The designated hitter position has always puzzled fantasy baseball owners. Many consider it as an extra spot in the lineup to start a strong hitter who would otherwise be on the bench. Some view it as a nuisance, and others just slot any ol' hitter they can pick up. And then there are those that look at the position as its own spot, with a handful of specific players that can help your stats, but hinder your flexibility.
If you use it as an extra slot for the hot hitter of the week, you might end up chasing good stats as opposed to building them up. In other words, in leagues with weekly lineup changes, you'll put in a hot hitter -- from the week before. But as we all know, short-term hot streaks are just as unpredictable as anything else.
But is the DH spot a nuisance? Owners could simply slot a player won't hurt the batting average, but won't really help with the counting stats either. That way, owners can spend more on better players at other positions -- theoretically. It's tough to add a player that's not going to hurt you in batting average unless you choose him earlier than the final rounds of a mixed league. By doing that, you are costing yourself value at other positions, which is what you're trying to avoid, unless you decide to wrap up your draft with several pitchers.
Finally, do you work toward picking up some of the DH-only players to slot in that lineup spot? I look at it like this -- you have five outfielder slots, a corner infield spot and a middle infield spot. That's plenty of space to get your hot hitters or your promising prospects into your lineup. So why not grab some of the DH-only players that can really help your hitting stats, like David Ortiz or Billy Butler?
Six-time Tout Wars champion Larry Schechter wrote about designated hitters in his book, Winning Fantasy Baseball. He said, "If it's not a close call, I'm fine sacrificing a little roster flexibility for more value. In some leagues, DH-only hitters tend to go for a nice discount."
If it's good enough for Schechter, it's good enough for me.
Below, I rank the (projected) designated hitters for every team, and put other eligible positions in parenthesis. Billy Butler, Victor Martinez and David Ortiz headline the DH-only players for fantasy play, so they're ranked separately at the top.
Ranking designated hitter-only players
1. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox -- Over the past three seasons, Big Papi has averaged .311, 27 homers and 86 RBI. He's obviously a huge injury risk, but he's been that way for several seasons now. He played six games at first base last season, and could do so again, giving him eligibility there later this summer.
2. Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals -- An OBP king, Butler didn't play one game at first base last season. However, the Royals should be offensively stronger in 2014, with better tablesetters. Look at him in Round 9 or 10.
3. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers -- Martinez is one year removed from his knee injury, and new Tigers head coach Brad Ausmus wants him to play some games behind the plate. That's great for fantasy play, since he'll bring his big bat to the catcher position. If he duplicates last year's stats, he'd be a top-five catcher in 2014.
Ranking designated hitters with other eligibility
1. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (C/1B) -- Santana's also going to see some time at third base this season. If he could pitch in the ninth inning, I'd take him in the first round.
2. Alfonso Soriano, New York Yankees (OF) -- Sure, he hit about .250 last season, but he was also the only 30-15 outfielder in the game, and the Yankees are loaded for bear (and Red Sox) this season.
3. Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles (OF) -- He's coming off a 50-game suspension for his involvement with Biogenesis, but he joins the Orioles lineup as a free agent, and he should see a ton of fastballs that Chris Davis and Adam Jones won't get.
4. Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays (1B) -- He's actually one of my favorite late-round sleepers this season, hitting cleanup for the Blue Jays.
5. Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox (1B) -- If you can stomach his sub-Mendoza .197 batting average over the past three seasons, then you'll be rewarded with the 29 homers and 75 RBI he also averaged since 2011.
6. Mitch Moreland, Texas Rangers (1B) -- Moreland follows up Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios in the heart of the Rangers' order. If he can bring his average back up to .275, like he hit in 2012, he should be able to notch 20-24 HR and 70-75 RBI.
7. Raul Ibanez, Los Angeles Angels (OF) -- Entering his 19th season in the majors, Ibanez will dust off the cane once more to bat in the Angels' underperforming lineup. He's also supposed to see some time at first base and in the outfield.
8. Logan Morrison, Seattle Mariners (1B) -- The former Marlins outfielder comes over to the American League for the first time, but considering he has averaged 91 games played over his four-year career, he's more of an AL-only late rounder.
9. John Jaso, Oakland Athletics (C) -- As a DH, he's a horrible run producer -- but as a catcher, he's averaged just 33 RBI over the past three seasons.
10. Matt Joyce, Tampa Bay Rays (OF) -- Still a great weapon against right-handers, but Joyce just can't figure out the lefties (.164 batting average against LHP in 2013).
11. Jason Kubel, Minnesota Twins (OF) -- After a couple seasons outside of the Twin Cities, Kubel returns to Minnesota after an injury-filled season. He smacked 30 home runs and knocked in 90 RBI with Arizona in 2012.
12. Marc Krauss, Houston Astros (OF) -- He'll hit in the middle and back half of a lineup that was one of hte worst in baseball last season, but we could see several batters in this slot for Houston.
Travis Hafner is still without a team, and Jason Giambi signed a minor-league deal with the Indians last fall.
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy leagues. You can also follow/mock him @davidgonos on Twitter