National League teams didn’t build their rosters with the expectation of a universal designated hitter slot for 2020, but most are capable of filling the job from within. Some teams could really benefit from the anticipated temporoary rule change … among them, the Mets.
The advantage for the New York organization is multi-faceted. It’s not just about stuffing more hitting ability into the daily lineup in the upcoming truncated season, though that’s a factor as well. The DH would also create some important near-term roster flexibility and possibly open additional long-term strategic options.
It really all comes down to two guys: hobbled former superstar Yoenis Cespedes and one-time top prospect Dominic Smith. Without a DH slot, both face questionable roster prospects. Cespedes is working to return from major leg injuries. Nobody really knows how he’ll look at full speed in the outfield grass. Smith is all but fully blocked at first base by emergent star Pete Alonso. The Mets already know how Smith looks in the outfield and would rather not see much more of it.
The Mets are already crossing their fingers with outfield defense. J.D. Davis isn’t exactly a glove-first roster piece. The club will rely upon Brandon Nimmo for most of the action in center field; he’s a palatable but hardly exceptional performer there. Jake Marisnick can cover a lot of ground, but he’ll be a reserve. And Michael Conforto will be an everyday presence in the lineup, so there’s not much space anyway.
Under the circumstances, it’s a bit of a luxury to carry a guy like Smith. But what other choice do the Mets have? He can still be optioned, true, but that’s a heck of a way to treat a guy that turned in an eyebrow-raising .282/.355/.525 batting line in 197 plate appearances over an injury-limited 2019 season. And Cespedes? We don’t know when he’ll be ready, but he has now had ample additional time to work back to full health while the game has been paused. You can safely assume he’ll be clamoring for a return to the MLB roster as soon as possible, particularly with a newly incentive-laden contract and free agency beckoning after 2020.
Somehow fitting both of these guys on the same roster? It’s a bit tough to imagine, but the Mets could possibly make it work since Davis can play in the infield. With a DH slot, it’d at at least be plausible. And that would open the door to a potentially explosive offense, with depth to spare as injuries or performance issues arise. It’s sort of silly to consider these two talented players in a DH platoon, but if it comes to that … well, it’s a first-world problem.
The broader roster management benefits are perhaps even more significant here. Smith needs a full shot at the majors; perhaps the DH will clear a sustainable path for him in the organization or pave the way to an eventual trade. And having that bat-only position to utilize makes it much easier for the Mets to deal with, and even benefit from, the final season of the Cespedes contract.