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Mathile: Stay away from New York, Bryce Harper

| Thursday, February 28, 2019

Dear Bryce Harper,

Spring training has begun, and you still have yet to sign with a team. What’s the holdup? Well, since you have waited this long to make your decision, I figure it wouldn’t hurt to put my “two cents” in.  

I urge you to take one team off of your radar — the New York Yankees. As a lifelong Yankees fan, I have been highly disappointed in the decisions the front office has made in recent years, turning incredible players who can hit and field their positions into designated hitters.  

We saw an example of this in 2016 when the Yankees moved Alex Rodriguez from third base to designated hitter. Before his steroids scandal, Rodriguez was both a power hitter and a great third baseman. After his 2014 suspension, Rodriguez came back swinging the next season with remarkable stats: 33 home runs and 86 runs batted in. Following his comeback season, the Yankees moved Rodriguez to designated hitter for the entirety of what would be his final season, and the result was a career-low .200 batting average. Granted, he only played half of the season due to his early retirement, but either he aged a ridiculous amount in one year or there is some sort of correlation between his move to designated hitter and his career-low batting average.

Moving a well-rounded position player to designated hitter is a poor decision. On the surface, designated hitter seems like a good idea — it’s less wear and tear on the body since he’s not playing the full game — but being a power hitter is also rough on the body. When you take a position player out of the flow of the game, you are interfering with their ability.

Rodriguez isn’t the only example — just look at Giancarlo Stanton’s 2018 stats with the Yankees.  

Last year, after being traded from the Miami Marlins to the Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton moved back and forth between designated hitter and the outfield. In 2017, Stanton hit a career-high 59 home runs with the Marlins, but his 2018 stats were significantly lower for a player who should have been the “Cadillac” of designated hitters. He went from leading the MLB with 59 home runs in 2017 to just 38 in 2018, and his strikeouts increased to 211 from the previous season’s 163.

The overflow of outfielders on the Yankees’ roster partnered with Stanton’s 2017 power output may have influenced manager Aaron Boone’s decision to alternate Stanton between designated hitter and the outfield. But this constant back and forth did not help Stanton’s career.  

This is not just a problem for the Yankees. Other players have been set up to fail by moving to this position.

Another non-Yankee player to look at is Frank Thomas. Yes, he was one of the best designated hitters baseball has ever seen, but some of his most well-rounded seasons were those that he played as a first baseman. In his 1996 season, Thomas appeared in the lineup as a first baseman. That season, “The Big Hurt” had his second-highest career batting average (.349), 40 home runs and 134 RBI. Even though Frank Thomas wasn’t particularly good with the glove, he was arguably a better all-around player when he played in the field.

With all of the rumors about where you’ll end up this coming season, Bryce, I urge you again not to sign with the Yankees. All of the speculation about you joining the team has made me skeptical of the executive decisions being made by the Yankees’ front office. If you joined the team, you would become just another outfielder or potential designated hitter. You know they aren’t going to move Aaron Judge out of right field — he’s far too essential to the lineup to move.  

I would hate to see your career go south because of a poor decision in your first free agency.  Because of your incredible talent as a power hitter, you could be forced to alternative between the field and the designated hitter position like Stanton was last season. You have far too much talent to be a designated hitter. For your sake, and ours, take the offer from the Philadelphia Phillies. They could build their whole team around you going forward. (Sidenote: Since the Phillies are in the National League, we wouldn’t have worry about facing you during the regular season). You deserve to be with a team that needs you and can pay you what you’re worth. I mean come on, Manny Machado just signed a $300 million contract with the Padres, and I believe that you are far more gifted all-around player than he is.


Lauren Mathile

(a fan patiently awaiting your decision)

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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