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January 30, 2009

Prospectus Today

The Designated Whatever

by Joe Sheehan

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Jay Jaffe broke down the list of Manny Ramirez suitors yesterday, naming three National League and two American League teams as the best fits for the 36-year-old slugger. I can't say I disagree with his choices, and he noted a number of others in the piece as well. Ramirez is such a great hitter that he would be a good fit on just about any roster-he's a player you make room for.

When you think about it, though, Ramirez's inability to find a contract that suits him, and the similar situations faced by Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu, is fairly nonsensical. The three are the last men standing among the deep class of "corner outfielders who can hit but not field" that graced the market this winter, with Raul Ibaņez, Pat Burrell, and Milton Bradley having already inked deals with new teams. Every one of these players, save perhaps the aging Ibaņez, is qualified to play a position that many AL teams have struggled to fill, a position that has a short list of qualifications: Hit. Yet many teams suffer through subpar performance from their designated hitters, and in some cases they act as if the position requires skills other than simply being able to rake.

Here's what AL teams got from their DHs last year-thanks, Bil Burke-with the primary player or players responsible for the stats listed to the right.


            AVG   OBP   SLG    DHs
Angels     .271  .330  .437    Anderson, Guerrero
Orioles    .274  .331  .491    Huff
Red Sox    .273  .379  .490    Ortiz
White Sox  .246  .356  .484    Thome
Indians    .236  .324  .389    Hafner, Dellucci
Tigers     .218  .310  .388    Sheffield
Royals     .268  .309  .446    Butler, Guillen
Twins      .269  .344  .438    Kubel, Monroe
Yankees    .282  .378  .461    Matsui, Damon, Giambi
A's        .229  .337  .397    Cust, Thomas
Mariners   .221  .273  .334    Vidro, Clement
Rays       .246  .322  .428    Floyd, Gomes
Rangers    .301  .421  .494    Bradley
Blue Jays  .247  .325  .418    Stairs, Thomas

The average American League batter hit .268/.336/.420. Four AL teams couldn't match any of those three figures from a position at which there's no defensive requirement whatsoever. Eight AL teams got subpar OBPs from their DH slot, which seems like a good way to torpedo your offense. If you were to pick your DH entirely based on their ability to not make outs, you'd be ahead of the game in the American League.

We can make excuses all day-Travis Hafner fell off a cliff, possibly due to injuries; Billy Butler was a disappointment; Matt Stairs might be done; Gary Sheffield, too-but this is the easiest position to fill on a baseball diamond, and a significant number of AL teams are simply not grasping the concept.

Some of these situations have improved this winter-the Rays signed Burrell to be their full-time DH, and the Blue Jays will probably use some combination of Adam Lind and Travis Snider there in 2009-but many haven't. The Tigers are still hoping that Sheffield's contract will bounce back and be productive; the Angels don't have an identifiable DH at the moment, but only Vladimir Guerrero, among the rostered options, would hit enough to carry the spot. (Spare me the Juan Rivera silliness; he's 30 and has two partial seasons of viability in his career, just one since 2004.) The Mariners and Royals at least appear set to go with young players at DH, Jeff Clement and Butler, respectively. Still, if the Mariners sign Ken Griffey Jr. as opposed to Dunn or Abreu, it's a sign that they're a circus act, not a baseball team.

Just to provide some context, and to be, I think, the first guy to tease these, here are the 2009 PECOTA projections for the three free-agent bats:


            AVG   OBP   SLG    PA
Ramirez    .295  .391  .538   580
Dunn       .262  .396  .541   601
Abreu      .282  .368  .436   574

Manny Ramirez and Adam Dunn would be the best hitters on many AL teams, regardless of position. Abreu, who has been in a slow decline, one that has shown up in his plate discipline, is a bit riskier, but he's also someone who brings a right fielder's arm and a touch of speed. A team with a big right field-Abreu has significant problems playing the wall-could get better defense from him and not have to play him at DH.

When you combine the lack of production AL teams have been getting from their DH slots, the limited requirements of the job, and the available talent, it's hard to understand why these three players are finding it so difficult to find work. The Indians, Tigers, and Angels are all contending teams that desperately need a bit more offense and have holes in these spots, albeit ones filled with bad contracts. These teams have to recognize that the sunk cost of an eight-figure deal is a line item that will be swallowed up in pennant-race and post-season revenues if they upgrade their DH slots by 30 or 40 runs, which is what Dunn and Ramirez can do for these teams.

