As much as I hate to admit it, the universal DH appears inevitable. It won’t come in the 2019 season, but I’m almost certain it will arrive no later than the new CBA deal in 2021. I’ve always been anti-DH in the NL, which is weird given my modern baseball thinking and OCD, which makes me love uniformity. And while I’ll miss seeing home runs from power-hitting pitchers like Bumgarner, Syndergaard, Greinke, and Colon, if a pitcher is good enough to hit consistently, like Ohtani or Lorenzen, they should still find appearances in the DH spot.
Four out of the five NL East teams are ready to compete in 2019. How would adding an extra everyday bat fare for each of these squads?
New York Mets:
The Mets have been one of the better teams when it comes to pitchers hitting in recent years. Mets pitchers have had some amazing moments at the plate, from Steven Matz’s four-RBI debut to Noah Syndergaard’s two home run game and the unforgettable “Colon looking for his first hit of the year, and he drives one, deep to left field, back goes Upton, back near the wall, IT’S OUTTA HERE!” However, the Mets current roster would benefit greatly from the DH, and it would help out four players in particular.
God forbid Peter Alonso comes up and he is exactly what they say he is: an above average power hitter with below average defense at first base. Where would the Mets find a spot for him to continue his offense production and not hurt the team by giving up runs on defense? If only there was a position where a player could hit and not worry about fielding. Oh, there is? Oh, it’s not in the NL yet? Alonso has the perfect makeup of a DH. RotoChamp has him projected to hit 20 home runs in just under 400 plate appearances. Without having to worry about potential defensive struggles, if Alonso can hit, he will be an everyday player. The rookie is projected for 1.2 WARP over half a season, but that would at least double if he plays every day, and he’d also benefit from not losing value with his defense. I project that if Alonso was a full time DH for the whole season, he would have at least a 3 WARP.
Currently the Mets have too many outfielders, but they have too many second basemen as well. Where will they put Jeff McNeil, the sophomore second baseman who had a .381 OBP in 63 games last season? The current solution is to see if he can play the outfield, which will be overcrowded when and if Cespedes returns. The new perfect solution? DH. McNeil is only projected to get 220 at-bats in 2019 due to his new bench role, but in those 220 at-bats he is still projected to have a .352 OBP. Now, imagine if he produced that way over 440 at-bats from playing every day. Not to mention, the Mets say that McNeil has “sup-par defense,” even though he has yet to show it. The DH is the best way McNeil could get every day playing time as an overall efficient player.
Not entirely necessary in 2019, but given the Mets have him under contract until he is 40, Robinson Cano will definitely need to be a DH in the next few years. Back in 2014, when he signed with the Mariners, Cano was even quoted saying that he expects to play DH by the end of his contract. Steroids or not, Cano can still hit a baseball very well. The one qualification for a DH? The ability to hit a baseball well. CHECK. Cano has one of the most beautiful swings of his generation of baseball players and is providing excellent production in his late 30’s with no sign of slowing down. If Cano at 40 can produce half of what he can do now, he will be a quality DH.
The last benefit for the Mets, which will not be an immediate benefit and will come with some obvious downsides, is Yoenis Cespedes. If the DH were to be implemented in 2019 it might allow Cespedes to return from his injury sooner. RotoChamp even has Cespedes listed as a DH right now. Obviously, Cespedes has the power to be a DH – that is a given. The 33-year-old would also benefit greatly from taking the pressure off of his knees. The main issue with Yo being a DH would be the absence of his amazing arm in the outfield. Cespedes has 47 of his 67 outfield assists in his 4 years with the Mets and they are all something special. Cespedes doesn’t need to be a permanent DH, but giving him a few days off a week in the OF would certainly help his injury situation, and even though it might keep him off the field in the short term it would most likely keep him on the field longer for his career.
In addition to the four players above, Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie could also benefit from being in the DH spot. The moral of this is the New York Mets are perfectly positioned to have another everyday bat in their lineup and have multiple options that are ready to produce. Adding any of these bats regularly to the Mets lineup has the potential to add 2-4 extra wins to the club, which would help them return to the playoffs.
The Atlanta Braves won 90 games in 2018 and won the National League East. Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies will only get better, Freddie Freeman is going to be Freddie Freeman, and if their pitching can hold up, they should be competing for the division again. Even though the Braves just graduated their top talent in the farm, they still have two logjammed hitting prospects that could find a spot if the DH were to be implemented.
The Atlanta Braves signed Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal after he played only 52 games in 2018. If Donaldson can return to his 2014-2016 form, this would be an amazing investment. What would be even better is if the Braves could put Donaldson in a nice DH spot. Similar to the Cespedes situation, the DH would help an injury prone player that is an excellent hitter play in more games without being dragged down and harmed by playing in the field. Donaldson’s defense has dipped lately as well and his production could slip enough to where he is not viable defensively. The biggest benefit to Josh Donaldson adapting to the DH role, however, would be a young third baseman by the name of Austin Riley. The Braves top hitting prospect is currently blocked by Donaldson, but if the DH was added then obviously there would be an opening. Rotochamp has Riley projected to have 122 at-bats this season with a .270/.328/.475 slash line – projecting that over a full season would be a quality rookie campaign.
