Biggest Winners and Losers of MLB's Plan to Have National League DH in 2020
If Major League Baseball is able to return this summer, it may be with the designated hitter in both leagues.
Since its inception in 1973, the DH has existed only in the American League. But as first reported by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, it could expand to the National League for 2020 as a consequence for MLB's plans—which, to be clear, are the very definition of "fluid"—for reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The league is looking at a possible early July start for an 82-game season in which teams would be restricted to playing regional rivals. To wit, AL East teams would play only other AL East teams and also teams from the NL East and so on.
The regular crossover would require consistent rules, hence the proposal for a universal DH. As a bonus, it could also keep pitchers healthy in the face of unusual workloads.
So which NL teams would and wouldn't benefit from a universal DH? Let's answer that with a look at the winners and losers in each of the league's three divisions.
NL East Winner: Washington Nationals
Way back during spring training, the Washington Nationals seemed to have more hitters than they really needed for 2020.
Specifically, it was hard to see how manager Dave Martinez would find regular at-bats for veterans Howie Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman and Asdrubal Cabrera. Each seemed ticketed for a platoon role in deference to infielders Eric Thames, Starlin Castro and Carter Kieboom.
A universal DH would allow Martinez to start at least one of them on a regular basis. The most obvious beneficiary would be Kendrick, who's coming off a superb 2019 campaign that featured a .966 OPS in the regular season and some huge hits in the Nats' run to their first-ever World Series title.
The Nats might also give right fielder Adam Eaton regular starts at DH. Though he played in 151 games last season, the 31-year-old has otherwise had some trouble with injuries in recent seasons.
NL East Loser: Philadelphia Phillies
Whether the Philadelphia Phillies would benefit from a universal DH depends on your opinion of Jay Bruce.
New manager Joe Girardi's most obvious options would be to either start Bruce as his regular DH or play him in left field so Andrew McCutchen could take it easy on his surgically repaired knee. Either way, Bruce would go from being a bench jockey to a regular.
From one perspective, more action for a guy with 312 career home runs is a good thing. But from the other, Bruce is a 33-year-old who's only mustered a .732 OPS over the last two seasons. Heck, even his capacity for crushing right-handers has dried up.
If Bruce can't cut it, top prospect Alec Bohm is a potential savior for the Phillies. But he wasn't yet MLB-ready at last check, and that's not changing soon unless some miracle allows minor league baseball to reopen.
Elsewhere in the NL East
Apart from the Nationals, the New York Mets would also make out well with a universal DH.
The spot could go to young slugger Dominic Smith, who put up an .881 OPS and 11 home runs in 89 games last season. Health permitting, the Mets could just as easily use the DH to provide regular at-bats to veterans Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie.
For their part, the Atlanta Braves could use the DH as a time share for Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall. The former had an .816 OPS against right-handers in 2019, while the latter had a 1.130 OPS against left-handers.
No matter what happens, the Miami Marlins will almost certainly be an also-ran in 2020. Even still, being able to platoon Garrett Cooper and Matt Joyce at DH would give them more of a fighting chance.
NL Central Winner: Cincinnati Reds
Similar to the Nationals, the Cincinnati Reds came into 2020 with more hitters than available lineup spots.
If manager David Bell indeed gets to use the DH this season, his first instinct might be to hand the position to newly signed right fielder Nick Castellanos. It's an ideal spot for him, as he's an extra-base hit machine who's defensive metrics are notoriously bad.
If Bell would rather keep Castellanos in right, he could start Aristides Aquino at DH. Though he was looking like the odd man out in the outfield, his bat still inspires excitement in the wake of the 19 homers he hit in only 56 games last season.
If not Aquino, the Reds could form some kind of platoon at DH with their other spare hitters: righty batters Nick Senzel and Phillip Ervin and lefty batters Josh VanMeter and Derek Dietrich.