It's good that teams now calculate and account for the defensive cost of players such as these three, and that, in fact, is the biggest reason why all remain unsigned. However, the presence of the DH slot in the AL makes that accounting moot, leaving only the question of offense. Some AL team is going to have the light bulb go on, and the one that does is going to play more than 162 games this year. That's the kind of impact these bats can have.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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36 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

WaldoInSC

It seems that external factors beyond the reach of Joe's sabermetric analysis are the cause of their continuing free agency. From what I understand Dunn won't sign as a DH and Manny wants a contract that may outlast his motivation.

Moreover, signing an inert DH limits a team's flexibility and can cause a cascade of roster problems that leave an offensive wet noodle playing in the field.

Jan 30, 2009 12:40 PM
rating: 3
 
DAra

Joe - your argument is simplistic.

Without actually knowing the financial (or other) demands these players are making (and you have to believe that Boras is not giving in) how could you categorize the non-signings as "non-sensical"?

You don't have to rehash over and over that these players are good. We get it.

But let's assume that this issue is entirely about dumb GMs failing to realize that there are great players out there that could help their team.

Jan 30, 2009 13:10 PM
rating: 0
 
DAra

I meant to say "not entirely" about...

Jan 30, 2009 13:11 PM
rating: 0
 
ghruth

Yup.

There's an increasing sense across the industry that a no-glove hitter just isn't worth $15M+ per over a 3+ year contract.

Fangraphs puts Dunn's value at $7M, $13M and $8M over the previous three years.

Abreu's been worth $13M, $12M, $6M.

And Manny's at $14M, $5M, $28M.

If you put stock in WAR--and it seems to be doing a great approximation of how smart teams have been evaluating free agents the past couple of seasons--what are these guys really worth?

It seems even teams that don't necessarily "get" this are waiting for the prices to fall.

Jan 31, 2009 08:12 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

The 7 AL teams without a reasonable shot at the playoffs don't really gain anything from signing Ramirez, Dunn, or Abreu; or need the money for other things.

Of the other 7 teams: The Angels are such a hands-down favorite to win the AL West for the foreseeable future that spending another $40-60 million over the next 3-4 years doesn't significantly improve their chances; the A's have to consider their new stadium before committing big coin to a FA; the Red Sox, Rays, and White Sox are set at DH; the Yanks have spent their money; and the Twins sent Livan Hernandez to the mound 23 times last season and still came within a game of winning a division that hasn't improved any this winter.

Nobody in the AL needs these guys at a price anywhere near their market value.

Jan 30, 2009 13:15 PM
rating: -3
 
Yatchisin
(487)

Do we really know what "market value" is right now? If Burrell is 2 years at $16 mil, there could be actual value.

Not to mention one assumes the Angels would like to do more than just win their division, or that the Twins might not want to start every season in a huge hole they might or might not dig out of.

Jan 30, 2009 13:31 PM
rating: 0
 
Bill Parker

That's a *really* optimistic view of the Angels (or a pessimistic view of the rest of the division). The Angels got lucky to win as many as they did last year, needed hitting last year, and have lost hitting this offseason. Meanwhile, the Mariners and A's have both gotten considerably better. getting a second or third above-average hitter wouldn't be a terrible idea. If they let the M's get Dunn instead, there's a decent chance that things get really interesting.

And the Twins? Now, they're committed to Kubel, and obviously aren't going to go out and sign Manny anyway, but to suggest that they have no need to improve because they tied for the division lead last year--when the two division favorites, one of which will be the favorite again this year, unexpectedly flopped--seems pretty silly.

Jan 30, 2009 14:08 PM
rating: 1
 
blynch

Is it really that clear that the AL Central has been turned over to the Twins and White Sox for the next few seasons? I would think the Indians and Tigers would have legitimate motivation to upgrade and make a play for the division. True, Gary Sheffield will call you a racist if you don't give him 600 ABs, but setting that aside, swap out Sheffield's 08 production for Abreu's and you get more, not less, versatility to go with your improved offense, right?

Jan 30, 2009 14:17 PM
rating: 0
 
Deelron

There's no problem with running Dunn/Ramirez/Abreu out onto defense (particularly due to an injury without minor league replacement options), provided that their defensive liabilities are considered given their contracts, and so long as they're notably better then the people they're replacing. Even a 50/50 field/DH split for those three would be notable upgrades for enough teams that they should at least make attempts to sign them at a reasonable cost.

For me it just seems like teams are (thankfully) starting to value offense and defense more equally, but are overdoing the correction.

Jan 30, 2009 13:23 PM
rating: 0
 
HonusCobb

The Blue Jays need one of these guys at DH and they've shown they're willing to spend money these past few seasons.

