With the Winter meetings finally here, I’ll be shifting my focus more towards the team’s needs for the 2011 season. One of those needs is a DH, and now that Lance Berkman, who would have been a solid fit, is off the table, the Mariners will need to take a different route. So who’s still available?
Russell Branyan - We know that his preference is to come back, so that’s a plus, but is it in the Mariners’ best interest? Unfortunately, the Muscle isn’t getting any younger, and his back problems aren’t going away any time soon. When physically able though, he’s still an okay player, meaning he probably wouldn’t be too bad of a last resort pick-up if no better options come to fruition. Plus, with 2011 unlikely to be a real meaningful year, he could potentially be a cheap, fairly productive stop-gap. That being said, there’s no reason to give him more than a couple million dollars.
Jack Cust – Recently non-tendered for the second consecutive year by the A’s, demand for Cust’s services appear to be at an all-time low. I’m not sure as to why. Last year, over 425 plate appearances, Cust posted a .371 wOBA, a .395 OBP, and a 2.4 WAR, in Oakland. Granted, his BABIP was pretty far up there, but even factoring in regression, that .834 OPS out of the DH spot should look pretty good to the Mariners, especially when you consider the -0.2 wins they got out of the position in 2010. Plus, he’d be a left handed hitter with power in Safeco Field, and he’s likely to come cheap.
Carlos Pena - He’s a patient, left-handed hitter with a ton of power, and he’s likely to now come at a more reasonable price than what I would have expected a few months ago, but don’t expect him to end up in Seattle. As Dave Cameron points out, he’s an okay defensive first baseman, and still fairly young. On the Mariners, he’d likely be stuck exclusively DHing, and it’d be surprising if he went for that.
Hideki Matsui – Matsui is still an above average hitter, but he’ll be turning 36 half way through the 2011 season, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see some significant decline. I’d take him on a cheap, one year deal, but there are certainly better options out there. Maybe if we were on track to be contenders, he would make more sense.
Brad Hawpe - A solid bounce-back candidate, Hawpe is looking to rebound after a catastrophic drop-off in 2010. Historically, he’s been an excellent hitter who was absolutely useless in the field – perfect fit for the NL, right? Last year, though, his OPS dropped nearly 150 points to .758, and his lack of production caused him to be released by the Rockies. After being picked up by the Rays, he hit even worse.
At just 31 years old, he’s still fairly close to his prime, and he’s not exactly in a position to demand excessive amounts of money. Safeco won’t impede his type of power, and as long as he’s willing to DH, he could be a very interesting option.
Jim Thome - Amazingly, at 40 years old, Jim Thome is still a really good hitter. Last year, in 340 plate appearances with the Twins, he posted a .437 wOBA, a 1.039 OPS, and 3.6 WAR – as a DH! I can’t say I’d expect a repeat performance in 2011, only because it seems impossible. He is, however, likely to be productive, and at this point in his career, I seriously doubt that dollar amount is really going to be that important to him. Unfortunately, contending probably is, which is why I doubt he’d be interesting in coming to Seattle.
It’s hard to say exactly what the team is looking for in a DH, though I’d assume that they’ll end up going with a lefty who can fill the gap for 2011, and potentially stick around to contribute in the future. I’m partial to Cust, but there are multiple guys out there that make sense – in the end, it’s just a matter of which puzzle can fully come together.