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Young, Napoli lead DH market with Ortiz off table

Napoli, Young lead DH market with Ortiz off table

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Young, Napoli lead DH market with Ortiz off table
BOSTON -- The designated-hitter market would have been led by David Ortiz, but the Red Sox made sure that didn't happen.

Big Papi's two-year deal with Boston was announced on Monday, keeping him away from teams like the Rangers that likely would have competed for him.

"I don't think there was any doubt [I'd be back]," Ortiz said at his introductory news conference. "They approached me really well. Our negotiation this year was easier than ever. They knew what they were looking for."

Now, with Ortiz out of the mix, one of the Rangers' own for the past two seasons takes the spotlight: Mike Napoli.

Napoli played just nine games at DH in the regular season, but he profiles as the type who could fill the position on a regular basis because of his power. His average fell nearly 100 points in 2012, to .227 from .320, and his slugging percentage dropped from .631 to .469. Napoli still hit 24 home runs, a solid showing despite a dropping from 30 in 2011.

It's possible that if Napoli goes to an American League team, he could be rotated between DH and first base, if not catcher too. Even more than last year, full-time designated hitters were rare.

In 2011, there were seven players who appeared as a DH in at least 100 games -- enough for half the number of AL teams. In 2012, there were just two who reached the mark: Billy Butler of the Royals and Delmon Young of the Tigers. It's become a rotational position.

Young, who posted a .267/.296/.411 line with 18 home runs, will likely be with a new club next year. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski made clear after the World Series that Young's not in his plans going forward.

"We're thankful for things [Young and closer Jose Valverde] have done for us," Dombrowski said. "But also you have to make some business decisions."

Travis Hafner's out the door too, leaving Cleveland behind. The Indians declined his $13 million club option in favor of a $2.75 million buyout. Hafner has cracked 100 games played once in the past five seasons because of injuries and had a .228/.346/.438 line with 12 homers in 66 games in 2012.

"I wasn't surprised by it," Hafner said last week. "At this point, you just kind of sit back and wait ... You just kind of see what the interest is like and go from there. At this point, I really have no idea what's going to happen."

Luke Scott had an option declined by the Rays, with a $1 million buyout. But unlike Young and Hafner, he has a window to return.

"As far as the news on me is concerned, I had my suspicions about what would happen," Scott said. "I know the business side of the game and everything. A good thing is I talked with [Rays executive vice president] Andrew [Friedman], [and] he was very positive. We had a good talk and we're still not ruling out the possibility of next year. We'll circle back around and see what might happen."

Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena is a free agent and could be looked at as a DH. On the Yankees, Raul Ibanez showed he was still serviceable as an outfielder, but contributed at DH as well. Andruw Jones is similar, although he was left off the postseason roster.

One team is sure to need a DH: the Astros, who enter the AL this year. Two of their former stars, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee, are both available.

More than most positions, DH is one that can be filled creatively. Could Aubrey Huff, on whom the Giants declined an expensive $10 million option in favor of a $2 million buyout, bounce back to his 26-home run form from 2010? What about a pair of Dodgers outfielders, Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu? They could be DH candidates going forward.

Jonny Gomes proved a leader on the A's and had a strong season despite just 99 games played, with a .262/.377/.491 line and 18 homers. His chances of coming back to Oakland lessened when the A's traded for outfielder Chris Young, general manager Billy Beane acknowledged.

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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