If MLB returns at all this year, much is uncertain about what it will look like. One thing seems clear: We will most likely have a universal designated hitter. Some NL clubs are better prepared than others to adopt the DH. Here’s which NL teams look good, bad and ugly with an extended lineup.
Chicago Cubs: Remember when Kyle Schwarber was a catcher? The Cubs wisely decided that if their hulking slugger was going to be a liability in the field, he should play at a less important position. Still, he has played left field like a catcher. According to Statcast, he has been worth -36 Outs Above Average over the past three years. Moving his potent bat to DH opens up playing time for the more defensively capable Alberto Almora, Jr. and Stephen Souza, Jr.
Cincinnati Reds: Without the DH, here is the Reds’ starting lineup:
The DH will allow them to start one fewer natural third baseman out of position on any given day.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers already have roughly 463 starting- caliber position players. Obviously, Clay Bellinger and Mookie Betts will play every day, but there just aren’t enough lineup spots for everyone else. A. J. Pollock and Joc Pederson will split time in left field. The one that isn’t playing the outfield can share DH at-bats with whomever Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernández displace.
Milwaukee Brewers: 2020 will be Ryan Braun’s 14th, and probably final, year in Milwaukee. He still hits well, but he can’t cover ground in the outfield like he used to -- not that he was ever great out there. Free-agent signings Avisaíl García and Justin Smoak would have pushed him to the bench. Now the team can keep his bat in the lineup more regularly.
New York Mets: Last year, the Mets witnessed a former top prospect first baseman blossom into an outstanding hitter, batting .282 with a .525 slugging percentage. No, those aren’t Pete Alonso’s numbers; they’re Dominic Smith’s. He was blown out of the water by the Rookie of the Year’s 53 home runs, but he still mashed when he got into the lineup. The team’s dilemma of having two slugging first basemen has just been solved.
San Francisco Giants: No one could have predicted the events of 2020… except possibly the Giants. Their biggest splash this offseason was to welcome back Hunter Pence, who made the All-Star team as a DH for the Rangers last year. If he can DH in San Francisco, that improves Billy Hamilton’s chances of making the team and winning a starting outfield job. That’s about as large a defensive upgrade as there can be. An NL team signing a DH has upgraded from confusing to clairvoyant.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Acquiring Kole Calhoun and Starling Marté lengthens the Diamondbacks’ lineup and stabilizes their defense, with Ketel Marte moving back to second base permanently. Still, this team was clearly constructed for the NL. Their most likely DH option is Jake Lamb, who has struggled for the past two years. Domingo Leyba would have been an intriguing option, but an 80-game PED suspension and shortened season means he doesn’t really play at all this year.
Philadelphia Phillies: On paper, the clear DH for the Phillies is Jay Bruce, who paired 26 home runs with only 19 walks last season, making him a true all-or-nothing hitter. Josh Harrison and Neil Walker could be in the mix as well. In reality, this job is just waiting for prospect Alec Bohm to claim it. With only two months of experience above A-ball, he might not be ready in 2020.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Similar to the Phillies, the Pirates’ DH gig is all set for a top third base prospect. Ke’Bryan Hayes is too smooth in the field to leave his glove in the clubhouse, but his impending arrival will move the Colin Moran/José Osuna platoon to DH. That’s still a rather uninspiring pair offensively.
San Diego Padres: The Padres have three guaranteed seasons remaining on Wil Myers’ contract. He plays several positions, but none particularly well. His power (18 HRs in 2019) lagged relative to the rest of the league last year. He’s their clear DH, but if he can’t raise his production back above league average, it’s going to be a poor use of a lineup spot-- especially for a young team on the precipice of contending.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals’ lineup is predicated on a lot of “ifs.” If Dexter Fowler doesn’t backslide, if Matt Carpenter regains his 2018 form, if Harrison Bader makes enough contact, if Yadier Molina doesn’t show his age, if Paul Goldschmidt returns to stardom, and if prospect Dylan Carlson is for real, they’ll be just fine. What are the odds on ALL of those “ifs” making good? Probably not very high. Most likely, a few will disappoint. The DH stretches their need to hit on all these dice rolls.
Atlanta Braves: On one hand, the DH will let the Braves start Austin Riley pretty much every day without having to worry about his questionable glove at third base, left field, or elsewhere. The rookie turned heads with seven dingers in his first 14 games after getting called up last May. On the other hand, his overall batting numbers were subpar. He batted just .188 with a .248 on-base percentage and decreased power from May 31 through the end of the season. For better or worse, Atlanta will find out what kind of hitter he is when MLB comes back.
Colorado Rockies: The most positive way to spin this is that the Rockies will get more playing time out of their pricier investments. Unfortunately, when those investments are Ian Desmond and Daniel Murphy, they’re better off buried on the bench. Including Ryan MacMahon, these players have to make a hash of both first base and DH. The supporting cast around Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story is simply unacceptable.
Miami Marlins: Quiz time! Name three Marlins hitters. Don’t blame yourself if you can’t do it. It’s their fault, not yours. Miami couldn’t fill a four-batter lineup, much less eight, and now it has to stretch it to nine. That means more playing time for guys like Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra. Maybe they should just let the pitcher bat anyway.
Washington Nationals: The defending champions have their pick of tailor-made DHs: Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames and Ryan Zimmerman. All these guys are pretty good hitters. What’s the ugly part? Only one of them can DH at any given time. The rest are going to have to take the field sometimes. That’s not going to be fun to watch.
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