The recent election of former Oakland Athletic Frank Thomas into the Hall of Fame highlights the need for the A’s to have a permanent power-hitting designated hitter on their roster. Thomas in 2006 led the A’s to first place in the AL West and getting to the ALCS. His 2006 performance, .270 BA, 39 HRs, 114 RBIs, earned Thomas a 4th place finish in MVP balloting that year. (Thomas did return to the team briefly for the end of the 2008 season after being released by the Blue Jays).
No one on the current roster fits the role previously held by notables Dave Kingman, Dave Parker, Harold Baines or Thomas – all big name power hitters, still with plenty of bat to offer in the twilight of their careers. Even in 1987 the A’s brought back Reggie Jackson to fill the fulltime DH job.
Jack Cust assumed most of the DH role in 2007 – 2009 that saw 84 HRs for the three seasons but a batting average that hovered around .240 resulting in partial playing time in 2010 and a AAA assignment.
Under Manager Bob Melvin, the Athletics have done a rotation or platoon of designated hitters, occasionally giving a position player “a half day off” based on the need for right-handed or left-handed hitting based on pitching opposition.
Off season moves so far have focused on pitching and players who have defensive skills rather than any big threat power hitters. With the addition of outfielder Craig Gentry to the roster for 2014 (replacing the departure of Seth Smith and an unproductive Chris Young) the A’s are likely to continue the DH shuffle for next year.
Gentry provides defense and on base percentage, but the A’s cannot sacrifice Josh Reddick’s glove or the defensive speed of Yoenis Cespedes or Coco Crisp to make one of them a permanent DH. It’s likely when a hot performer from the group needs a partial rest, one of them may be tagged for DH duties.
There have also been rumors that John Jaso may see many of the DH at bats for 2014 as well as having Alberto Callaspo fill in at times. Jaso showed he could handle a bat before being sidelined with a concussion and, after his trade to the Athletics in July last year; Callaspo batted .301 and had a .425 slugging percentage in his first month with the team.
Having a big bat capable of home runs in the permanent DH slot would solidify and benefit the A’s lineup for success but no one on the market parallels the DH quality of Boston’s David Ortiz or the Angels’ Albert Pujols. It’s unlikely that the A’s would chance big money for an available Nelson Cruz, Travis Hafner, or Luke Scott – all still available.
Without a specific off-season acquisition specifically for DH, look to see more of the same 2013 approach from the A’s.