New Yankees Void Could Be Filled By Old Friends

Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui could be in mix at designated hitter

By Josh Alper
|  Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012  |  Updated 5:30 PM EDT
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New Yankees Void Could Be Filled By Old Friends

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Who says you can't go home again?

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Designated hitter was supposed to be Jesus Montero's domain in 2012.

Pitching needs trumped certainty at DH, though, and Montero will now ply his trade in Seattle while Michael Pineda works on the mound in the Bronx. That leaves an opening in the Yankee lineup, albeit one that they aren't going to break the bank to fill.

So put aside any thoughts about Prince Fielder, whose continued availability has fueled the fantasy baseball crowd that often pops up around the Yankees whenever they have a hole to fill. Fielder will cost way too much for a spot that doesn't require that kind of outlay and he has made it clear that he has no interest in being a full-time DH.

That means sights should be set lower, assuming, of course, the Yankees look outside for any help at all. There's a decent chance that they use the spot as a way to give rest to Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter while Eduardo Nunez gets time on the infield.

If they go that route, you could expect Jorge Vazquez, signed out of the Mexican League three years ago, to get a long look when the team convenes in Tampa at the end of next month. Vazquez, also known by the nickname Chato because he's short and chunky, has mashed his way through the minors but his power is tempered by a boatload of strikeouts and a miniscule walk rate.

Those aren't good traits for a 29-year-old trying to make the Yankees, so Vazquez might not be the only guy to get a look. Two of the names being knocked around are sure to be familiar to Yankee fans.

Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui are both free agents who would fit nicely as a lefty bat aiming for the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium. They could man the spot against most righties, give way to the rotation (or Andruw Jones) against lefties and won't cost a tremendous amount at this point in their careers.

Damon rebounded for the Rays after a bad 2010 with the Tigers, but he isn't the same hitter he was when he left the Yankees after the 2009 title run. At 38, he's a good bet to show more decline although that could be mitigated by a drop in usage while surrounded by good hitters.

Matsui wasn't good in Oakland last season, but he did hit better away from Oakland's pitcher's park and Yankee Stadium could help him recover some of what went away last season. Like Damon, he's not the 2009 guy, but he won't cost much and bringing back an old favorite can sometimes pay off.

There are other options, including Nick Johnson should the Yankees think the third time will be the charm for the man who is either walking or rehabbing an injury. J.D. Drew, Russell Branyan and Raul Ibanez all have similar resumes to Damon and Matsui without the added allure of confirmed status in the hearts of Yankee fans.

There's also Carlos Pena, who is a better hitter than everyone mentioned. That brings a bigger price tag and word is that the Yankees are looking to spend around $2 million which wouldn't be enough to land a player of Pena's ability.

Assuming they stay within that budget, it seems like going with the devil they know will wind up being the best Yankee option.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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