Image credit: Max Muncy (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
The DH is coming to a National League ballpark near you—just not as soon as the players would like.
It’s easy to see why players want a universal DH. Removing the pitcher from NL lineups and adding a DH instantly creates 9,500 full-time plate appearances for position players each season.
This not only benefits NL players who would otherwise sit the bench, but it also increases by 100 percent the market for so-called American League players, such as recent free agents Nelson Cruz and J.D. Martinez, who are elite hitters but poor defenders.
While the implementation of a universal DH will raise hackles of traditionalists, we at Baseball America will welcome the change when it finally happens.
In light of our love for rankings and lists, we went ahead and identified the NL clubs that would hypothetically benefit the most if the universal DH were adopted for 2019.
Even though it won’t be, according to commissioner Rob Manfred.
The NL clubs we chose not only had a surplus of corner outfield and/or first base options—the traditional DH player pool—but also stood to benefit the most from removing a below-average defender from the field. For projected starting assignments, we refer to MLB.com depth charts and our own best guesses. We list outfielders in order from left field to right.
Martinez has compiled a 128 OPS+ in three seasons with St. Louis, and he helped make Luke Voit expendable. He also is one of the worst defensive players in the NL, whether wearing a first baseman’s mitt or, particularly, an outfielder’s glove. Now that the Cardinals have six-time all-star Goldschmidt manning first base, Martinez’s clearest path to at-bats would come as DH.
Sliding Schwarber from left field to DH would open a position for Happ to play every day as he enters his age-24 season. It also strengthens the Cubs’ outfield defense by Almora and Heyward taking regular defensive reps. This situation is complicated by the fact that Zobrist is projected as the starter at second base, while Javier Baez covers shortstop in the absence of the suspended Addison Russell.
The Mets have spent the offseason adding position depth by trading for Robinson Cano, Keon Broxton and J.D. Davis and signing free agents Jed Lowrie and Wilson Ramos. Now they just have to find at-bats for all the acquisitions, which is a puzzle that the DH would help solve. If that weren’t enough, the Mets are growing their own future DH on the farm, where first baseman Alonso led the minors in home runs and RBIs last season but receives uninspiring reports of his glove work. If Alonso hits big league pitchers, then the DH could be the way to maximize his value.
Not shown is Yoenis Cespedes, who had surgery on both heels last offseason and is a long shot to return this season, though if he does he could be eased back into action at DH.
The emergence of Aguilar last season coincided with an injury to Thames. Neither player is gifted defensively, which makes getting both sluggers in the lineup a challenge. Adding a DH would help Milwaukee get the most out of its personnel.
Even after trading Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, the Dodgers have a lot of outfield inventory. If Hernandez continues to produce against righthanders—or if unproven youngsters Toles or Verdugo come through—that would free Los Angeles to play Bellinger at first base, where he is an elite defender, rather than right field. Stationing Bellinger at first would push Muncy to DH, which would be a natural fit.
Adding No. 1 prospect Senzel to the mix complicates an outfield already crowded by the offseason acquisitions of Puig and Kemp. But were the DH available, the Reds could get Kemp or Winker in the lineup that way—neither is a strong defender—to free up at-bats for another one of the outfielders.
The Padres’ mismatched collection of players would fit together more logically with the addition of the DH. Myers’ best position is first base, but that avenue is blocked by Hosmer. Instead Myers is projected to start in left field, but that’s a position where the Padres have Cordero, a more gifted defender who can also hit a little bit—or at least deserves the chance to prove whether he can.