The Yankees have had an interesting relationship with their designated hitter spot in recent years. After a year away from baseball, Alex Rodriguez made it seem like the Yankees finally found their answer to the DH hole in 2015. That plan fell apart in 2016 and the Yankees brought in Matt Holliday for the 2017 season, and for a while it was a genius move.
Then Oakland happened to him. There was a reason Holliday had a no-trade clause that only included the Athletics. He contracted Epstein-Barr and was never the same. So the DH spot became another black hole and now the Yankees have to answer the question again.
I’ve always been an advocate of having an actual and proper DH. I feel that way about any spot on the roster. I hate platoons and I hate “revolving doors.” Usually, the only reason to not have one player for a set role, outside of injury, is because there’s no one player on the roster who is good enough. Here’s where things get unusual.
The Yankees have a unique situation on their hands. First, there’s the potential signing of Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani could be posted as early as this weekend, and after that it should be a free-for-all among all 30 teams to see if they can convince him to sign with them. Money will almost be a non-factor, so Ohtani is going to make his decision for mostly baseball reasons.
He’s looking for a team that will let him hit and pitch. To protect him from injury, most teams probably don’t want him playing the field, so the best way to do that is to allow him to DH on his off days. The Yankees, with their lack of a real DH, give him one of the best opportunities to pursue that dream.
Even if they fail with Ohtani, the Yankees still have five outfielders for four spots on the major league roster: Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury. Brian Cashman already announced that the starting outfield next year will be Gardner-Hicks-Judge from left to right, which leaves Ellsbury as the fourth outfielder, but he has given no indications about his plans for Frazier.
Hopefully, the Yankees will find a way to rid themselves of Ellsbury this offseason and that number will come down to four. If they do, great, but their problem isn’t solved. They still have more outfielders than positions, and of the five, Ellsbury’s the only one who shouldn’t be playing every day.
Ellsbury is, well, Ellsbury. Judge, the unanimous Rookie of the Year and runner-up AL MVP, is the player whose playing time needs the least justification. So that leaves Gardner, Hicks, and Frazier.
Gardner is coming off a resurgent year and Brian Cashman has historically loved him, so his job is likely safe until he defensive value falters. After years of being a bust, Hicks finally looks like he tapped into what made him a first round draft pick, which is why he was able to take Ellsbury’s job off his hands. So taking a job away from either of those isn’t really an option. So does that leave Frazier as the odd man out?
After stealing a starting job during his initial call up, Frazier went down with an oblique injury in August. When he finally returned he was never quite able to catch back up and was understandably left off the playoff rosters, outside of the Wild Card Game. Before his injury, though, Frazier showed off that “legendary” bat speed and showed he can hit with the rest of them.
There’s a chance the Yankees use Frazier in a trade this offseason, but if they don’t, they need him to play at the major league level. He doesn’t really have much to prove in Triple-A. As solid as Gardner was this year, he’s likely entering his final year as a Yankee. Gardner probably isn’t really the team’s future but Frazier might be. Hicks, at 28, could be as well.
They need to see what they have with those Frazier and Hicks but it shouldn’t come at the expense of Gardner. All three of them deserve to play and play everyday, but there are only two spots for the three of them.
So why not a “revolving door” at DH?
Between the outfield surplus and potentially Ohtani, using the DH spot as an open position makes the most sense. Regardless of Ohtani, the outfield surplus is enough to keep the Yankees away from an actual DH. The “revolving door” is usually because there isn’t someone good enough, but the Yankees may just have a unique case where they have too many players that are good enough.
Regardless of Ohtani, the Yankees shouldn’t designate any one hitter as their DH. Even if the Yankees are able to sign Ohtani with their opening at DH, he wouldn’t hit every day. Between potentially him, the outfield surplus, and opportunities to give half days to players like Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird, the DH spot should remain open.
Actually scratch all that: make Sanchez the full-time DH and have Austin Romine catch daily. Done.