Why don't they go after Ramirez? Or at least Adam Dunn?

Perhaps they're just convinced that they can't compete for the AL East even if they do sign Manny Ramirez? Regardless, Dunn would still be a very good fit in Toronto.

Jan 30, 2009 13:27 PM
rating: 0
 
One Flap Down

Except for the fact that their GM famously bad-mouthed him last year.

Jan 30, 2009 13:44 PM
rating: 3
 
Llarry

Dunn won't go near Toronto, and Toronto won't go near Dunn, after JP put his foot in his mouth and went for a hike. And that's not even counting that Dunn reportedly doesn't want to DH (see, it may not be just the GMs that are holding this up, it's possible that some of the players involved won't do the logical thing...)

Jan 30, 2009 13:48 PM
rating: 2
 
TheBish

You forget about JP Ricciardi's comments about Dunn being the most over rated player in baseball or something along thos lines. I do not think the blue Jays are one or two pieces away from competing anyways, they need to restock and get younger.

Jan 30, 2009 13:53 PM
rating: 0
 
relliott22

RE: Waldon SC's argument, having a wet noodle playing the field makes a lot more sense than having a wet noodle play DH, which as Joe points out is what many teams are doing.

RE: eighteen's argument: The Angel's Pythag marked them as an 88 win team last year, and they've gotten worse over the offseason. Should the A's acutally pony up and sign one of these guys, there will be trouble in the West. Also, look for the Rangers in the next three years. Can't argue with the rest, except that the Indians should challenge in the Central again, which would make an upgrade for the Twins a wise decision.

The general line in the comments so far is that it is about the money. While I agree wholeheartedly, the market on these guys has slipped to the point where they're well worth the investment.

Jan 30, 2009 13:55 PM
rating: 0
 
Nathan

Waldon,

By "cascade of roster problems that leave an offensive wet noodle playing in the field," what exactly do you mean? Are you talking about injuries, or just a failure to choose the best player for a position?

Jan 30, 2009 13:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Eddie Bajek

The Tigers can call Sheffield a sunk cost all they want. It still won't revive the automotive industry. They can't bring on excess payroll, period.

Jan 30, 2009 14:09 PM
rating: 1
 
blynch

Pretty sure the Tigers are owned by a pizza mogul, not an car executive. Sure, a down economy will hurt ticket sales, but that's looking to be true everywhere, not just Detroit.

Jan 30, 2009 14:20 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

But the luxury boxes and other expensive seats are bought by the likes of car executives. the Tigers may be facing a particularly tough market.

Jan 30, 2009 19:32 PM
rating: 1
 
James Martin Cole

The city has a 17 percent unemployment rate, and reportedly can't afford to plow and salt the roads during snow storms.

Jan 31, 2009 12:09 PM
rating: 0
 
rmorgan93

Aren't we beyond ruling out half the teams in the league as having a reasonable shot at the playoffs? Did the Rays make your list before last year, or the Rockies the year before? Did the Marlins make your list before '03 or the Astros before '04? Every team in baseball gains something by signing good players.

Jan 30, 2009 14:20 PM
rating: 1
 
rmorgan93

Of course I meant '05 for the Astros.

Jan 30, 2009 14:25 PM
rating: 0
 
michaele

Edman,

I would like to think that if the payroll were not hampered by the dismal economic situation in Detroit the Tigers would be aggressively pursuing Adam Dunn. He fits their offensive needs like a glove: a left-handed power-hitting, OBP machine. I wonder, though, if Dombrowski would go after Dunn even if he had more wiggle year in his budget. I have a hunch the answer would be no.

Jan 30, 2009 14:23 PM
rating: 0
 
tribe4me

From Anthony Castrovince (MLB reporter): Ramirez would be a welcome middle-of-the order presence (particularly with nagging questions over what Travis Hafner will bring to the table following right shoulder surgery) in the Indians' lineup, he would generate enthusiasm in the fan base and put people in the seats, and he would probably be a slight upgrade over David Dellucci.

Now this last sentence provided me with my best laugh in a long time... Manny would "probably" be a slight upgrade over David Dellucci. Now that's funny!

Jan 30, 2009 15:25 PM
rating: 1
 
Richie

Manny would not put any fannies in the seats. An early season hot streak might help.

Jan 30, 2009 19:34 PM
rating: -1
 
mafrth77

Why play $10 to $20 million for a DH when they seemingly grow on trees? in the past few years there have been plenty of 950 OPS guys who have been singed to a minor league deal(Carlos Pena) traded for Einar Diaz (Hafner) or non-tendered in favor of Doug Mientkewitz (Ortiz)-This doesn't include guys like Bradley or Thomas. there are good DH's out there that can be had for peanuts and a good GM will find them.

