For years this was one position where, seemingly every season, the Twins didn't have a good option. The position of designated hitter, in some respects, should be one of the easiest positions to fill because it only requires a single skill set: hitting. If a guy can run or throw or field a position or look good in a uniform, those things are simply positives. Just hit.
Chili Davis did his job in '91. Paul Molitor didn't have much power left, but he was still an exceptional hitter. David Ortiz, when he wasn't hurt or in the minors or in Tom Kelly's dog house, had his moments. But in between those guys, and between Ortiz's departure after '02 and Jason Kubel's breakout '09 season, there was a real dearth of hitters for Kelly and Ron Gardenhire to choose from.
Instead, Minnesota filled the DH spot by selecting the hot bat and by using it to give guys a break. It's part of the reason that Twins fans understand how versatility is important in their players: it's easier to give guys a needed breather if the roster is flexible enough that they can move around the field and, on occasion, DH.
Those days might be back. Much more, and a poll, after the jump.
There is a good argument for making Josh Willingham the designated hitter. He's slow, he's not the most athletic guy in the world, most defensive metrics are not kind when grading him out, and (you guessed it) he can hit.
But regardless of whether you stick Willingham in a corner of the outfield and try to find a DH, or whether you DH him and try to find a left/right fielder, the Twins are still looking at the same pool of players both on the free agent market and on their own bench. Speculation on the free agent market may shift to pitchers, at least as far as the Twins are concerned, so let's look at known quantities to see what we have. We'll assume that Span, Carroll, Mauer, Morneau, Willingham, Valencia, Casilla and Revere will be starters, leaving us bench options (who could play outfield OR designated hitter) of: Ryan Doumit, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes.
None of those guys are everyday players. But could they be platooned?
Doumit had a never-before-thought-feasible .912 OPS against lefties last year (.802 against righties), but his career numbers say that probably won't be duplicated. Neither Hughes nor Plouffe have so much experience that it's worth differentiating between 2011 and their career numbers, so I just went with the larger sample size.
If you were into playing the splits, it seems Minnesota would be best served platooning Doumit and Plouffe, whether that be in the outfield or as designated hitters. Personally I'd rather have an outfield of Revere - Span - Doumit/Plouffe with Willingham as the designated hitter, as opposed to Revere - Span - Willingham with Doumit and Plouffe splitting time at DH. The worst plan would be to start an outfield of Willingham - Span - Doumit/Plouffe (or vice versa, since Terry Ryan has actually said they're planning on moving Plouffe into left, albeit this was pre-Willingham), in which case there really are no good designated hitter options available and we'd be back to square one.
Keeping Willingham as the DH also allows for that ever important positional flexibility, since Plouffe can shift to the infield and Doumit can catch or play first base.
Which brings up Justin Morneau. Morneau still has to be considered an option for DH, and at his best can hit both left and right-handed pitching. It would force the Twins to play Willingham in the outfield (which shouldn't be too much of a shock, I'm sure the organization didn't sign him with the intention of DHing him anyway), and would turn first base into a carousel involving Doumit, Hughes, Joe Mauer and, if the organization believes he's ready for it, Chris Parmelee.
Considering the resources the Twins seem to be playing with this off-season, and understanding the very real need for pitching with this club, the position players we currently have on the 40-man roster may be the pieces we have to play with. It's worthy of discussion, certainly.
How do you see it shaking out?