NL Central Loser: Chicago Cubs
Contrary to the Reds, it's not clear how the Chicago Cubs would use a universal DH to their advantage.
Victor Caratini and David Bote might have first dibs after posting solid numbers in 2019, but neither has much in the way of star potential as a regular. Newcomer Steven Souza Jr. might be a different story, but only if he can stay healthy and productive for the first time since 2017.
New manager David Ross' other play would be to start slugger Kyle Schwarber as his regular DH, with Ian Happ moving to left and Albert Almora Jr. taking over center field. Any defensive upgrade provided by Almora's glove, however, could be canceled out by his anemic bat.
In all likelihood, the Cubs would have a revolving door at DH. That's not necessarily a bad thing, yet it wouldn't be an obvious leg up on the competition either.
Elsewhere in the NL Central
If the DH does indeed come to the NL, the Milwaukee Brewers will have an answer to their Ryan Braun conundrum.
After they signed right fielder Avisail Garcia and first baseman Justin Smoak, Braun seemed ticketed for the bench despite his MVP pedigree and solid production (.849 OPS and 22 homers) in 2019. Surely, a regular lineup spot sans a defensive component would suit the 36-year-old better.
The St. Louis Cardinals, meanwhile, could reserve the DH for one of two aging veterans: Matt Carpenter or Dexter Fowler. Either way, that would mean more at-bats for outfielders Tyler O'Neill and Lane Thomas.
This is a rebuilding year for the Pittsburgh Pirates, so a universal DH would be largely inconsequential for them. But if they want to see what third base prospect Ke'Bryan Hayes can do, they could always make room for him by shifting Colin Moran into a DH role.
NL West Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
As if the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't already love mixing up their lineup, just wait until they have an extra spot to work with.
If it's a right-hander on the mound, lefty swinger Matt Beaty would probably be first up for duty. He had only a .775 OPS as a rookie in 2019, but he got to right-handers with an .840 OPS and all nine of his homers.
If it's a lefty on the bump, A.J. Pollock or Chris Taylor would get the call. Albeit in only 108 plate appearances, Pollock smashed southpaws with a .906 OPS and six homers last season. Taylor was almost as good, hitting lefties to the tune of an .859 OPS and seven homers in 162 plate appearances.
Manager Dave Roberts' options wouldn't stop there. He could also give veteran third baseman Justin Turner some light days at DH and rotate Max Muncy and Corey Seager through that slot.
NL West Loser: Colorado Rockies
The Colorado Rockies didn't even enter this season with enough quality hitters for an eight-man lineup, much less a version with nine hitters in it.
Out of the club's presumed reserves, Ian Desmond would be the best candidate for regular duty at DH. But only by default. The .741 OPS he's posted in three years as a Rockie translates to a well-below-average 82 OPS+.
A better option for manager Bud Black might be to put Daniel Murphy at DH and hope it reawakens the 35-year-old's bat. But if not, the only benefit of that scenario would be the defensive upgrade gained from planting Garrett Hampson at second base and moving Ryan McMahon to first.
The wild card is top prospect Brendan Rodgers. But he's coming off shoulder surgery, and there's also the question of how prepared he'll be if he can't get at-bats in the minors.
Elsewhere in the NL West
The Arizona Diamondbacks won't be complaining if the DH goes universal.
That would be an excuse for them to try out a platoon of the lefty-hitting Jake Lamb and righty-hitting Kevin Cron. Lamb was an All-Star as recently as 2017, and Cron launched 45 homers in only 123 games between the minors and majors last season.
Elsewhere, the San Diego Padres might regret trading hulking slugger Franmil Reyes. But they still have Wil Myers to use at DH. Alternatively, they could hand the spot to Francisco Mejia for the purposes of having Austin Hedges' glove behind the plate on a regular basis.
For the San Francisco Giants, the DH would be a means to give regular breathers to veterans Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Posey could even stick there if the club wants to give Joey Bart an extended audition as its new franchise catcher.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.