Face-off: Designating Hitters and Capping Salaries In Baseball?

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IApril 9, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 6:  Ken Griffey Jr. #24 of the Seattle Mariners walks against the Minnesota Twins on Opening Day at the Metrodome on April 6, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)

This is one half of a two-person face-off on two of the more controversial topics in baseball. Andy Mease has the other half of the debate here:


Perhaps nothing has been more debated since its inception than the Designated Hitter rule in baseball. Some fans, like Andy, would like to see the DH become the rule across the sport.

Others, like myeslf, are in favor of a decidedly opposite future.

Another topic that has been continually brought up since 1993 is the issue of whether or not baseball should have a salary cap.  I'm on the fence on this one, but I've got a few ideas on how this could be worked into baseball.

The idea of here is to present a true debate. Hopefully, you will have an opinion too.  Bring it out in the comments. 

Let the debate begin!

Designated Hitter a Design for Disaster?

Nothing better defines the difference between baseball's two leagues than the inclusion (AL) or exclusion (NL) of the designated hitter, a non-defensive player who replaces the pitcher in AL lineups. His job is solely to hit.

The DH rule was adopted by baseball almost half a century ago to boost offense. The American League, and almost all minor leagues, now utilize the DH rule.

The National League is the lone holdout. 

While the DH has certainly accomplished its original goal of inflating offense, it has also produced the satellite benefit of extending the careers of several marquee hitters and arguably a few pitchers too. 

Does that make it worth saving? We've seen the benefits, but what about the disadvantages?

The biggest disadvantage of the DH rule is that it robs the AL of a lot of strategy.

National League managers have to make several more pitching changes and must structure lineups, pitching staffs, and benches so they can match up late in games.

NL managers usually won't stick with a starter late in close games because of a poor bat. 

In the AL, managers make fewer pitching changes by far and can structure their benches around having hitters instead of a blend of situational players.

There is, in short, far less strategy in the AL.

The other argument I present against the DH rule is that, while it obviously extends the careers of hitters who otherwise would have to retire, it also shortens the career of some pitchers. 

Think of how many pitchers have gone from NL to AL in the last decade and watched their ERAs sky-rocket as they failed to live up to expectations.

Also, with managers able to utilize an extra hitter instead of the pitcher, starters tend to have more wear and tear on the arms as they are left in games longer.

Instead of lifting a pitcher to create a more favorable hitting matchup, a manager might elect to simply leave that pitcher in the game since he does not have to bat.

I'm not advocating that the DH be removed from all levels of the game. I think the rule has definite benefits at the collegiate and high school levels.

However, it is detrimental in the upper minors (if not all minors) due to the fact that NL pitchers don't get a chance to hit until they crack a major league roster. This has led to a marked drop in pitchers' performances as batters.

There are the occasional bright spots like Carlos Zambrano and Micah Owings, but far more pitchers are totally inept at the plate than not.

I'm not sure how I feel about it in the majors.

I think that the additional strategy gives the NL the edge in interest, but offense sells tickets. I would say that, at the very least, the DH should not be expanded to the NL and should stay as the AL's unique feature. 

The best part about the DH in the majors is that it gives the AL it's own definite game and preserves the historical fact that the two leagues are, in reality, separate entities that operate under a cooperative agreement.

How About that Salary Cap?

The only topic more debated in baseball since the 1994 strike is the need to adopt and NFL/NBA/NHL style cap system.

While it makes financial sense for baseball to adopt some sort of salary control system for the benefit of both the upper and lower echelon clubs, the financial model that is utilized by most sports may not entirely fit baseball.

A salary cap will probably become a necessary element of the next collective bargaining agreement. The real question is not whether it should or should not be, but rather how it should be structured so that all clubs will benefit.

My proposal would be to install a salary floor and well as a ceiling.

Every team would be required to spend a certain amount, let's say $70 million, on player salaries. This would eliminate teams—the Florida Marlins come to mind—who trade away players coming up on big contracts and allow them to be consistently competitive.

On the other end of the spectrum, the high payroll teams would be forced to cut back spending.

Let's say that they are now to only spend up to $130 million. What does this do?

Well, it removes the competitive edge that teams like the Yankees and Red Sox have in signing talent by forcing them to only spend a certain amount.

If their stables of stars are willing to take less to play for the Yankees, they can, but they can also make more by going to a team (say the Washington Nationals) without a star player. 

Suddenly, you start to edge toward that parity that the NFL seems to enjoy. 

Opponents of the salary cap say it ruins dynasty-building and gives unfair advantages to teams.

I'm not sure I see the argument. 

The NFL has had four teams win multiple Super Bowls since 1992, and three of those teams have won back-to-back championships.

There are still dynasties.

The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are perennial contenders in the NFL simply because they are adept at acquiring and honing talent.

If anything, the New York Yankees have proven that you can't really buy a championship. Conversely, teams like the Steelers and Tampa Bay Rays have proven that you can grow a championship team from the ground up. 

As for the unfair advantages, where are they?

If anything, there is an imbalance right now. Certain teams have a yearly chance to contend, while others have absolutely no opportunities.

The NFL certainly has its share of perennial duds like Detroit and Cleveland, but for the most part every team has a chance to compete every season.

The exciting part about what parity has wrought is that now you have new teams competing in the playoffs every year. There are your perennial contenders like Pittsburgh and New England, and then there are your surprise teams (Dolphins in '08, Saints in '07, Browns in '02).

Wouldn't it be fun to see the Yankees—if they can learn to spend wisely—and Red Sox —who already do spend wisely—joined in the post season by the Royals, Mariners, or Orioles?

How about seeing the Cubs challenged by the Pirates or Reds, or the Mets fighting to hold off the Nationals? 

A salary cap would also have a possible (read: not guaranteed) side effect: With a lessened need to spend revenue on expensive superstar players, teams could lower ticket and concession prices to make ballgames affordable again. 

You want to create an attendance boom? How about making games inexpensive enough that the average fan could get to 10-12 games a season without going bankrupt.

Closing Notes:

Andy and I haven't read each other's articles before posting our own. We posted them and went back and inserted the link to the other person's article. We often debate informally on AIM, but decided that it was time to put some of these compelling arguments here to get even more opinions and ideas.