Panhandling For a Rays Designated Hitter
With the acquisitions of Josh Lueke and Burke Badenhop and the re-signing today of Joel Peralta it's safe to assume that the Rays are about finished collecting spaghetti to throw at the wall with regards to the 2012 bullpen. This comes on the heels of sorting out the catcher situation meaning that Andrew Friedman and pals can turn their sights on what looms as the next leak to plug on the Good Ship Rays. You can have your qualms about shortstop or wonder where B.J. Upton ends up, but a more pressing concern is how the designated hitter position is going to shake out.
Currently, the Rays have only Matt Joyce, Sam Fuld, and Reid Brignac on the roster as left-handed hitters. This seems to run counter to the Rays approach in the past of having plenty of weirdos on hand to wield the platoon advantage against the predominant pitcher in Major League Baseball. Righties might be a dime a dozen, but they're still throwing north of 60% of all pitches in MLB. We can toss around horrible trade ideas that don't take into account that other teams are going to hold out for as much value as possible even if a guy is blocked or we can assume that Mr. Friedman is going to do his normal plunge into the free agent market hoping to sift pyrite from any possible jetsam just hanging out.
With that in mind, I looked at all the remaining lefties (and an odd switch hitter, please don't hurt me Milton) available on the free agent landscape to see if any might show signs of being a diamond in the rough. I've included a couple of guys that look like they can play first base still, because ultimately, the Rays are looking for the best lefty bat they can ink to the most reasonable cost. The following projections use a method pioneered by Mr. Tom Tangotiger named Marcel. It's a quick and dirty method that takes a weighted average of the last four years with the most recent years weighted more:
These are the projections for each of these batters based off what they have done against righties over the last four years. I have included plate appearances as a proxy for durability, as well as, to show how much manager's have played these guys against righties over this term. I only included their work against righties, because the Rays are flush with right-handed hitters that could handle the shorter side of a DH platoon, namely, Russ Canzler, Brandon Guyer, and Sean Rodriguez. I'd be hesitant to take the gloves of the last two out of the field, but they could serve as a bat-only player in a pinch while Canzler needs to at least be given a decent shot to see if he can be an affordable piece of this puzzle.
Right off the bat we see a couple of old friends in Carlos Pena and Russell Branyan. I've kept both at 1B for this scenario as each still has the chops to play there, though they're not quite the Khajiit they used to be. Branyan WAR would be unchanged if he was a DH while Pena would lose around .2 wins if you think they're better off not standing around the bag. There's a little something for everyone here as Kotchman, Damon, Gload, and Pierre are the best batting average guys, while Pena, Fukudome, Drew, and Scott are the best at getting on base. Pena, Branyan, and Rick Ankiel stand out for their power, while Jorge Posada and J.D. Drew throw their names in the hat for best all-around batters. You can have your favorites based on anecdote or because you like their sideburns, but if it was up to me I'd look very hard at bringing back Pena as a stop-gap at firstbase. The average is a big turnoff, but he's the best all around bat of the bunch with quite the gap to the next best option of Branyan.
As for DH, I'd fully expect the spendthrift Rays to pause for a moment as the remaining players are pretty close to one another. If a few guys sign then it takes some of the demand out of the market as well as giving a solid gauge of the going rate. If the Kotchman's and Damon's of the world get scooped up, then it may mean a depressed market for guys that I'd really like to target like Jorge Posada, J.D. Drew, Luke Scott, and a huge sleeper (not an Asian joke) Kosuke Fukudome. Fukudome may not bring the thump like some of these other guys, but he gets on base at a very high clip while showing the durability to be a reliable option over the course of the 162 game grind. J.D. Drew is another guy that I find interesting as his asking price should be slightly north of a non-roster invite after last year. Lastly, Posada could be another low-risk signing as he's already made his money, has shown that he can capably DH against righties, and could even catch a couple of innings here and there if it was an absolute necessity (think Shawn Riggans having to play LF after taking a fastball to the chest because the bench was empty). I don't think any of these guys are a bad option until we start getting into the Hawpe, Damon, Ibanez class and would even take Rick Ankiel. The key here is getting a guy for one year and $3 million or less to hit enough so that we don't have to think about this for another year.