The designated hitter has been a part of baseball history for almost 50 years, yet its place in the hearts of fans is still complicated. The position has evolved over the years, even being included in the National League for the first time in 2020. Mostly gone are the days of DH titans like Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz and Hideki Matsui – the position is now mainly used as a way to provide banged-up players with a “half day off” or to rotate multiple players in the lineup during a week.
However, the Yankees may be best served by using the designated hitter as it was originally intended. When the team first acquired Giancarlo Stanton before the 2018 season, it was a strange fit given that he played the same position as the Yankees’ superstar right fielder, Aaron Judge. Stanton rotated between DH and both corner outfield spots, but struggled to stay on the field consistently for the Bombers.
Stanton hurt his calf in spring training in 2020, adding to knee, quad, hamstring and biceps issues since becoming a Yankee. The season ultimately didn’t start until July due to obviously unforeseen events, and it let Stanton recover for Opening Day. Still, the Yankees didn’t push their most expensive offensive player, and he played a grand total of zero defensive innings for the Yankees in 2020.
Neither Stanton nor the Yankees were worse for this change. Moving forward, Stanton really doesn’t need to be playing in the field for the Yankees barring an emergency. Particularly if the National League keeps the DH around, Stanton shouldn’t be counted on to play defense, even in interleague games.
For one, this could be a way to keep Stanton healthy. Stanton has had a lot of lower-body injuries over his career, and with the Yankees on the hook for $180 million over the next seven years, they would be best-served to get the most they can out of their prized slugger. Although Stanton has performed well defensively during his career, thanks in so small part to his cannon right arm, he is not as good a defender as Judge, and has taken well to the DH role. If keeping him off his feet for more than half the game is what it will take to get Stanton his 500 at-bats per season, then so be it.
Furthermore, the Yankees have the outfield depth to make this possible. Judge plays an excellent defensive right field and is obviously in the lineup whenever he’s healthy. Aaron Hicks is the team’s center fielder for now, and Clint Frazier has staked his claim to the left fielder’s job. The Yankees have had a hard time finding a spot for Frazier over the years, but he has hit well enough and improved his fielding to the point where he has earned a future in the Yankees’ outfield.
The team also has Mike Tauchman around as a backup, Tyler Wade can play the outfield when necessary, and they may even bring back Brett Gardner. Plus, two of the Yankees’ best prospects, Jasson Dominguez and Estevan Florial, are outfielders, perhaps further crowding things when they are ready for the bright lights of the Bronx. The way they’re constructed, the Yankees really don’t need to game plan time in the outfield for Stanton. Their best lineup comes with him at DH, which also works because that’s where they’d like to play him to preserve his health. It’s a win-win.
Keeping Stanton a full-time DH may at first seem like a downgrade, but it’s really just about how to best maximize his performance, as well as catering to how the team is made up. Could he play the field in an emergency? Surely. Chances are, he can still handle limited time in the field. But, for the Yankees to get the most they can out of Stanton moving forward, that future involves him at designated hitter.