Ranking How Valuable Universal DH Would Be for Every NL Team

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 9, 2021

Ranking How Valuable Universal DH Would Be for Every NL Team

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    Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

    As the MLB lockout continues amid ongoing collective bargaining agreement negotiations, the universal designated hitter is once again a topic of discussion around baseball.

    The implementation of a universal DH was part of Major League Baseball's proposal to the MLBPA prior to the lockout, and with the potential to create more roles for veteran sluggers, it is an idea that the player's association should be able to get behind as well.

    It would undoubtedly be a boon to the market of several free agents, including Nelson Cruz, Nick Castellanos, Jorge Soler, Andrew McCutchen, Eddie Rosario, Albert Pujols, Daniel Vogelbach and others.

    While it would be business as usual for the American League, there would suddenly be a new lineup spot to fill for each of the 15 National League clubs.

    For some teams, that could mean unclogging a roster logjam or opening the door for a top prospect to carve out a role in the majors. For others, it would become one more item on the offseason to-do list that needs to be addressed before Opening Day.

    Ahead, we've ranked each of the 15 NL squads based on how well equipped they currently are to handle a universal DH announcement once the lockout is lifted.

15. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Matt Vierling
    Matt VierlingEric Espada/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .726 (seventh in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.53 (seventh in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Matt Vierling, Didi Gregorius

    The Philadelphia Phillies still need to figure out who will be joining Bryce Harper in the other two starting outfield spots and how the left side of the infield will look before they can start pondering a potential starting DH.

    With an open competition expected at shortstop, top prospect Bryson Stott could conceivably push Didi Gregorius into the DH role in the final year of his contract. There's also a scenario in which both of those guys line up on the left side and Alec Bohm assumes DH duties while he tries to rebound from a disappointing 2021 season that saw him slash .247/.305/.342.

    Matt Vierling hit .324/.364/.479 with six extra-base hits in 77 plate appearances in his MLB debut last season, and while he could push for an expanded role in the outfield, he has the power potential to be a good fit in the DH role as well.

    In truth, the universal DH would just give the Phillies one more spot that needs to be filled.

14. Washington Nationals

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    Jake Noll
    Jake NollMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .754 (fifth in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.47 (ninth in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Yadiel Hernandez, Jake Noll

    After a trade deadline fire sale, the Washington Nationals scuffled to a 17-41 record over the final two months of the season, but all the trades did create some opportunities for unheralded contributors.

    Yadiel Hernandez hit .273/.329/.413 for a 103 OPS+ with 18 extra-base hits in 289 plate appearances as a 33-year-old rookie, and with Lane Thomas, Victor Robles and Juan Soto expected to be the team's starting outfield, his best path to playing time next year would seem to be in a DH role.

    The farm system is thin on MLB-ready prospects, but Quad-A corner infielder Jake Noll has the offensive upside to play his way into being an MLB contributor.

    The 27-year-old hit .300/.346/.494 with 28 doubles, 17 home runs and 69 RBI in 118 games at Triple-A, and he has just 30 career plate appearances in the majors, so he has yet to get an opportunity to show what he can do in the big leagues.

13. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Oneil Cruz
    Oneil CruzJustin Berl/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .673 (14th in NL)
    Team R/G: 3.76 (15th in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Oneil Cruz, Michael Chavis, Mason Martin

    The Pittsburgh Pirates roster is not exactly overflowing with impact bats to begin with aside from breakout star Bryan Reynolds, so finding a viable DH could be tricky.

    That said, a DH slot would allow them to keep slick-fielding Kevin Newman penciled in as the everyday shortstop while also giving potential rising star Oneil Cruz everyday playing time.

    The towering 6'7" prospect has proved the doubters wrong by showcasing the defensive chops to be an MLB shortstop, but Newman was a Gold Glove finalist and is a major asset defensively, so this would be the best of both worlds. Cruz, 23, hit .310/.375/.594 with 38 extra-base hits in 68 games in the upper levels of the minors last season before finishing with a 3-for-9 showing and a home run in his first MLB action.

    Former Boston Red Sox top prospect Michael Chavis looked like a star in the making once upon a time, and the 26-year-old showed some intriguing pop in limited action after he was acquired at the deadline.

    Prospect Mason Martin had a 35-homer, 129-RBI season in 2019, and he logged an .805 OPS with 25 home runs and 81 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021, so he's one to watch as well.

12. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Seth Beer
    Seth BeerSteph Chambers/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .692 (13th in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.19 (12th in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Seth Beer, Jordan Luplow, Drew Ellis

    The D-backs would lose one of baseball's best hitting pitchers in Madison Bumgarner if the universal DH were implemented, but that's a small price to pay to open a spot for bat-only slugger Seth Beer in the everyday lineup.

    The 25-year-old hit .287/.398/.511 with 33 doubles and 16 home runs in 100 games at Triple-A last season, and he went 4-for-9 with a double and a home run in a cup of coffee as a September call-up. He could conceivably push Christian Walker for the starting first base job if the DH spot is not an option, but he'd be an ideal fit if it is.

    Meanwhile, corner infielder Drew Ellis hit .294/.399/.615 with 29 doubles, 20 home runs and 73 RBI in 81 games at Triple-A this year. Fourth outfielder Jordan Luplow crushes left-handed pitching and would be a platoon option as well.

11. Chicago Cubs

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    Clint Frazier
    Clint FrazierAdam Hunger/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .719 (10th in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.35 (11th in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Clint Frazier, Harold Ramirez, Greg Deichmann

    The Chicago Cubs took a one-year, $1.5 million flier on Clint Frazier after he was non-tendered by the New York Yankees, and with a change of scenery and the ability to focus on fully utilizing his plus raw power in an everyday DH role, he could be one of the steals of the offseason.

    Under-the-radar pickup Harold Ramirez has also shown some pop with 41 doubles and 18 home runs in 818 career plate appearances, while Greg Deichmann is an MLB-ready bat who was acquired from Oakland in the Andrew Chafin trade last summer.

    If the Cubs front office decides to pursue a reunion with Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant, the DH role could also be occupied by Frank Schwindel or Patrick Wisdom after they impressed while replacing the two franchise icons in the second half.

10. Colorado Rockies

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    Ryan Vilade
    Ryan ViladeIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .731 OPS (sixth in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.59 (fifth in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Ryan Vilade, Elehuris Montero, Michael Toglia

    With C.J. Cron re-signed to a two-year extension and Ryan McMahon settling in as the everyday third baseman, the Colorado Rockies are loaded with young corner infielders and have nowhere to put them.

    Ryan Vilade hit .284/.339/.410 with 40 extra-base hits and 12 steals in 117 games at Triple-A this year, and he had a brief three-game audition with the big club down the stretch. He played in the Futures Game in July and has little left to prove in the minors.

    Fellow prospect Elehuris Montero could be next in line for a shot after posting a .278/.360/.529 line with 20 doubles and 28 home runs while splitting the year between Double-A and Triple-A.

    A bit further away from the majors but with arguably the highest ceiling of all is 2019 first-round pick Michael Toglia, a big 6'5" slugger with 55-grade power and strong numbers in the minors to this point.

9. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Justin Turner
    Justin TurnerSean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .759 (third in NL)
    Team R/G: 5.12 (first in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Justin Turner, Matt Beaty, Edwin Rios

    At 37 years old, Justin Turner has lost a step defensively at third base, and he posted negative metrics (-2 DRS, -5.1 UZR/150) for the third straight season in 2021.

    Turner led the team with four starts at DH this year, while Will Smith (3) and Matt Beaty (2) were the only other players to make multiple starts. It stands to reason that he would see at least semi-regular action in the role to help keep him fresh.

    Beaty, who posted a 107 OPS+ in 234 plate appearances as a utility player, and powerful Edwin Rios, who has 13 home runs in 199 plate appearances, are the other leading in-house candidates.

    However, with Corey Seager gone and Max Muncy set to miss time with a torn UCL in his left elbow, the free-spending Dodgers could also use a newfound DH slot to sign another power bat to shoulder some of the run production load in the middle of the lineup.

8. Atlanta Braves

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    Marcell Ozuna
    Marcell OzunaIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .754 (fourth in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.91 (third in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Marcell Ozuna, Travis Demeritte

    Major League Baseball announced in late November that Marcell Ozuna would receive a retroactive 20-game suspension for violating the league's domestic violence policy, meaning he will be eligible to rejoin the team from the get-go in 2022.

    It sounds like the organization plans to welcome him back.

    "Any instance of domestic violence is unacceptable, and we fully support the decision by the commissioner's office regarding Marcell," the Braves said in a statement. "We are encouraged to know that Marcell has accepted full responsibility for his actions and is taking the necessary measures to learn and grow from the situation."

    The 31-year-old played 39 of 60 games at DH during the shortened 2020 season when he finished sixth in NL MVP voting, and he would be the logical candidate to fill the role again. That would leave some combination of Adam Duvall, Cristian Pache, Drew Waters, Guillermo Heredia and Travis Demeritte to man the outfield until Ronald Acuna Jr. returns.

7. San Diego Padres

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    Wil Myers
    Wil MyersMichael Ciaglo/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .722 (ninth in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.50 (eighth in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer

    With Tommy Pham searching for a new home in free agency, the San Diego Padres currently have Wil Myers penciled into a corner outfield spot alongside Trent Grisham and Jurickson Profar, but he has been a below-average defensive outfielder (-28 DRS, -2.8 UZR/150) throughout his career.

    Myers fits best defensively at first base, but with Eric Hosmer set to earn another $60 million over the next four years, that's not an option. The best-case scenario would be signing another outfielder and shifting Myers to the everyday DH role.

    Looking further down the road, the Padres could eventually insert top prospect CJ Abrams as the starting second baseman, with Jake Cronenworth shifting to first base and Hosmer moving into a DH platoon of sorts with Myers.

    Would they also consider using top catching prospect Luis Campusano at DH as a means of getting his MLB-ready bat in the lineup?

6. Milwaukee Brewers

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    Keston Hiura
    Keston HiuraAdam Hunger/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .713 (11th in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.56 (sixth in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Keston Hiura, Rowdy Tellez, Mike Brosseau

    Rowdy Tellez has staked his claim to the everyday first base job after he was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays last summer, but he's a middling defender at best, and shifting him to DH would allow the Milwaukee Brewers to pursue another power-hitting corner bat.

    With Avisail Garcia and deadline pickup Eduardo Escobar both gone in free agency, this team is in serious need of middle-of-the-order pop.

    A bounce-back season from Keston Hiura would go a long way, and perhaps an everyday DH role is exactly what he needs to find his groove offensively without having to focus on improving in the field.

    Newcomer Mike Brosseau is a career .277/.336/.515 hitter with 13 doubles and 12 home runs in 229 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, so he could see some platoon action.

5. San Francisco Giants

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    Darin Ruf
    Darin RufKatelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .769 (first in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.96 (second in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade Jr., Wilmer Flores

    The San Francisco Giants have a trio of players who thrived in utility and platoon roles last season, and all three would be candidates for extended action in a DH role.

    Wilmer Flores (436 PA, 111 OPS+, 18 HR, 53 RBI) can play all over the infield, while LaMonte Wade Jr. (381 PA, 117 OPS+, 18 HR, 56 RBI) and Darin Ruf (312 PA, 143 OPS+, 16 HR, 43 RBI) can both handle first base and at the corner outfield spots.

    Aside from more playing time for those guys, the DH role would also be a means of keeping 36-year-old Evan Longoria fresh in the final year of his contract. He only played 81 games in 2021 but posted a 124 OPS+ with 17 doubles, 13 home runs and 46 RBI.

    With top prospect Heliot Ramos knocking on the door for a spot in the outfield, having a DH spot would make it easier to juggle playing time once he finally arrives.

4. Cincinnatl Reds

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    Aristides Aquino
    Aristides AquinoJustin Berl/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .759 (second in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.85 (fourth in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Aristides Aquino, Mike Moustakas

    The Cincinnati Reds had one of the best offenses in the National League in 2021, but now they stand to lose Nick Castellanos to free agency after he opted out of the final two years of his contract on the heels of a career year.

    The universal DH would be an opportunity to get another power bat in the lineup to help ease that loss.

    Young outfielder Aristides Aquino is a career .220/.307/.478 hitter, but he has homered an impressive 31 times in 486 career plate appearances, making him an obvious candidate for an expanded role.

    The DH spot would also be a means of sorting out a crowded infield situation that currently leaves one-half of the high-priced duo of Eugenio Suarez and Mike Moustakas on the outside looking in for regular playing time following the emergence of Jonathan India as the everyday second baseman.

3. Miami Marlins

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    Garrett Cooper
    Garrett CooperIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .671 (15th in NL)
    Team R/G: 3.85 (14th in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Garrett Cooper, Jesus Aguilar

    Over the past three seasons, Garrett Cooper has hit .282/.357/.461 for a 117 OPS+ with 34 doubles, 30 home runs and 103 RBI in 804 plate appearances.

    He was slowed by an elbow injury last season and sits behind Jesus Aguilar on the depth chart at first base, leaving him miscast as a corner outfielder or watching from the bench. There are few more obvious candidates for an everyday role if the universal DH were expanded to the NL.

    The Marlins also have some roster flexibility after acquiring All-Star infielder Joey Wendle from the Tampa Bay Rays. He could be used at third base with Brian Anderson moving to DH, or Anderson could be shifted to a corner outfield spot with young slugger Jesus Sanchez seeing some DH action.

    Prospect Lewin Diaz is also a candidate for playing time at first base, which would then make Aguilar the go-to DH option.

    After finishing near the bottom in most offensive categories, the Marlins would benefit greatly from having another bat in the lineup.

2. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Nolan Gorman
    Nolan GormanJoel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .725 (eighth in NL)
    Team R/G: 4.36 (10th in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Nolan Gorman, Luken Baker, Alec Burleson, Lars Nootbaar

    With Nolan Arenado signed through the 2027 season, top prospect Nolan Gorman does not have a clear path to playing time for the St. Louis Cardinals.

    The 21-year-old hit .279/.333/.481 with 20 doubles, 25 home runs and 75 RBI in 119 games between Double-A and Triple-A, and while he began seeing some time at second base this year, the everyday DH role would be a great fit.

    The 2018 first-round pick has 60-grade raw power and a 50-grade hit tool, and for a Cardinals team that was inconsistent at best offensively before catching fire down the stretch, he would be another huge homegrown addition to the lineup.

    Luken Baker (93 G, .854 OPS, 26 HR, 70 RBI at AA/AAA) and Alec Burleson (119 G, .783 OPS, 22 HR, 76 RBI at A+/AA/AAA) are also in-house power threats who would fit the DH bill.

    Outfielder Lars Nootbaar hit a respectable .239/.317/.422 for a 105 OPS+ with five home runs in 124 plate appearances as a rookie last season and is serviceable if they choose to bridge the gap to the prospects to start the year.

1. New York Mets

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    Dominic Smith
    Dominic SmithThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Team OPS: .705 (12th in NL)
    Team R/G: 3.93 (13th in NL)

    Top DH Candidates: Dominic Smith, Robinson Cano, J.D. Davis

    No team would benefit more from the universal DH than the New York Mets.

    First baseman Dominic Smith has spent much of his MLB career attempting to navigate left field, and while he has done an admirable job at a position where he is not a natural fit, the defensive metrics (-11 DRS, -12.7 UZR/150) speak for themselves.

    Meanwhile, with Eduardo Escobar signed in free agency and Robinson Cano returning from suspension, the infield has become crowded with Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis also vying for playing time with those two at second base and third base.

    All of those players have the potential to make a significant impact offensively, and getting one more quality bat in the lineup will only help a team that ranked near the bottom in most offensive categories during a disappointing 2021 season.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.