Winners and Losers: MLB’s 2020 Universal DH
*Full disclosure: This is all under the rumored assumption that if and when MLB returns in 2020, both leagues will feature a designated hitter spot. This NL DH spot might seem temporary, but with league-wide support, now might be the moment MLB makes it permanent. What are some of the residual effects of that change? Who wins and who loses with the DH rule change? Let’s take a peek.
The sport of baseball, fans, players:
Huge category to lump all in one here, but it’s true. The ‘pitchers should hit’ truthers have gotten quieter over time, and players overwhelmingly support a universal DH. More high-quality at-bats in a game give a solid bump to the game’s overall on-field product. Realistically, 3(ish) of the 27 outs in a 9-inning game in the NL came via the pitcher’s spot in the lineup. That’s roughly a 10% bump in terms of giving fans more quality at-bats! I hope TV providers and media corporations are reading this. Great timing to boost the overall on-field product ahead of the TV rights for the MLB playoffs being up for bid in 2021.
Heed these words, baseball-haters, the game known as “America’s Pastime” will be BACK!
This one is obvious, but let me expand as to why. This rule expanding to the NL will certainly have an effect on the free agency market for big bats that otherwise have been put out to pasture. (Chris Carter comeback anyone??!*)
*Chris Carter is still playing baseball, and is coming off a MONSTER season in the Mexico League This dude is only 33, and could easily still be a contributor on a major league roster. For Pete’s sake, the poor guy was incredible last season and no one’s talking about it! In 120 games, he hit 49 homers, with a .293 batting average, .449 slugging %, and an OPS of 1.158… filthy! @ NL teams, someone please sign him on a flier contract!
By doubling the amount of DH spots to be filled, careers of sluggers will almost certainly be elongated. On top of that, in the 1st full 162-game season of a totally DH league (2021, one can hope), the overall league’s HR record will be broken again. Maybe even Chris Davis returns to relevance?! (Probably not, but as a Chris Davis empathizer, one can still hope.)
Los Angeles Dodgers:
Some may have already forgotten one of the most bizarre stories of this past MLB offseason involving the Dodgers. The Dodgers, as you might have heard, traded for a player named Mookie Betts. Almost immediately after the Mookie trade was public, it was announced that there also had been an agreement of a trade between the two LA teams. The Dodgers were sending outfield slugger Joc Pederson, and sometimes starting pitcher Ross Stripling to the Angels for what was expected to be 2 middling prospects.
However, that blockbuster Mookie Betts trade did not go off without a hitch as they ordinarily do. The injury history of a young pitching prospect (Brusdar Graterol) gave the Red Sox pause, delaying the transaction. In the weeklong process of re-arranging the assets the Red Sox would be receiving for Betts and David Price, a lot changed.
During that period of uncertainty, Angels owner Arte Moreno admittedly “killed” the trade with the cross-town Dodgers. Rumors of feeling impatient/getting “big-timed” seem to be the consensus as to why the Angels backed out of the pact. One might opine that in doing so, the Angels got in their own way. The owner’s veto on the trade derailed the Angels’ best chance of addressing a desperate need for starting pitching. Additionally, that move to acquire Pederson would’ve wielded them with yet another DH option. Pederson would’ve been a viable trade piece for the Angels to headline a mid-season trade for starting pitching. Instead, the Dodgers have Pederson as a platoon DH or could shop him to another NL team.
On days they face left-handed pitching, with Pederson on the bench, options at DH are plentiful. Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Gavin Lux, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and Matt Beaty are among those DH options.
I can already hear the haters jumping all over me for this one…“They already have a DH spot, they’re in the AL, you dingus!” Correct, but what else might be a factor here? Trade chips to fix their needs!
The Twins have one of the deepest lineups, flush with DH options. Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, Miguel Sano have huge power potential. Both Marwin Gonzalez and Luis Arraez are super-utility players who have played a bit of DH as well to get their bats in the lineup. Even Jorge Polanco could see time at DH.
