In an interview with Brian T. Smith, Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow says the only spot he really has to add a free agent is at the designated hitter spot. I call BS, because he could definitely add an outfield bat even if he believes in both J.D. and F-Mart. Whatever. At least he's a "Brett Wallace guy."
That statement got me thinking, though, about what he could possibly find on the free agent market. Cee Angi, in her great Designated Columnist column on Houston adding a DH, pointed out that there's a big area to mine here for marginal victories. If Houston can add an elite hitter to the spot, they'll help themselves immensely.
The problem is that doesn't often exist on the free agent market. I went through and culled out 19 free agents who signed in the past three offseasons to play designated hitter. Here's what I got:
The average years signed in that group was 1.4 and the average value of said contract was $9.7 million. Of course, that was thrown off a bit by some huge contracts mixed into some more pedestrian ones. If we take the median of those contract numbers, it falls down to $3 million, which seems more likely what a one-year contract would look like.
It also looks like for most pedestrian DH types, the most Houston could expect is 1.5 WAR, give or take an older hitter collapsing. There were a few cases of players overperforming there, but they were mainly big-ticket free agents that Houston probably won't have a shot at.
Here's also the point where we lament that Josh Willingham wasn't on the market this winter. Wouldn't he make a perfect fit for that DH/outfield spot??
While most of these names are older players at the end of their careers, those guys didn't always produce and had the most volatility in their performance. Sure, Vlad Guerrero hit 29 dingers with the Rangers in 2011, but he didn't even make it out of the minors in 2012. Same with Manny and even with Hideki Matsui, to some degree.
There's no Jim Thomes (besides, you know, Thome himself) on this market, so who should Houston target here? I'm sticking with Cee's assertion that the guy who makes the most sense is Adam LaRoche. The guy hit .271/.343/.510 with 33 homers and 3.8 WAR last season, which falls favorably in line with those best value DH signings.
He won't be cheap, but may be more freely available now that the Nationals have traded for Denard Span. That opens up the bidding for him, but I'm sure Houston won't be the only team in there. I wonder if he'd take a one-year, make good deal for $8 or $9 million and then hit the market again next winter?
If Houston decides to go the aging veteran route, it looks like Travis Hafner fits that mold the best. He'd take a one year deal, maybe for around $3 million and provide decent offense. To me, that's the most likely scenario to happen here, whether it be Hafner or Raul Ibanez or possibly even old Jim Thome.