One of the more interesting changes in AL baseball in recent years has been the move away from classic one-tool DHs, a la Harold Baines, Paul Molitor or Edgar Martinez, and toward using the slot strategically to give position players a day of partial rest, to exploit a platoon advantage, or to ease guys back into the lineup from minor injuries. There are still prototypical DHs in baseball, of course, but teams seem increasingly reluctant to burn a roster spot on one who's anything less than exceptional with the bat. The AL East increasingly demonstrates both sides of this mindset, with options ranging from the ultimate modern-day DH, David Ortiz, to the Rays, who last year gave Luke Scott the most starts at DH -- and he only had 61 of them.
Because I'm weighing several factors here -- the contributions of individual players, each team's usage of its DH slot, differentiating the hitting prowess of each team's DH from whatever defensive atrocities the team allows him to commit -- I'm not going to have a cool tabular stat table for each entry in this list. You're going to have to pick your stats of choice and dispute my rankings. With no further ado...
5) Tampa Bay Rays - Some Guy
Joe Maddon is the ultimate lineup tinkerer, and nowhere is that more evident than his usage of his DH slot. As I said, no one started more than Scott's 61 games at DH for Tampa Bay last year -- and Scott's gone, with no obvious replacement. Wil Myers might spend some time at DH, if his defense in right field doesn't improve. Matt Joyce will probably spend some time there against righties. David DeJesus or Sean Rodriguez might get some starts there if the outfield is too full. Of these names, the only intimidating bat is Myers, who really figures mostly to start in right field. If an unexpected Rays contributor doesn't emerge at DH, you can expect it to look a bit like the Orioles' DH situation last year (not great).
4) New York Yankees - Alfonso Soriano
The Evil Empire's black magic worked its wonders on Soriano last year. After a trade from the Cubs to the Yankees, Soriano posted his highest OPS+ (129) since 2006. Soriano enters 2014 as the Yankees' primary DH, though the team has hinted about him getting some starts at first base if Mark Teixeira doesn't play every day. With the departures of Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, though, Soriano doesn't have a lot of competition for daily DH duties, except, of course, for the team's need to keep aging, defensively challenged players like Derek Jeter off of the diamond. But Soriano is 38; the aforementioned Wells and Hafner prove that Yankee Black Magic doesn't last forever. Resultingly, it's hard to envision Soriano putting in quite the year he did before. Somewhere at or just above average is probably a more reasonable forecast.
3) Toronto Blue Jays - Adam Lind
Lind's 2013 was the offensive season he was supposed to have years ago. Since a breakout 2009, Lind had wallowed through struggles, demotions and injuries. But last year, he slashed a tidy .288/.357/.497, splitting time between DH and first base in 143 games. 2014 will be the year for Lind to prove that 2013 was real, though, with extra consequences given that it's his walk year and he's 30 years old. Personally, I'd make the not-so-bold prediction that 2014 Lind is somewhere between 2013 Lind and 2010-2012 Lind, good for above-average production but maybe not quite so elite-looking.
2) Baltimore Orioles - Nelson Cruz
Although the Orioles have given lip service to giving Cruz equal time in left field, his glove has been in a downward slide for years, and David Lough's primary value to the team is in his glove, not his bat. The team's offensive roster is basically built for Cruz to DH full-time, with some spot appearances from Nolan Reimold, Steve Pearce, Henry Urrutia or (ugh) Delmon Young -- whoever makes the team after spring training. As for Cruz -- he's not a sure thing, especially coming off a 2013 PED suspension, but his bat has been a pretty steady commodity, not posting a below-average OPS since 2007, and slashing a nice .266/.327/.506 outside of his time off last year. Unless he's been a steroid mirage all along, Cruz is a good bet to improve the Orioles' offensive fortunes and look like one of the better DHs in the A.L. East. Except...
1) Boston Red Sox - David Ortiz
There's nothing much to like about David Ortiz. He crowds the plate and then whines when he gets pitched inside. He trashed an Orioles dugout phone during a temper tantrum last year. He whines about ball and strike calls that don't go his way. He redeemed himself a bit as a motivational figure in the wake of Boston's horrible terrorist attack last year, but overall he's just not a very likeable person. Oh yeah, and he's clearly the best DH in the A.L. East. Ortiz just hits the baseball. At 37 last year, he slashed .309/.395/.564 with 30 home runs. The consolation prize for Orioles fans, of course, is that the team has Ortiz's kryptonite, in the form of Brian Matusz, who has held Ortiz to a career 1-for-20 with 12 strikeouts. That is by far my favorite David Ortiz statistic.
So, there you have it. Sound off about my DH rankings in the comments.