With so many quality hitters available to fill designated hitter jobs these days, it's embarrassing for a club to get subpar production out of the spot. Demand might be high too, though – of the 14 American League teams, only the Indians are locked into a player they must use at DH. Let's examine the free agent market.
Already Full-Time DHs
David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero, and Hideki Matsui each played at least 119 games at designated hitter this year, and won't be looking to transition back to regular field work. The Red Sox could pick up Ortiz's $12.5MM option after a bounceback season. Vlad's $9MM option with the Rangers is mutual, but expect the two sides to try to hammer something out after the World Series. Matsui does not have an option. The Angels may have to let him go if they'd prefer to move Bobby Abreu or Juan Rivera to DH.
Johnny Damon played 36 games in the outfield this year and 97 at DH. With his slugging percentage down to .401 this year, he may be a tough sell for Scott Boras as a designated hitter.
Jim Thome picked up just 340 plate appearances this year, but had a big impact with a .283/.412/.627 line and 25 homers. He's just 11 home runs shy of 600, and he'd like to return to the Twins. The Twins also must decide on Jason Kubel's $5.25MM option.
Could Occupy Full-Time DH Roles
Manny Ramirez, Lance Berkman, and Aubrey Huff spent much or all of their seasons in the National League. Ramirez, whose .409 OBP was second only to Thome among free agents, seems a lock to seek a full-time DH job. Berkman could still be a first base option. Huff, the Giants first baseman, didn't DH at all this year but has plenty of experience in the role from his time with the Orioles and Rays. Only Huff is coming off a strong contract year, but any of these three will help on offense.
Fighting For Playing Time
Ten hitters who figure to chase the best opportunity for playing time: Nick Johnson, Marcus Thames, Troy Glaus, Andruw Jones, Brad Hawpe, Jonny Gomes, Russell Branyan, Jose Guillen, Mark Kotsay, and Jorge Cantu. Some of these guys can still play the field. A few, such as Thames and Jones, are coming off solid part-time seasons. Seven of them reached double digits in home runs.
Jack Cust had a robust .395 OBP this year for the A's, but they could choose to go in a different direction. He was non-tendered and then re-signed last winter, but was coming off a worse year. The Rays have a couple of non-tender candidates in Willy Aybar and Dan Johnson.
American League teams such as the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Orioles could stay in-house at DH, but there are plenty of vacancies. If Ortiz, Guerrero, and Thome are re-signed early, Manny, Berkman, and Matsui will become the best available.