Jan 30, 2009 15:29 PM
rating: -2
 
Dr. Dave

The problem with this argument is that, year after year, they *don't* find them. DH has been an underperforming roster slot for most AL teams since it was invented. There's just no excuse for that.

I mean, Jose Vidro got more than 280 PA at DH last year. On the Blue Jays, their banjo-hitting infield of Eckstein, Scutaro, Bautista, and Inglett combined for about 60 PA at DH. If you did that in a Strat league, they'd accuse of you of tanking in order to get a good draft pick next year.

Jan 30, 2009 16:43 PM
rating: 2
 
Bill Parker

Hafner + Pena + Ortiz = "plenty"? Okay--I thought that the Twins were making a huge mistake by giving Ortiz away. But the Red Sox thought he might fight for a few ABs with Jeremy Giambi. That's one part good GMing and twelve parts luck. Heck, three other teams signed Pena thinking he might be that guy, before he finally became that guy with the Rays. So when you've got guaranteed studs out there like Manny and Dunn, I'd expect some teams to look at taking maybe a 5-10% chance on finding the next Pena or Ortiz as a less-than-ideal alternative.

Jan 30, 2009 19:01 PM
rating: 0
 
mafrth77

You can add Jack Cust, Milton Bradley, Erubiel Durazo, Fank Thomas and Aubrey Huff to that list. This years candidates include Dallas McPherson and Nelson Cruz. A contending team is probaly not going to go into the season with a guy like McPherson who struck out 170 in AAA last year as it's primary DH, but it beats playing Jose Vidro or Jason Tyner there, which the Twins did several times in '07.

Jan 31, 2009 09:05 AM
rating: 1
 
ghruth

And the Rangers signed Bradley for nothing last year.

Jan 31, 2009 08:15 AM
rating: 0
 
awayish

i just think that teams don't want to win. winning is a game that is paraded out to make a narrative for the fans.

Jan 30, 2009 16:19 PM
rating: -2
 
krissbeth

The roster cascade argument is that you use the DH slot as a rolling half-day for your regulars by keeping them off the field but in the offense.

Jan 31, 2009 06:56 AM
rating: 0
 
Tank
(989)

Another issue with the DH is that it's been a position teams have used to rehab injured players, or keep older players fresh to play defense better when they do play in the field. The above list looks something like a hospital ward or a pending retirement home, no?

Jan 31, 2009 07:27 AM
rating: 0
 
West21

If a team wants to fork up some cash they can buy themselves a division title. If the Cardinals get Manny they will win the wild card easily, maybe the division, Manny and Pujols would be the most lethal 3-4 hitters in history.

Feb 01, 2009 21:30 PM
rating: 0
 
drmboat
(754)

You mean besides Ruth/Gehrig? Or a little closer to our time, how about Canseco/McGwire or Bonds/Kent? Or by lethal do you mean something other than valuable? Lethal as in most likely to crush a ball into the pitcher's forehead? Or are you counting history as since 2000?

Feb 02, 2009 09:47 AM
rating: 0
 
West21

Ruth and Gehrig I'll give you, but the other two combos you mentioned had a lot of extra help with 3/4 most famous roiders in baseball(I have my suspicions about Kent as well.)

Manny and Pujols would be a great combo regardless, especially in playing in an even worse NL.

Feb 02, 2009 13:27 PM
rating: 0
 
awayish

maybe the nature of baseball as a spectator sport plays a part too, in that not only winning matters, but also the method of winning and moreso the appearance and impression of that method. two styles of play may produce the same outcome in efficiency, but the flashier one will be perceived better. the flashier plays will be accorded more credit etc.

people in the stands still operate by traditional perceptions of baseball aptitude. when you have a guy that makes a ton of invisible contributions like walking to first base, holding up the game by taking pitches etc, but he also makes the occasional high profile error and show visible signs of laziness, then the fan perception of the guy will not be a "winning player."

an all hit no field player still retains much of his value given the proper roster, but to fans such a player is not a pleasure to watch. although offense is more marginally differentiated than defense, the players spend longer time on defense than offense, and the mistakes or ineptitudes in the former are more visible.

of course, we have not looked at how teams value fan perception of winning vs actual results, but perhaps there is something there. the biggest argument against it from actual behavior would be consistency over teams, but holding baesball teams to a consistent standard of judiciousness is just unrealistic

Feb 02, 2009 10:59 AM
rating: 0
 
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