11/12/11 10:00 AM EST
Ortiz the most powerful free-agent DH
Guerrero, Matsui, Damon are next best options on open market
By Evan Drellich / MLB.com
Their most iconic player -- and the league's most respected designated hitter without a contract -- could have a new home in 2012.
David Ortiz, who turns 36 next week, said after Boston's epic September collapse that he'd be open to going to the Yankees. He's talked to the media a few times since, and the message has been far more conciliatory: "Of course I would like to come back."
But it might not be the Yankees whom the Sox have to tangle with most for Ortiz's service, but rather the Blue Jays. A Boston Herald report during the World Series quoted an anonymous Major League source saying that the Jays "will not rule out" chasing Big Papi.
Though Ortiz's numbers last season -- 29 home runs and a .309 average -- make him the cream of the crop, the other DHs available aren't too dissimilar in age and, at the least, star power -- if not actual power. Johnny Damon (with the Rays in 2011), Vladimir Guerrero (Orioles) and Hideki Matsui (A's) have the track records, although their best years are likely behind them.
Making the market tricky is the evolution of the position: full-time DHs aren't as prevalent as they once were. The Royals' Billy Butler, who's not a free agent, led the league with 142 games at DH, but there were only seven players who appeared as a DH in at least 100 games. Some teams would rather have the DH spot available to partially rest regulars on some days, with perhaps a platoon sharing the duty depending on who's pitching.
Jorge Posada played more at DH than anyone else for the Yankees last year, appearing in 90 games, but his time with New York, if not in the Majors, could well be over. He said this week that he believes he will have to go elsewhere if he wishes to play next season.
Jim Thome, who reached the 600-home run plateau this year, signed with the Phillies earlier this month.
Looking to buy: It's a rare situation, but the Yankees might be the AL East team with the least interest in landing a big name -- at least at this position. That doesn't mean they won't try to drive up the price for their division rivals, but they have enough aging hitters on their roster, thus a permanent DH isn't a necessity. ... The Red Sox would have a hole to fill if Ortiz leaves, while the Orioles and Rays have to make decisions on Guerrero and Damon, respectively. ... The A's and Matsui were a great fit last season, and signs point to them rekindling things in 2012. ... The Twins could well lose Jason Kubel, but they're likely not looking for a full-time DH, because they'll need to give Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer time there. ... The Mariners, too, don't have a full-timer presently, but they appear content to keep it that way. Or, they could move Mike Carp into that role.
Top dog: Ortiz is two years removed from hitting .238, but his production over the past two seasons keeps him in a class by himself among not only this free-agent group, but the position as a whole. His 29 homers in 2011 were 10 more than any other DH hit -- Butler was second with 19 -- and his 61-homer total from 2010-11 were 12 more than Adam Dunn's second-highest total.
Best of the rest: Guerrero has hit 42 home runs over the past two seasons, but just 13 of those came with the Orioles last year. Retirement isn't impossible -- he already has the all-time hits record for a player hailing from the Dominican Republic. ... Damon actually doubled his home run total in 2011 from the year before, from eight to 16. He hit .261 with a .326 on-base percentage, and can still play the outfield on occasion.
Worth a shot: Carlos Guillen is 36 and has played a combined 96 games over the past two seasons. ... Wily Mo Pena turns 30 in January, but in his return to the Majors last season, after a three-year absence, he hit .204 with seven homers.
Potential class of 2013: The Indians' Travis Hafner has a $13 million club option, while Bobby Abreu of the Angels can be a free agent.