When you think about the designated hitter, you think about home runs, home runs, and home runs. The position was invented to add more home runs to the game, and though the Yankees have had some successful DHs in the past, 2016 was a bad year for it. While offense isn’t what it was at the height of the steroid era, there are still power hitters that fit the role of the designated hitter. It could be time for the Yankees to make a change in 2017 and embrace that past.
As the team’s primary designated hitter this year, A-Rod could only contribute a 55 wRC+ before Carlos Beltran and Gary Sanchez entered the picture and offered some successful reps at the position. Even Billy Butler was able to add some value toward the end of the season. But now Beltran and Butler are gone, and Sanchez should be spending most of his time behind the plate.
Brian Cashman has historically used the designated hitter as a means to rotate veterans through a half day of rest. Since 2009, only A-Rod, Posada, Beltran, and Matsui have received over 100 games at the position, while many other veterans have had had dozens of DH days during their time with the Yankees. However, the team won’t have the likes of Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, or Alfonso Soriano on the roster. They won’t have very many veteran hitters at all.
Brian McCann would, of course, be the obvious choice as the team’s next everyday designated hitter. The only thing is that, as I recently pointed out, he wouldn’t be that great of a DH. He is known as a good hitting catcher, but that is hardly the same as putting him in a situation where offense is the only thing he can contribute to a team. He’s good for, like, 20 home runs, but that’s the bare minimum when it comes to the DH. Other veterans like Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury are not ideal candidates for the spot either, and they will surely be needed to play full time at their respective positions.
The Yankees are at a point in their youth movement where they don’t have many aging veterans to rest. That is a good thing, though it doesn’t avoid obvious issues when looking to build a full roster. If the Yankees don’t move McCann, he will likely begin the year as the DH, but what if he is traded? It could be time for the Yankees to embrace the full potential of the designated hitter.
About the only player the team has that could fit the traditional role as designated hitter is Aaron Judge. The six-foot-seven slugger has a massive amount of power potential, however, he hasn’t exactly embraced that role throughout his career. Instead of simply hitting as many dingers as possible, Judge has sacrificed some power in order hit more doubles and get a better handle on the ball. He is already prone to strikeouts, so turning him into a blind power hitter is not going to do him any favors.
The likes of Tyler Austin and Rob Refsnyder could potentially see some reps there. Austin isn’t a traditional power hitter, but he does possess a ridiculous amount of opposite field power that could do well in Yankee Stadium. Refsnyder recently spoke about changing his approach to add more power and hit more home runs. He already has great bat-to-ball skills, so if he can actually start hitting home runs just by trying, like Ichiro has always said he can, then he could be a real option.
The Yankees don’t have a lot of power hitters rattling around in their system right now, so they would have to look externally if they want to add some pop, which I think they should do. Guys like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo hit over 40 home runs, but will require multi-year deals. Kendrys Morales hit 30 this year and might require a somewhat smaller deal. Meanwhile, guys like Brandon Moss or even Ryan Howard have proven to be effective against right-handed pitching but will require a left-handed compliment. The Yankees could even benefit from a reunion with Carlos Beltran as long as he stays out of right field.
I don’t think it’s wise to go crazy for power hitters in their 30s, however, I do believe the Yankees need a serious home run boost. When your shortstop is one of your best power hitters, it might cause you to go a little crazy on the free agent market. If Cashman can someone to a max two-year deal, or trade for a bat, it would seriously help this young team if they allowed their designated hitter to do what he was born to do.