But the ones that can produce are just as valuable as ever. They changed the shape of the division races, and teams could be interested in this free-agent market of sluggers.
Just ask the Twins, who used Jim Thome's raw power to bolster their offense after they lost Justin Morneau to a midseason concussion ... making Thome's one-year contract a bargain. Or ask the AL champion Rangers, who turned a one-year gamble on Vladimir Guerrero into the fountain of youth for the former league MVP.
The White Sox were hoping to get the same boost from Manny Ramirez when they claimed him off waivers from the Dodgers. Instead, they got two extra-base hits, 16 singles and two RBIs in 24 games, and one of those RBIs was when he drove himself in on his lone home run in a Chicago uniform.
The Yankees didn't have a full-time DH, but they got production out of Marcus Thames in his time there after signing him to a Spring Training invite just before camp opened.
The search for a good designated hitter can be hit-and-miss, much like the swing-and-miss game of a lot of veteran DHs. They're dangerous when they make solid contact, which is what keeps them in the game. Just about half of David Ortiz's 140 hits this year went for extra bases, including 32 homers -- his highest total in three years. Thome, signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal in late January, bettered that ratio with 25 homers, 16 doubles and two triples out of his 78 hits, contributing to a 1.039 OPS.
It's hard to tell if the days of long-term deals for DHs are done. Adam Dunn could change the shape of the market if he agrees to not play first base and considers a role primarily as a DH. But this past season's standings show there's still a place for them among the contenders, and there are contenders still looking for that offensive punch.
Looking to buy: The Tigers need offense, and their DH opening is the easiest place to find it. They would love to add Dunn, but could also get creative and add Victor Martinez there while slotting him into the catching mix with Alex Avila. ... Likewise, the White Sox could be players for a similar left-handed-hitting run producer if they do not re-sign Paul Konerko. ... Like Detroit, the Rays haven't gotten much production out of their DH spot the past two years, and it could be the more cost-efficient way for them to add some offense if they lose Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena to free agency. ... The Athletics need a power bat but don't want to sacrifice defense, which could leave them looking for a mid-level hitter.
Top dog: If Dunn relents on first base, he's unquestionably the biggest name here. If not, it depends on what the Rangers and Guerrero do with his $9 million mutual option. He doesn't have the same whiplash speed with his bat, but it's fast enough for him to get to a lot of pitches that most hitters just don't reach. He can expand his strike zone and get away with it, and it makes it very, very difficult for pitchers to get him out.
Best of the rest: Johnny Damon isn't your traditional power-hitting DH, but he was more productive batting second and third in Detroit than his stats might suggest, making him a table-setting option for clubs who have enough power at other positions. ... Jose Guillen disappeared in the Giants' outfield down the stretch, but he could be an understated power source for clubs back in the AL, as he was in Kansas City. ... Hideki Matsui is an established DH option who still pounds right-handed pitching and produces with runners in scoring position. ... Ortiz will be back with the Red Sox after they decided to pick up his option. ... Thome and the Twins have mutual interest in his return, but his power numbers will be very tempting for clubs in a part-time role if they can't work out a deal.
Worth a shot: Jason Giambi, Mike Sweeney.
Potential 2012 class: A healthy season could put Carlos Guillen onto next winter's market as a switch-hitting DH/superutility option, or could make him a midseason trade option if the Tigers don't have the at-bats for him and he decides he wants out. ... Milton Bradley could be back on the market if he can't coexist with new Mariners manager Eric Wedge, but back-to-back down seasons haven't helped his marketability. ... If Prince Fielder goes to the AL, would be play at first base or DH?