This week's signing of Casey Kotchman by the Indians (1 year, $3 million) probably didn't seem like a lost opportunity to most Yankee fans, but it most certainly was.
Remember, the Yankees still need a designated hitter to replace Jorge Posada (and Jesus Montero). But the good news is, since the Yankees brought back Andruw Jones to be half of the platoon (he hit .286/.384/.540 vsL last year), they only need a guy who can hit right-handed pitching, regardless of position or defensive capabilities. Easy, right?
Here are all the free agent batters still on the market, from CBS Sports. The highest OPS vs R of anybody on that list belongs to Derrek Lee (.260/.313/.470, .783), followed by Raul Ibanez (.256/.307/.440, .747) and Vlad Guerrero (.291/.315/.428, .743). Two ex-Yankees who have been brought up several times as options were even worse -- Johnny Damon (.255/.314/.401, .715) and Hideki Matsui (242/.318/.336, .654).
Posada's line against right-handed pitching last year? .269/.348/.466 (.814 OPS).
That's right. Now that Kotchman (vsR: .313/.394/.444, .838 OPS) is off the market, every remaining free agent batter had a lower OPS vs RHP than Posada did last year. Remember how Jorge was hammered last year as being washed up? We might be longing for that .814 OPS by May.
(The other option would be to use Jones as a full-time DH, but considering he hit .173/.303/.406 vsR, it's probably not a good idea.)
Yes, I know the Yankee line is "we'll use the DH as a half-day off." Sure, they can DH Alex Rodriguez once a week... but who plays third? The same guy who would play short or second -- Eduardo Nunez, who hit .259/.313/.360 vsR last year. If they DH one of the outfielders, we're back to Jones, or maybe Chris Dickerson (.237/.268/.368, .637 vsR last year).
They could try Jorge -- no, not Posada. Jorge Vazquez. The Mexican slugger has been in Scranton for two seasons now, hitting .270/.313/.526 in 2010 and .262/.314/.516 in 2011. Unfortunately, he's right-handed, and right-handed pitchers have held him to a .259/.318/.495 (.813 OPS) line. That's right around what Posada did, except Vazquez did it against Triple-A pitching. I'm all for giving Vazquez a chance, but realistically, his Scranton numbers don't indicate he's the answer.
The bottom line is every in-house option and every free agent put up weaker numbers than Posada did last year -- and it wasn't like Posada was crushing it last year.
So, what do they do? Sign Guerrero or Ibanez and hope they can turn back the clock for a year? Bring back Damon or Matsui and hope nostalgia translates into home runs? Promote Vazquez and hope he reminds us all of Shane Spencer?
Alas, hope is not a plan.
There is an X-factor -- 26-year-old centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes. As with all Cuban imports, he may not actually be 26. (I'm reminded of Brian Cashman's great line about Orlando Hernandez -- "he's 29 if he signs here, 32 if he signs anywhere else.") But a lot of people seem to think he'll be a 20/20 player with a decent batting average. The Yankees don't need a centerfielder -- they have two on the roster, with Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner -- but having a guy who can play every outfield position is always a useful guy to have.
But someone is probably going to offer Cespedes a lot of money to be a starting centerfielder, and the Yankees seem to have found fiscal responsibility this off-season. If they couldn't beat a $3 million offer for Kotchman -- or even Jim Thome at $1.5 million -- what makes you think they're going to sign Cespedes?
So get ready for Ibanez, who will have some electrifying home run calls from John Sterling (I suggest "Ibanez, you bomb yas!") but pile up the Ks and GDPs until he's released in July to make way for whoever they can get for Dellin Betances.
But they'll still be 10 games up on the Red Sox.