As the first “real” entry with some actual meat, I decided to discuss a problem I’ve been mulling over in my head the past few weeks: The glaring hole the A’s have at designated hitter. As we draw closer to the beginning of Spring Training, it still remains a complete mystery as to who will be the primary DH this season. I’ll take a quick look at all of the in-house options the A’s have, and I’ll also talk a bit about available free agents who have been linked to the A’s in recent rumors.
Already On Roster
- Brandon Allen – When Beane first traded for Allen last July, it immediately looked as though the A’s had found their first baseman of the future, Daric Barton be damned. After collecting 11 hits within the first week of his Athletics debut, Big Brando endeared himself to many A’s fans by blasting two solo home runs in Yankee Stadium on August 23rd, lifting the A’s to a 6-5 victory. It quickly went downhill from there as he piled up strikeout after strikeout. In 75 at-bats in September he managed to only produce 3 RBI and he didn’t go deep at all. Yikes. He’ll obviously be looking to bounce back from his dismal finish. A lot of stat geeks on the internet are extremely high on this guy and were filled with glee when the A’s traded for him. He has never played as a DH in the majors, and is a pretty decent defender, but with the return of Barton and a logjam in the outfield, he may have to get his at-bats elsewhere.
- Chris Carter – It seems like it’s been an eternity since A’s fans began salivating over the huge slugging prospect when he was acquired in December 2007. Despite posting impressive power numbers in the minor leagues, Carter hasn’t been able to get on track during his stints, albeit brief, with the big league club. He’s only had a total of 114 at-bats at the MLB level, nowhere near a large enough sample size to get an idea of his future in the show. Still, some fans I’ve encountered have already lost faith in the big fella. His best asset is his power, and he doesn’t play the field all that well, whether at first or in left, so if Carter is going to make an impact in what seems like a make-or-break year, it’ll most likely be at the DH spot.
- Michael Taylor – This graduate of Stanford was supposed to have been the co-savior, along with Carter, of the A’s offense quite some time ago. When the A’s acquired him in December 2009, he was said to be Oakland’s most “MLB-ready” prospect. After initial reports said he would possibly make the Opening Day roster for 2010, he wouldn’t make his big league debut until September 2, 2011. At 6’6″, he joins Allen and Carter on the list of dudes you’re least likely to criticize for crappy hitting face-to-face. When the A’s didn’t resign Josh Willingham or David DeJesus, it looked like Taylor’s time had finally come at the age of 26. Instead, recent moves have made it look as though Taylor isn’t a lock to see much playing time in the outfield. While he’s obviously going to try to prove his worth with the glove, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him fill the DH spot on occasion.
- Kila Ka’aihue – Despite appearing in parts of three seasons with the Kansas City Royals and being acquired by the A’s last September, I am still unable to pronounce this guy’s name. After starting the 2011 campaign as the Royals first baseman, he found himself optioned to Triple-A on May 5 after hitting just .195 in 23 games, with only six RBIs and two homers. He has put up monster numbers in the minors for most of his career, but he’ll be 28 years old when the season starts, so this is a pivotal year for Kila.
- Jonny Gomes – In a move that just generally confused the hell out of me, the A’s went out and signed Gomes despite only hitting .209 in 372 plate appearances last year between the Reds and Nationals. The Petaluma native has the distinction of having survived a heart attack at the ripe age of 22, so at least we know he’s tough. However, he doesn’t hit right-handed pitching very well, and his defense leaves a lot to be desired if he’s pressed into duty in the outfield. I’m still not sure why he’s here, and although it’s cool that he’s a local guy, I don’t see him as much more than a platoon guy against left-handed pitching, which he does mash.
During Billy Beane’s tenure as general manager his strategy has usually been to sign an aging, yet still productive, slugger to fill the DH spot, the Jack Cust years (2007-2010) not withstanding. So it should come as no surprise that the A’s are rumored to still be entertaining the idea of signing such a player for the 2012 season. So, what are some of the names that are still out there?
- Johnny Damon – The one-time Athletic and Jesus impersonator is still looking for a job, and he could be a good fit for the A’s. Although he hit .261 with a .326 on-base percentage last season, he still put up 73 RBI and 29 doubles. He also showed he still has some of his old speed, swiping 19 bags, so unlike other free agent options he won’t be a detriment on the base paths. However, with arguably the weakest outfield arm in the majors, you never want him to play the outfield anymore and he would strictly be a DH, especially with Coco Crisp, the perennial challenger to his title, playing in center.
- Vladimir Guerrero – Going into last season, this would’ve seemed like a great option for the A’s. This year, not so much. After hitting .300 and making an All-Star appearance for Rangers in 2010, Vladdy signed with the Orioles, where he only managed 13 homers and a .317 on-base percentage. He drew just 17 walks the whole season. A notorious free-swinger who somehow never struck out much, it seems as though he may have finally run out of gas at the age of 37. However, his batting average was a very respectable .290, and he also had 30 doubles, so he may still have something left to offer. His knees are totally gone so he can’t run and he won’t be able to play the field if needed.
- Magglio Ordonez – One of my favorite players to harrass over the years, Ordonez has always been one of baseball’s most underrated hitters. He absolutely stunk last year though, hitting just 5 homers with an OPS+ of 74. He could be serviceable since he’s always hit for a high average, but at 38, asking him to hit to his to his career mark of .309 is probably a bit too much. Plus, he doesn’t even have his beautiful flowing locks anymore. What a shame.
- Manny Ramirez – Believe it or not, this guy is gearing up for a comeback in 2012, and the A’s have reportedly showed some interest. Although he’s one of the best hitters of all-time, he’s also one of the biggest assholes of all-time, and he turns 40 in May. And since he quit last season while still facing a suspension, any team that signs him will have to wait 50 games before he can play. I just don’t see what good can come of this. But hey, maybe it’ll be worth it just for the novelty of it.
- Hideki Matsui – Yep, the A’s DH from last season still remains unsigned, due to his declining power numbers. With the Angels in 2010, Godzilla posted 21 homers, 84 RBI, and a solid OPS+ of 127. With Oaktown in 2011, those numbers slipped to 12, 72, and 92. He started off the year very slowly, but finally got going a bit around the All-Star break. He may not be able to crush the ball like he used to, but he can still play the field a bit if needed, and hell, just having him on the roster made for some fun times out in the right field bleachers.
There are still other free agents available, and you never know what Beane is going to do so this list might not even matter in a few weeks. This whole winter I’ve been thinking that going with some sort of committee approach, while shuffling guys among their other positions, with our young hitters would be the best way to go. I want to see if Carter and Taylor can finally prove themselves, or if we should just move on. So what do you think? Who would you like to see get most of the playing time at DH for the A’s in 2012?