Weeks after Shohei Ohtani signed, still plenty of DHs could be under the Christmas tree
Dec 25, 2023, 2:30 PM | Updated: 5:43 pm
(Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
Major League Baseball’s free agent market remains packed with hitters as the Arizona Diamondbacks continue to look for another bat.
Arizona agreed to terms with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to fill left field with a right-hander, but there remains a question mark at designated hitter.
Designated hitters Justin Turner and J.D. Martinez have been linked to Arizona for much of the offseason as right-handed options, although the D-backs now have the flexibility to find a DH on either side of the plate.
With so many names available, and in the holiday spirit, let’s visit some pros and cons for 12 alternative DH free agents beyond Martinez and Turner.
Which potential DHs are still free agents? (In order of 2023 rWAR)
1B Rhys Hoskins (2.9 in 2022)
Pros: Hoskins has been a very good hitter every season of his career with the Phillies before a torn ACL kept him out in 2023. He had blasted at least 27 home runs in four straight seasons minus 2020 when he was on pace for more. He has a career .845 OPS since debuting in 2017, and he works his walks. He plays first base, which would give Christian Walker the ability to get off his feet more often.
Cons: The injury cost him a full season, although it sounded like a World Series return was possible if the Phillies got there. He is 30 and reports have indicated several teams are interested, so there could be a competitive market driving up cost. Spotrac projects his value at $21 million per year.
1B Carlos Santana (2.7)
Pros: Santana could play in his 2,000th MLB game next season, as he provides both veteran leadership and postseason experience. He produced a .747 OPS and 23 homers last year between the Pirates and Brewers with two outs above average on defense. He is also a switch hitter.
Cons: Santana turns 38 in April, and his hard hit rate took a nosedive last year to 36.5%, a career low since Statcast began in 2015. He has also fared significantly better against lefties over the past several seasons, eliminating some of that switch-hitting advantage.
C Gary Sanchez (2.4)
Pros: The two-time All-Star spent time with three organizations in 2023 but found a role as a power bat with the Padres. In 72 games, Sanchez slashed .218/.292/.500 with 19 home runs. He also caught 526.2 innings between the Padres and Mets and could double as a backup catcher to Gabriel Moreno.
Cons: His stretch between 2020-22 was rough offensively, as he hit .195 with a .681 OPS in that span. While he crushed lefties last year, he has not had a .700 OPS against righties since 2019.
OF Teoscar Hernandez (2.1)
Pros: Hernandez has an offensive track record: He strikes out a lot, he does not walk and he hits the ball very, very hard. Last year with the Mariners was considered a down season compared to his three previous campaigns with the Blue Jays (.852 OPS, 73 home runs), but he still smacked 26 homers with a 90th percentile hard hit rate (49.4%).
Cons: Price could be one here considering he just turned 31 and reports show there is a healthy competition to add him. Spotrac values him at $16.6 million average annual value. He played a lot of outfield last year but profiles better as a DH. Plus his K rate has climbed in each of the past three seasons to 31.3% in 2023.
1B Brandon Belt (2.0)
Pros: Belt had a resurgent season for the Blue Jays in 2023 after 12 years with the Giants. His OPS leaped from .676 in 2022 to .858 in 103 games on the Blue Jays with 19 long balls. Like Santana and Hoskins, Belt could back up Walker when he is not the DH.
Cons: Belt’s 103 games last year were his most since 2019, and he still had a couple IL stints in 2023. He will be 36 in April. Also, his strikeout rate soared to 34.9%, far and away the highest of his career. There was also a greater than 300-point difference in his OPS versus righties (.890) and lefties (.572).
OF Jorge Soler (1.8)
Pros: Soler hit 36 home runs last year for the Marlins and made his first All-Star Game. His strikeouts went down, his walks rose and he walloped the ball with a 91.3 mph exit velocity. Soler, Ketel Marte and Corbin Carroll would likely compete for the hardest-hit ball of 2024. Soler also won the 2021 World Series MVP with the Braves and hit 48 home runs in 2019 with the Royals.
Cons: Soler isn’t quite a DH only, but he’s only played 87 games in the outfield since 2022 with below average defense for much of his career. There has been a level of variance to his offensive production over the years, as 2021 and 2022 — minus a dominant stretch with the Braves — were subpar (98 OPS+ compared to 128 in 2023).
OF Adam Duvall (1.6)
Pros: Duvall is not too far removed from a 2021 campaign in which he led the NL with 113 RBIs, blasted 38 home runs and won a Gold Glove while playing for the Marlins and Braves, winning the World Series in Atlanta. He dropped off in 2022 while missing the final two months with a wrist injury and rebounded with an .834 OPS and 21 home runs while playing for the Red Sox in 2023. Duvall has experience in all three outfield spots.
Cons: Duvall spent time on the 60-day IL in each of the last two seasons. He struck out at a 31.5% clip from 2021-23 with a 6.4% walk rate in that span. His hard hit rates took a dive as he go under the ball more often in 2023.
OF Tommy Pham (1.5)
Pros: Pham remains a free agent and is a known commodity who stepped up in the World Series for Arizona and was an appreciated clubhouse leader. Pham also had his best offensive season since 2019 last year with a .774 OPS and 16 home runs. He barreled up the ball with a 92.3 mph exit velocity.
Cons: Pham made it clear he wanted a full-time role, which may not be present in Arizona. He was also streaky offensively with the Diamondbacks, as his .820 OPS with the Mets before the trade deadline dropped to .720 with Arizona. His offensive output from 2020-22 was underwhelming (.696 OPS, 12 homers per year), although he made a contact lenses change in 2023 as he deals with keratoconus.
OF Joc Pederson (0.6)
Pros: Pederson had an elite 2022 campaign with an .874 OPS and 23 homers for the Giants. Last year’s production was not to that level, but he still managed a .764 OPS and 15 homers. His walk rate jumped nearly four points to 13.4% while he kept an above average strikeout rate at 20.9%. His 52% hard hit rate was one of the best in MLB.
Cons: Outside 2022, his offensive output has not quite mirrored that of a bona fide DH since 2019, and his outfield defense has been below average for a couple years.
1B/OF Joey Gallo (0.5)
Pros: Gallo has three seasons with at least 38 home runs, and he hit 21 last year with the Twins. He is a left-handed power bat who had a bounce-back season (.741 OPS) from a down 2022. He also played all three outfield spots plus first base and has a plus arm.
Cons: Gallo struck out at a 42.8% clip in 2023. That was the highest in MLB among the 362 hitters with at least 200 plate appearances. He has struck out a lot throughout his career, but his K rate has increased over the past couple seasons.
OF Aaron Hicks (0.4)
Pros: Hicks was very impactful for the Orioles last year after the Yankees let him go. The now-34-year-old slashed .275/.381/.425 in 65 games as Baltimore marched to the division crown. He also played all three outfield spots, mostly in center field, although his metrics were better in the corners.
Cons: The reason New York let Hicks go was he slashed .211/.322/.317 in 2021-22 and started 2023 with more of the same. He also had two IL stints last year and missed most of 2021.
OF Michael Brantley (0.1)
Pros: Brantley is a five-time All-Star, has a World Series ring and is a career .298 hitter. From 2018-22, he held a 124 OPS+ while hitting .307 and limiting strikeouts from the left side.
Cons: The 36-year-old has played 79 games over the past two years, including 15 in 2023. He had right shoulder surgery in 2022 and missed 14 months of games. He returned in August and started seven postseason games.