So why would they consider moving one of those bats? Simple, they need starting pitching, badly, to be serious 2020 World Series contenders. For a team that won 101 games in 2019, their rotation could certainly use a boost. Right now, their 1-2-3 punch is solid. Berrios might not be an elite ace, but he’s had flashes of being very good and capable of anchoring a rotation. Jake Odorizzi had a breakout year in 2019, but one might expect his production to regress in 2020. Kenta Maeda will be fun to see without an innings limit and serves as a rock-solid #3. After that, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill are major health concerns/question marks.
Sano is one of the most likely DH-options to be dealt by Minnesota, should the return be worth it. Marwin Gonzalez is entering the final year of his 2-year contract, but would likely yield a much lesser return. Donaldson just signed a lucrative 4-year deal, with a partial no-trade clause, so I wouldn’t expect him to be moved anytime soon. Nelson Cruz, their primary DH, had an awesome debut 2019 with the Twins, but is in the final year of his contract, and if he has a slow start, could be shopped around. A slow start isn’t necessarily likely, however, as Cruz has proven to stay super productive regardless of his ballooning age*.
*If you told me Nelson Cruz had grandchildren, I would 100% believe it. He’s been around so long, he’s literally a year older than his team’s manager, (and Rhode Island legend) Rocco Baldelli.
Cincinnati Reds / Aristides Aquino:
What a massive break for the ballclub that’s randomly embraced a win-now buyer mode without much of a core to validate such antics. The Reds, with a glutton of corner outfielders who can hit, benefit from the DH in a massive way. Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, Derek Dietrich, Jesse Winker, and Aristides Aquino (among others) are all in the mix for a handful of spots in the heart of the Reds lineup.
Their most fun player and story of 2019 was Aristides Aquino. If you play fantasy baseball, already you know this name. That’s because Aquino, a relatively unknown young power hitter went on an absolute TEAR in 2019. Aquino destroyed AAA pitching for 78 games. Once called up to the bigs, he continued to mash the ball before falling off. In his first 115 plate appearances, he slashed .320/.391/.767 and 14 HR. However, despite a red-hot start, his September left plenty to be desired. In September his batting average dipped below the Mendoza line, giving many the impression his hot 2019 was mostly a fluke.
Either way, when a guy has a historic major-league debut, one would at least want to see what he follows it up with the next season! Following the news of an expanded roster and DH-spot in the NL, Aquino’s 2020 may have been saved. Not great circumstances with everything going on… but at least there’s a minor silver lining for an exciting young player on the fringes of a major league roster.
Also – the batting stance, that flexing homerun celebration?! Pure electricity. The ‘Let the Kids Play’ movement is alive and well in Cincy.
New York Mets / Yoenis Cespedes:
The Mets are flush with players that feature offensive potential but little defensive ability. Pete Alonso’s breakout debut in 2020 forced the Mets to turn first basemen, Dominic Smith, into a left-fielder. Smith, a former first-round draft pick, has shown enough offensive prowess to warrant at-bats at the DH spot. Beyond Smith, they also have JD Davis, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and even Robinson Cano as worthy candidates of the DH spot.
Then we have Yoenis Cespedes. What a name. The Cuban with a cannon for an arm, and an elite hit tool who took the league by storm in 2012. Feels like forever since this guy’s been relevant, with persistent (and bizarre) injury issues keeping him off the field. The DH coming to the NL might provide Cespedes with his best chance to make an on-field impact since his injury-shortened, but awesome 2017. Cespedes’ ankle limits his mobility, hurting the chances of him playing in the field anytime soon. However, if healthy enough to hobble around the bases for homerun trots and pinch hits, Cespedes could return in 2020. The rumors of expanded rosters enable guys like Cespedes to be wild-cards in terms of playing time. As long as he stays away from the ankle-thirsty wild boars on his ranch…
Non-contending AL teams:
Big category potentially, but worthy of a mention. Teams like the Tigers, Orioles, Mariners, could all decide to punt on 2020 early on. In doing so, they could cash out their chips at the DH spot in exchange for prospects with potential long-term returns. Players like Dan Vogelbach, Kyle Seager (Seattle), CJ Cron, Jonathan Schoop (Detroit), Chris Davis (Baltimore) could be shopped for higher than usual returns. It seems weird, but this could be the reality of the first couple years of the universal DH while NL front offices adjust their drafting/scouting methods with the new wrinkle in mind.
