After months of return-to-play discussions, a shortened 2020 season looks to be upon us — and with it comes the long-anticipated and highly divisive implementation of the universal designated hitter. National League fans and baseball traditionalists recoil at the idea, but both polls we’ve conducted on the universal DH have shown that fans are pretty evenly split on the notion. In our poll earlier this spring, some were open to the idea for 2020 alone if that was one of the health/safety conditions necessary to bring about a 2020 season of some form.
That proved to be the case. And while there was talk about implementing the DH in 2021 as well, that was only on the table in the jointly negotiated season proposals between MLB and the MLBPA. The 2021 universal DH went out the window when no agreement was reached and commissioner Rob Manfred implemented a 60-game season. The two sides could — and very likely will — revisit a 2021 implementation this winter. Most expect that the DH will be here to stay, although for the time being, it’s still a temporary quirk to the upcoming campaign.
The expected lifting of the transaction freeze on Friday could lead some clubs to add a new bat to this mix — Yasiel Puig remains unsigned, and trades will again be allowed — but here’s a high-level look at each club’s options (with links to more in-depth explorations)…
- Dodgers: As explored earlier this spring, the Dodgers have a ridiculous amount of depth that should allow them to play matchups and keep their players fresh. With Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger in the outfield, one of Joc Pederson or A.J. Pollock was likely to be on the bench on a given day. Others like Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez or youngsters Edwin Rios and Matt Beaty could get DH looks at times, too.
- Diamondbacks: The D-backs have a number of options, including veteran Jake Lamb, but 2019 minor league home run king Kevin Cron might be a more intriguing option, as profiled here a couple months back.
- Padres: Outfield has been a carousel in San Diego for awhile, and trades might’ve brought some more stability to the mix but they pushed some outfield options to a more likely DH role. As Jeff Todd examined recently, Wil Myers, Josh Naylor and Franchy Cordero are among the many options.
- Giants: That late pickup of Hunter Pence looks all the more valuable now, and the Giants have plenty of other options both young and old to rotate through the spot. Plus, they’re reported to be interested in Yasiel Puig, which could impact the mix.
- Rockies: Perhaps the DH could be a means of both keeping Daniel Murphy healthier and removing his glove from the regular defensive alignment. That’d help to finally get Ryan McMahon some more regular at-bats. Ian Desmond seems likely to get some reps as well.
- Cardinals: The Cards already had plenty of inexperienced players vying for limited at-bats (Tyler O’Neill, Rangel Ravelo, Lane Thomas, Dylan Carlson), and the DH helps to create an easier path. Veterans like Brad Miller and Matt Carpenter could factor, too.
- Cubs: Kyle Schwarber has long been mentioned in DH talks. Defensive metrics are all over the map on his performance in left, but it seems likely he’ll get some looks there in 2020. Steven Souza Jr. could see some time there as he eases back into action after a grisly knee injury.
- Brewers: There’s a crowded outfield scene in Milwaukee, particularly after adding Avisail Garcia, which could mean that Ryan Braun will have the opportunity to stay fresher at DH. The Crew also added Justin Smoak, Jedd Gyorko and Ryon Healy this winter. There are options.
- Reds: With a deep outfield mix featuring Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama, Nick Senzel and Aristides Aquino, Cincinnati isn’t short on options. As Jeff Todd wrote back in May, if the Reds are willing to use Senzel in a super-utility role (still playing near every day), their flexibility would be enviable.
- Pirates: I wrote last month that the Buccos’ options at DH are pretty limited. A rebuilding, small-market club that didn’t spend money this winter after a last-place finish doesn’t have much to offer. But the short season could be used to get top prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes an audition at third base, pushing current corner infielders Colin Moran and Josh Bell to DH more often.
- Nationals: The Nats have a deep roster themselves and plenty of options. MLBTR’s TC Zencka explored the roster’s composition and how it’s well-stocked with DH options — likely led by playoff hero Howie Kendrick.
- Braves: Atlanta has a blend of veteran options (Nick Markakis, Adam Duvall) and younger players (Austin Riley) who could cycle through the DH spot. It may not be the absolute best unit in the league, but the pieces are there for a solid group.
- Phillies: Between the versatility that Scott Kingery brings on the defensive side of things and the looming presence of top prospect Alec Bohm, the Phillies should be able mix-and-match their way to a largely productive group. Kingery allows them to rest virtually anyone on a daily basis — and they could particularly lean into that on days when Bohm plays third base. Bohm could also see time at first and push Rhys Hoskins to DH occasionally.
- Mets: A pair of aging veterans (Robinson Cano, wild card Yoenis Cespedes) and a blocked former top prospect (Dominic Smith) might all benefit from the addition of a DH spot to the lineup over in Queens.
- Marlins: Matt Kemp’s ugly 2019 season makes it easy to forget that he was a very strong hitter as recently as 2019. Connor Byrne profiled Kemp and several other options in exploring the Marlins’ DH picture earlier this spring.