The Braves outfield would also benefit from adding a DH. Currently their four outfielders are Acuna, Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, and Johan Camargo. Obviously, Acuna and Inciarte aren’t leaving the outfield, but Camargo and Markakis would benefit from not playing every day in the outfield. Camargo has only played one game in the outfield, but it’s clear there is not a spot for him in the infield. With no alternative option like a DH, the Braves have no choice but to play Camargo in the outfield. As for Markakis, he’s coming off arguably the best season of his career at 34 years old. His outfield production is holding up fine now but, in a few years, if he wants to be productive he’ll most likely have to move to the DH role. Whenever outfield prospect Christian Pache is ready, moving Markakis to DH this year or next year would open up a spot for him.
If you want to get really crafty, the Braves could also put Brian McCann at DH and bring up top catching prospect Alex Jackson.
The Phillies have added Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura this offseason. Sure, it’s not the Harper/Machado combo that fans have been craving –– they can still get both of them at this time –– but it has been a successful offseason so far.
If Rhys Hoskins can’t handle first base, guess what position would be perfect for him? You guessed it, DH. Similar to the Peter Alonso argument, Rhys isn’t the best fielder in the world and the DH spot would be perfect for him as well. The only caveat is that the Phillies don’t have an obvious replacement at first base.
Another added benefit of having the DH would be playing time for Scott Kingery. The top prospect who has been limited to a bench role due to Cesar Hernandez would get the biggest immediate benefit to this rule change. Whether Cesar or Kingery end up at DH, the other one would be playing every day at second.
Beyond Rhys and Kingery/Hernandez, there is really no one else that I project will get a good share of DH at-bats on their current roster.
The Washington Nationals would be able to handle the DH pretty well — not as well as the Mets — but they do have a few options who can play DH.
The most popular DH option would be Matt Adams who currently “splits” time at first base with Ryan Zimmerman. Both of these options could play DH while the other one starts at first. Right now, I believe Zim can handle playing first base more often than Adams, which is why I would have Adams listed as the starting DH. Even though Adams is technically rated as the better defensive first baseman, his stats are based on a smaller sample size than Zimmerman. Adams is projected for 16 home runs in just 257 at bats as a platoon player, but if allowed a full role he could hit upwards of 25 home runs.
Adam Eaton’s injury history could also certainly place him in the DH spot. Eaton has only played 118 games in the past two seasons combined. He did play well in those 118 games, hitting .300 with a .394 OBP. If he didn’t have to put so much stress on his left ankle, that kind of production from the leadoff spot would greatly help the now Harper-less Nationals.
If Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes both find themselves hitting well, one of them could also find some time in the DH spot.
Usually the criteria for a DH in simplest terms is a good hitter who lacks production in the field. Unfortunately, there might not be a single “good player” on the Marlins entire roster. Another problem with the Marlins having to put someone at DH is that they would have to sign another person to play every day. If they move any of their current starters to the DH position they’d be forced to start players like Miguel Rojas, Peter O’Brien, Rosell Herrera, Garrett Cooper, or Austin Dean, and, well, those players are not good. Let’s try and make this work anyway.
The Marlins actually have three players who could play the DH role. The first is newly signed outfielder Curtis Granderson. The 37-year-old’s numbers may be down from what they were in his prime, but Granderson is an amazing clubhouse presence and a great team leader that the Miami Marlins desperately need. Granderson can certainly provide pop every now and then and be an intangible asset to the young Marlins team, but there is no place for him and his weak arm in the outfield.
Neil Walker is expected to play first base for the Marlins this season, a position at which he has only played 59 games. There is no room for Walker at his natural position, second base, due to Starlin Castro. The Marlins best chance of winning appears to be developing this “young talent” they have and hoping the players pan out. Moving Walker to DH would allow them to test whether they have another Justin Bour in Peter O’Brien or Garrett Cooper at first base.
Martin Prado would also make a quality DH. Prado is somewhat removed from hitting .305 in 2016, is starting to get up there in age, has battled injuries the past few years. However, he still produces when healthy, so DH would be an obvious spot for him. The main issue is that the only replacement third baseman the Marlins have is Deven Marrero, who has not produced at all during his time in the MLB.
I’d say the Mets are the readiest team in the division to adjust to a universal DH. They have three former all-star players who can step right into the DH spot now, along with a top power prospect in Peter Alonso and a man who came up hitting in Jeff McNeil. The Mets have more players ready to produce now, giving them a variety of options to make up their infield and rotate through a DH spot. The Atlanta Braves have one or two above average DH players – Donaldson and Camargo/Markakis can benefit well there, but Donaldson would only be an effective DH if Austin Riley can come up and produce. The Nationals and Phillies are both in similar spots where they have players that can play the DH, but not any obvious designated hitter. There are players they can throw in to give them some time off, but no one that’s exclusively meant to be a DH. The Marlins should put their aging veterans in the DH spot to get their young players a chance to see what they can produce.
Featured Image by Keith Allison – Flickr