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The DH: Ozzie's Call?

by Mike DePilla
Saturday, January 23, 2010

Who will be the DH for the 2010 White Sox?

It's one of the few remaining questions about the construction of the team's roster. The starting rotation is set. The bullpen is set. And the infield and outfield is set. All that remains, roster-wise anyway (not commenting on performance expectation), is the DH.

There have been some pretty crazy ideas thrown out there:

  • The idea that rotating DHs creates flexibility, and flexibility is more important than pure offense
  • The idea that it's better to have a DH who can plays above average defense
  • The idea that Omar Vizquel can DH periodically
  • The idea that the AL is or will soon be moving away from a traditional slugging DH
  • The idea that the Sox shouldn't sign a bona fide hitter because he would take away at bats from lesser hitters already on the team.

These are five plain ol' very bad ideas, strictly from a baseball point of view. But what is even more frustrating is who is dreaming them up: the manager.

Not the team's GM, whose job it is to construct the roster. Not the GM who, despite making mistakes of his own, has the best track record of implementing personnel strategies.

No, instead it's the field manager who, for some odd reason, has come into a position of final authority on the roster.

The 2010 season will be Ozzie Guillen's 7th on the job as manager. Every single season, since his hiring before the '04 campaign, he has made a lot of noise about getting away from sluggers and moving toward NL-style "smallball" with bunts, stolen bases and hit-and-runs. And then he is given a roster featuring some combination of Paul Konerko, Frank Thomas, Joe Crede, Carlos Lee, Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome, and it's business as usual at the Cell.

Could this be the year that Ozzie finally gets the roster he wants? It sure seems like Ken Williams is going out of his way to cater to Ozzie's desires: Williams publicly said he will defer to Guillen on an DH/roster decision:

"I'm all for Jim to come back if it fits in Ozzie's plan. But, if it doesn't fit in Ozzie's plan and rotation, and Jim doesn't get enough at-bats to be Jim and be successful, then it's not a workable situation for the club, for Ozzie, or for Jim."

There's no doubt the Sox do need to move away from the station-to-station softball style; no one has pushed for that more than me. But there's a difference between getting away from sluggers and actively choosing worse hitters.

There is something to be said for flexibility, it might be OK to rotate the DH position between multiple hitters. But that is provided that the hitters in question are good hitters. Rotating the position between below-average hitters is, to say the least, counterproductive. Is it worth taking a 100+ point hit in OPS solely to create flexibility?

The obvious answer is no, and yet that is what the Sox would do if they DH'ed Mark Kotsay against righties instead of Jim Thome. This team, as currently constructed, should fare well against lefties but it shouldn't be difficult to see that the team will struggle mightily against right-handed pitching.

Since October, I was sure that Williams would make some kind of splash to change the complexion of this offense. Sure, he's made a bunch on minor moves, but I still expected one big Nick Swisher-like trade. There were tons of possibilities, some more realistic than others. Adrian Gonzalez, Adam Dunn, Prince Fielder, Jeremy Hermida, BJ Upton, Joey Votto...

My money was on the Rockies' Brad Hawpe, a slugging lefty who could be pried away with a good package of prospects.

But whatever the reason, Williams declined to make the big move, and now he's seemingly handed the reigns of player acquisition to Ozzie. Despite his stubbornness and smallball fantasies, Ozzie Guillen, I believe, is not stupid.

Will "good hitting" trump "bad hitting"? It seems simple. That's why I expect Jim Thome to be in Glendale with the Sox when position players report February 25.

(...Unless Williams still has that big acquisition waiting in the wings. I know, I know, I need to give up on that.)


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