his agent a call. Guerrero had an OPS of 881 at Arlington and 797 on the road, and hit just .278/.322/.426 after the All-Star break, which was followed by a .220/.242/.271 showing in the postseason that didn't exactly endear him to anyone worried about his fall. Second-half splits aren't the be all and end all when it comes to forecasting, but it's something to worry about with older players. Guerrero should have more productive years in front of him, but handing him more than a one-year deal in a market flush with designated hitter options would be foolish.

Hideki Matsui's drop in OPS from 876 to 819 between 2009 and 2010 may appear significant, but you have to account for the switch from Yankee Stadium (a hitter's paradise, especially for a lefty like Matsui) to Anaheim. Properly adjusted, Matsui was basically the same player in 2010 that he was in 2009, as his TAv dipped just slightly from .299 to .294. Matsui was fourth among all designated hitters in True Runs at 83.5, behind David Ortiz (97.7), Guerrero (94.9) and Luke Scott (87.1). Matsui will be 37 years old in 2011, but his bat hasn't slowed, and he has been able to remain productive since being switched to a full-time DH. PECOTA isn't sure he can remain an everyday player for much longer, but there are no questions about his bat retaining its effectiveness in the near future. As long as Matsui can remain in the lineup in 2011, he will be worth his roster spot.

Jim Thome hit 25 homers in 340 plate appearances, one every 13.6 times up. His .350 TAv netted him 72.5 True Runs, good for sixth amongst all designated hitters despite roughly half the plate appearances of everyone in front of him. The Twins didn't use Thome very much—this whole quality hitters thing is still kind of new to them—and while he has shown a platoon split in the past, it's not so severe that a team should remove him from the lineup because of it. All the man has done for almost his entire career is hit, and that didn't change in 2010. A team would be wise to step up and snag him for 2011 so that he can continue to mash taters.

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