With yet another long-coveted (by me) hitter hitting the free agent market, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least broach the idea of the Yankees signing Vladimir Guerrero -- who recently had his $9M 2011 option rightly declined by the Rangers -- to be their DH, assuming the Yankees pass on my boy Adam Dunn. I know Mike Axisa threw cold water all over this idea the other day, but I think it merits further exploration. Vlad may have gone ice cold in the second half and postseason after a lightning-hot start, but there may still be some life left in that bat.
While I imagine the Rangers will try to re-sign him at a discount, it remains to be seen whether Vlad will have Johnny Damon/Hideki Matsui-itis and not be able to swallow his pride and return to his team at a lesser pay grade. At the very least it seems like it'd be worth seeing what it might take to get Vlad on a one-year deal. If it's around the $6.5 million it cost last year, that may be a gamble worth taking.
Though Vlad's numbers took a hit in the second half, a .360 wOBA overall is nothing to sneeze at. At 2.6 fWAR he was the third-most valuable DH in the game, putting up a season worth $10.3 million, and the two players ahead of him (David Ortiz and Luke Scott) are unavailable. Unsurprisingly Guerrero was better at home (.375 wOBA) than away, but his .344 road wOBA still would've been fourth-best among the Yankees' everyday lineup last season (after Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner). The other day we touched on the fact that Yankee Stadium was the most hitter-friendly park in the AL last season (.783 OPS), and despite the fact that The Ballpark in Arlington has for years held a reputation as an extreme hitters' park, it only had the 7th-highest OPS (.751) in the American League. Given the way the Yankees mash at home compared to the road, perhaps Vlad's line would see a boost if he got to play 81 home games at Yankee Stadium, though he does sport a relatively pedestrian .765 OPS in 33 games at old Yankee Stadium (in case you were wondering, he has an .872 OPS in four games at YS3, not including the postseason, in which he has 10 hits in 28 at-bats over six games in the 2009 and 2010 ALCSes).
To play devil's advocate, Vlad ain't getting any younger, and the second-half decline -- along with seemingly annual injury concerns -- could be a bad omen for the future. Additionally, given my love of OBP and walking, I could see myself potentially tearing my hair out during Vlad at-bat after Vlad at-bat in which he swings at everything including the kitchen sink. Still, that .394 career wOBA combined with missing out on Vlad back in 2004 when The Boss inanely insisted on signing Gary Sheffield instead are enough to keep me mildly interested in Vlad as a Yankee if the price was right.
If the Yankees pass on Dunn as expected, and aren't interested in Vlad, there are a handful of other potential sluggers in this offseason's free agent class that could make some sense.
Yankee fans are well aware of Russell Branyan's ability to absolutely pummel the baseball (when he actually gets his bat on it), and he clubbed a fairly under-the-radar 25 bombs while posting a respectable .350 wOBA in 2010. Unfortunately Branyan doesn't get on base enough (.323 OBP in 2010) to be as dynamic a DH as you'd like to see on the Yankees (not to mention the fact that he strikes out a ton) but perhaps being in a patient lineup like the Bombers' would help him in the OBP department. Branyan also seems to like New Yankee Stadium quite a bit, with a .261/.314/.717 line in 12 career games (though a meager .661 OPS in 15 games at old YS).
Carlos Pena picked a pretty terrible time to have the worst season of his career, though I suppose it's somewhat impressive that he was still able to wOBA close to league average (.326) despite batting under .200 in a whopping 582 plate appearances. Regardless, his 2010 line of .196/.325/.407 is pretty wretched, and it's a credit to the Rays that they were still able to play to the best record in the AL despite losing almost .050 points of wOBA from their primary power hitter. After a monster 2007 (.430 wOBA) and a very good 2008 and 2009 (matching .374 wOBAs), I suppose it's possible that Pena magically reverted back to 2006 form that resulted in him rather incredibly serving time in both the Yankees and Red Sox farm systems -- exercising a clause in his contract to become a free agent after four months at Columbus, and playing 11 games with Pawtucket and 18 games in the Bigs in September 2006 before becoming a free agent again at season's end -- with neither team apparently seeing enough to want to keep him around, but it seems more likely that 2010 was just a really down year.
Indeed, though Pena's never had a particularly high BABIP (.279 career), in 2010 his was the second-worst in all of baseball. Although Jose Bautista somehow had the third-worst mark, so maybe Pena's struggles can't be excused away by an abnormally low BABIP. Regardless, I wouldn't have a problem with the Yankees taking a chance on a lefty with a career .360 wOBA on a one-year, $4 million deal, considering Fangraphs had his 2010 worth $4.1 million. For a guy who's averaged 36 home runs a year over the last four seasons, Pena seems like a pretty good bet to potentially club 40 as a lefthander in Yankee Stadium (in 14 career games at YS3, he's hit six home runs and put up a .250/.327/.667 line).
Back in August I wondered if the Yankees might look at Paul Konerko, who finished out his career year with the fourth-best wOBA in the AL (.415), but will likely be too expensive, considering other teams will want to use him at first base. For the record, Konerko's been utterly beastly in the Bronx, with a .348/.399/.601 line in 37 games at old Yankee Stadium, and a 1.150 OPS in six games at new YS. Jim Thome's another aging slugger who put up one of the best seasons of his illustrious career in 2010 (.437 wOBA), and if he's available on a one-year deal could make a lot of sense taking aim at the short porch in right (11 home runs and an .803 OPS in 59 career games at old YS).
The remainder of the potential DH market is pretty unappetizing, with Adam LaRoche (.261/.320/.468; .339 wOBA) and Lyle Overbay (.243/.329/.433; .332 wOBA) representing less-than-appealing though likely much cheaper options. While both have some pop, neither really get on base enough (though Overbay does sport a .358 career mark) to be a full-time Yankee DH.
Of course, it's also possible the Yanks decide to give Marcus Thames another go, though there's almost no way he'll be as productive as he was in 2010 (.354 wOBA vs. lefties and a highly unexpected .382 against righties). With Lance Berkman apparently not reuniting with Houston as everyone expected him to, he could also be a useful piece were he willing to come back at a significantly reduced salary. Although while I seemed to be one of the few Yankee fans who liked what Puma brought to the table, it would really have to be at a near-bargain basement price given that Berkman can't really hit lefties anymore (a horrendous .236 wOBA; though he can still rip righties up, with a .372 mark) and also lost nearly 100 points of SLG this past season.