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Updated: May 17, 2010, 6:36 PM ET

Burrell highlights DH conundrum

Ravech By Karl Ravech
ESPN
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The highlight of Pat Burrell's career, at least from a team perspective, came in 2008 when he was part of the World Series champion Phillies. The financial highlight of his career, at least from an individual perspective, came a few months later, when at the age of 32 he was given a two-year contract for $16 million to be the Rays' designated hitter.

[+] EnlargeHank Blalock
AP Photo/Mike Carlson)Pat Burrell is out in Tampa Bay. Hank Blalock is in.

Flash forward to the present. Burrell has been designated for assignment, and the Rays are on the hook for the remainder of the $9 million he's owed this year. Tampa then selected the contract of Hank Blalock from Triple-A. Blalock can play first and third base when necessary and given the fact that Burrell was hitting .202 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 24 games this season, Blalock should be able to deliver at least comparable numbers. The Burrell situation speaks to a much larger issue in baseball: Should the designated hitter be designated for assignment altogether?

Entering Sunday, home runs throughout baseball were down across the board. Neither league was averaging more than two per game, and that lack of power productivity hasn't been seen since 1993. But why?

Really, really, you're asking why the power numbers in baseball are down, really? Ever hear of steroids and drug testing? The game is clean now, or cleaner than it once was. But there's more to it, and the designated hitter has a great deal to do with it.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, DHs entered Sunday hitting .240, with a .399 slugging percentage and .723 OPS (those numbers get even worse if you factor in that those pinch-hitting for DHs are 3-for-23 this season). Take those numbers over a full season and that's basically the 2009 equivalent of Willie Harris or Andy Marte. But DHs are supposed to be better than that, right?

The Blue Jays, Angels, Mariners and White Sox all had DHs who entered Sunday with sub-.220 batting averages. Mariners DHs had a .560 OPS, barely better than the .554 put up by the White Sox. Those two teams would be better off using the Padres pitchers (.593 OPS) as DHs.

In their primes, David Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero were putting up 36 home runs and 130 RBIs. In Guerrero's case, he was doing it while also playing in the outfield, thus making him far more valuable to the Angels than Ortiz was to the Red Sox. What happened to the Edgar Martinezes of the world? Did they just disappear, or are teams more interested in finding a player who can contribute more than just the ability to hit the ball? Removing any salary consideration, would the Red Sox be better off with Ortiz or Mike Lowell as the designated hitter?

The Rays have made their decision. They believe having someone who can contribute in the field is more valuable than someone who can just hit, especially when the guy is not hitting at all.

Karl Ravech is a host for "Baseball Tonight."

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