We’re only a few weeks away from a shortened and inevitably-weird 2020 MLB season. Despite all the back-and-forth, hand-wringing, and labor disputes, the one issue that the MLBPA and league agreed to pretty much off-the-bat is a universal designated hitter.
This is welcome news for some NL teams, including the Reds, whose General Manager, Dick Williams said the team was designed for a DH that hadn’t yet existed in the NL (the reality is they added a ton of depth, some of which would inevitably lead to bad defense, but that’s another story).
With players signed, and rosters pretty much set, save a few competitive slots here and there that were halted when Spring Training stopped, teams are likely to utilize who they already have to fill the DH slot.
While there is decent flexibility on most National League rosters, since no teams went into the season with a permanent DH, some teams have an obvious designated hitter candidate. Others meanwhile, will be forced to use the position to rest players, shift around their lineup, and field whatever bottom-of-the-barrel hitter is on their roster (cough Pirates cough).
Several NL East teams stand to gain an advantage with a full-time designated hitter. The Mets have an obvious candidate in 34-year-old Yoenis Cespedes, who has never been known for his defense. The Braves could easily employ Nick Markakis in the DH spot. They re-signed him this past winter as a fourth outfielder, but they also have Adam Duvall and Austin Riley.
The Phillies have an obvious DH as well in Andrew McCutcheon, but it all depends on when he returns from a torn ACL injury. Upon his return, he’d be a perfect fit even if he’s not 100 percent. Barring that, Philly also has Jay Bruce available.
The Nationals signed Eric Thames and Starlin Castro, while also re-signing Ryan Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick — all of whom should be better players with additional rest and managing down the amount of time they’re in the field.
As mentioned above, the Reds happened-upon a beneficial change to this year’s rules, as they had to figure out playing time for Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, Shogo Akiyama and sophomore outfielder Nick Senzel. Having an additional bat in the lineup will certainly help this team.
Unsurprisingly, the Dodgers and their infinite depth will benefit from the rule change as well. While they don’t have one obvious candidate for the role, one of the reasons for the Dodgers’ recent success is their lineup flexibility and depth. Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor regularly bounce around between various positions depending on the opposing pitcher or rest-days. An everyday DH spot will make it much easier to get at-bats for them, Max Muncy, AJ Pollock, and Joc Pederson.
Another beneficiary of the new rule is Milwaukee, since they signed a fourth outfielder in Avisail Garcia, which likely would have moved Ryan Braun to first base to share-time somehow with Justin Smoak. That log-jam is solved easily, especially considering neither Braun nor Smoak is winning a Gold Glove any time soon.
The Cubs will have the option of having defensive question-mark Kyle Schwarber DH, but barring that, could also get utility-man David Bote’s bat in the lineup when they wish.
The Diamondbacks’ Jake Lamb is coming off a major injury but could ease into the lineup as a DH, and the Cardinals will likely put Matt Carpenter in the spot most often.
The Padres signed Wil Myers to a huge extension a few years ago, he’s probably best-served as their full time DH. Ditto goes for the Rockies and Ian Desmond.
The Marlins had planned on platooning Matt Joyce and Garrett Cooper in the outfield, but the DH basically puts both bats in the lineup.
Then there are the teams that just seem to exist in the NL. Although a shortened season makes anything possible, some rosters are just basically hopefulness. In all honesty, the Giants and Pirates might as well have their pitchers hit.
Unsurprisingly, in many cases, the good teams get better, the mid-tier teams go either-way, and the bottom-teams will hardly benefit at all. It’s almost as if fielding a decent roster and trying to win plays well regardless of the rules!
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano