On Wednesday, I discussed MLB's recent sword rattling regarding increasing offense around the league, and what would happen if the National League decided to immediately adopt the designated hitter. Yesterday I looked at the National League East to make some sense as to how teams may adjust with their current rosters, today I take a crack at the Central.
|Team||Most Games as DH in 2014 (Games Started)||Projected 2015 DH|
|Cubs||Mike Olt (3)||Javier Baez|
|Reds||Ryan Ludwick (5)||Committee|
|Brewers||Aramis Ramirez (5)||Ryan Braun / Jonathan Lucroy / Adam Lind|
|Pirates||Pedro Alvarez & Gabby Sanchez (3)||Pedro Alvarez|
|Cardinals||Matt Holliday (6)||Matt Holiday|
Chicago Cubs - The Cubs are an interesting combination of infield youth and talent both at the major and minor league level. If the DH were enacted in the NL today, Chicago would certainly have the ability to get creative using the position to their advantage in alleviating an infield log-jam and getting their best bats in the lineup on a daily basis. As the depth chart currently stands, recently acquired Tommy La Stella will play third, with Javier Baez at second, but Kris Bryant is likely ready to make his debut early in 2015, potentially displacing La Stella, and Addison Russell isn't too far behind, and threatens Starlin Castro's position security.
Dexter Fowler would be an interesting candidate to DH, considering his range has faltered, but he was brought in to play center field with the expectation that Wrigley will be a better fit for him than Coors. Consequently, it would be likely that Arismendy Alcantara would play second most of the time, with Javier Baez at the DH slot, and depending on Bryant's defensive adjustment at the hot corner, he could put in some time as well. Baez has a lot to prove at the Major League level, but his power is undeniable, and could potentially be harnessed in the designated hitter role. Even with Russell is brought up, an additional hitter in the lineup would be a positive for Chicago.
Cincinnati Reds - The Reds are in a fortuitous situation having a strong defensive team, particularly in the infield with Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier and Brandon Phillips all posting positive defensive numbers recently. As a backup, Cincy also has 28 year old Kris Negron, who last year spent time at second and third base (and two games at short, and one in the outfield). The easy choice would be for Joey Votto to become the designated hitter most days, but Votto also posts decent defensive numbers. Putting Votto in the DH slot would be a good way for Cincy to limit some of the wear and tear on their franchise player after coming off a season in which he only played 62 games, but consequently the infield defense would have to shift.
The Reds' infield would have to adjust, with Todd Frazier likely moving to cover first in Votto's absence, and Negron playing third. Negron is a capable player at the hot corner, but it would be a downgrade defensively from Frazier. Ultimately, i think this is unlikely considering Votto's prowess in the field, and I think the Reds would use the DH spot to give players a ‘half-day' off.
Milwaukee Brewers - With the Brewers acquisition of Gerardo Parra, this is one of the easier situations to envision. Ryan Braun is coming off an injury, and although his defensive metrics still track well, he would likely carry most of the load at the DH spot. There is also some flexibility to get Jonathan Lucroy's bat in the lineup without having him catch every day. Lucroy could move to first on days off behind the plate, Adam Lind could DH and Braun could man right field, with Parra coming off the bench. Considering Lind's career success against righties, .293/.349/.510 with a 128 career wRC+, this is a solution that would make sense for multiple reasons.
Pittsburgh Pirates- The Pirates arguably have the best defensive outfield in baseball, and an institution of a designated hitter in the National League will not be likely to do anything to disrupt it. Looking at the infield, Pedro Alvarez is a man without a position. Alvarez suffered from throwing issues at third base, and the Pirates have been searching for a situation where he can hit but have limited defensive liability. Alvarez has never been a solid fielding third baseman, and he consequently will be deferring to Josh Harrison, and moving to the other side of the infield.
Corey Hart would likely takeover full time at first full time. Hart has a career 130 wRC+ against southpaws and a serviceable 107 wRC+ against right handed pitchers, and if healthy, would be a nice addition to the Pirates offense.
St. Louis Cardinals - Peter Bourjos played an above average center field in 104 games 2014, but is currently slated as a fourth outfielder. With the tragic demise of Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals went out to make a move for an additional outfielder even knowing they had Bourjos, which is a credit to the Cardinals depth, as well as Bourjos' anemic offensive skillset. St. Louis could embrace the DH by moving Matt Holliday into the role, replacing him in left field with Jon Jay, putting Bourjos or Randal Grichuk in centerfield, and keeping Heyward in right. Neither Grichuk nor Bourjos are average offensively, but Holliday has not been rated with a positive DRS since 2010, and limiting his defensive time would be a plus. This of course assumes that Mark Reynolds does not have a resurgence, which considering he hasn't been a league average hitter since 2012, is not likely to happen.
Tomorrow I will look at the National League West, and share some conclusions regarding the designated hitter position.
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Steven Martano is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.