Maybe it's time to give up on non-Papi DH's

Tom Szczerbowski

This news isn't shocking, but considering the Rays' dalliances with various dedicated DH's over the last few years, it should be welcomed by the local enthusiasts:

Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said at last week’s general managers meetings that his team could employ a four-man rotation through the DH spot in 2014 with Matt Joyce and David DeJesus as the left-handed half of that quartet and Wil Myers and Desmond Jennings swinging from the right side.

A move such as this will save the club some money, help maximize the versatility of the roster and give manager Joe Maddon a chance to get Jennings and Myers off Tropicana Field’s unforgiving AstroTurf during long homestands while still keeping their bats in the lineup.

There's a lot to chew on there, but let me take a few quick bites...

Sure, there's nothing wrong with this plan. The Rays have four good-but-not-great outfielders, and getting them all into the lineup in this fashion is actually the best plan, most days. And maybe sometimes against a tough lefty, Joyce or DeJesus can take the day off in favor of Brandon Guyer or Sean Rodriguez or whoever.

I will quibble for a moment with the idea that not going after a purpose-driven Designated Hitter necessarily saves money. Do you know who would be a great DH? Daniel Nava. Do you know how much money Daniel Nava earned last season? Way, way, way less money than Rick Reilly.

That said, it's become pretty clear that there just aren't enough Daniel Navas to go around. While roster space for hitters has become especially precious in this thrilling Era of the 8-Man Bullpen, most American League teams would love to find room for Daniel Nava or David Ortíz or Billy Butler. And for a long time, many of us have just sort of assumed that hitters like ... well, not like Ortíz or maybe even Butler, but that hitters like Nava were almost freely available, just sort of kicking around on major-league benches or Triple-A rosters because they couldn't field a position.

Well, that doesn't seem to be true. If those guys were really so available, the smart teams would find them. They would sign them as six-year minor-league free agents, or pluck them from the waiver wire, or trade a bucket of batting-practice baseballs for them. But this does not happen. Turns out that finding good hitters, even good hitters who can't field a lick, is pretty hard.

What probably is freely available? Good hitters against one side. I'll bet you could come up with a pretty good DH platoon with freely available talent ... ah, but there's that 8-Man Bullpen that essentially prevents a club from using two roster spots on guys who terrify their managers and infuriate their pitchers when doing anything but hitting.

This is among the reasons I can't get real excited about adopting the DH in the National League. Sure, I'm sick of seeing pitchers look so awful at the plate ... but it's not like doubling the DH will mean doubling the great- or good-hitting DH's. Yeah, a few guys are probably trapped, in the minors or on National League benches. Scott Van Slyke might get a shot. Everybody's got their favorite, but I've noticed that when our favorites finally get their shots, usually they don't fare so well.

Finally, I'll say this ... While good every-day hitters are not freely available, there are plenty of teams with players in the field who probably shouldn't be. Miguel Cabrera and Michael Cuddyer come to mind, and Giancarlo Stanton's not long for the outfield. There are a dozen or more "true" DH's in the majors who aren't actually DH'ing because the roster (Tigers) or the league (National) makes it impossible, at least in the short term.

And if you don't have one of those guys, there's no point in forcing the issue.

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