Pseudo-Playoff Contending Teams in the AL:
These other teams are unlikely to contend but might have a chance at a wild-card spot should they overperform expectations. This group consists of the Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, and Indians.
While it hurts me to say, JD Martinez would be a massive mid-season trade chip, should the Sox elect to continue cutting payroll and sell short-term assets to rebuild the farm. Sox fans won’t want to even ponder this idea, following the disaster that was the Mookie Betts trade. Martinez has 3 more years on his contract, but with opt-outs for each year. Speculation is that with the MLB revenue situation in flux, Martinez is less of a threat to opt-out.
In Texas, Todd Frazier, Ronald Guzman, Rougned Odor, Shin-Soo Choo, and Greg Bird (?!?) all could be interesting low-cost trade options for desperate NL teams. The Royals and Indians are thinner offensively but made a few low-risk moves to acquire interesting bats like Maikel Franco and Domingo Santana. Each of these once highly-regarded prospects could evolve into decent trade chips to serve as rentals for NL teams in the playoff mix.
New York Yankees:
Pains me to admit it, but damn, the Yankees are stacked with DH-options to shop on the trade market. That type of move would presumptively be made only to bolster their top-heavy rotation for a potentially deep playoff run. Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier are the less integral young guys with trade values’ that have likely increased the most. (If a team like the Braves or Cubs trade a young promising starting pitcher to the Yankees for one of these clowns, I’m going to be so mad.)
PS, yes, Clint Frazier, if you’re reading this – to me, you are a DH, deal with it.
guys a dh
— Clint Frazier (@clintfrazier) August 27, 2019
St. Louis Cardinals:
For some, it might be difficult to pity the uber-successful Cardinals organization. But damn – one would have to imagine they play out the previous year out very differently had they known the DH was coming to the NL.
Last season, Jose Martinez played 8 out of their 10 interleague games with a DH in the lineup. Obviously the Cardinals front office is full of intelligent baseball minds, and far more tapped into baseball rumors/news than myself. Hindsight is 20/20, yadda yadda. BUT, it’s asinine to think that if they knew what we know now, they’d have made the same moves.
The Cards traded away Jose Martinez and let Marcell Ozuna walk in free agency in the same offseason. While the initial return on JoseMart seemed solid – one might imagine his trade value has only increased. Ozuna, despite a rough start (and end) to his brief St. Louis tenure, would’ve been a nice DH option. But instead of bringing him back, he signed a 1-year prove-it deal with Atlanta worth $ 18 million. Not bad for a 29-year-old with similar career numbers to that of Nick Castellanos. Castellanos, a relatively similar streaky offensive-minded left-fielder, received a massive 4-year $ 64 million deal from the Reds this offseason.
This isn’t the same Cubs team that won the 2016 World Series. This roster is aging, declining, and significantly thinner than their curse-breaking team of world-beaters. One might assume they just slot in the big bat of Kyle Schwarber as the primary DH for 85-90% of at-bats. That’s a fine option but leaves a hole in the left-field spot. Move Kris Bryant to left-field to fill that spot? Okay, well now 3rd-base is open without a great option. Suddenly they’re playing David Bote for 150 games at a position where most teams have a very-good to elite bat.
The Cubs were thin before, and asking them to fill a DH spot now just seems cruel. They’re hurt by this rule change, without any strong, obvious answers. The Cubs find themselves with an aging roster, and a closing window for this core of players to compete. As a result, don’t be surprised if the Cubs are one of the teams strong-armed into overpaying in a trade for a DH.
Los Angeles Angels:
For reasons already mentioned. Not to beat a dead horse here, but the Angels really hurt themselves in backing out of the trade with the Dodgers. Pederson’s trade value has only increased, without a single at-bat having occurred. Any depth of DH-options would serve as solid trade-bait to acquire a starting pitcher. That trade’s ripple effects would’ve been immensely helpful in their bid to finally contend in the AL West with Mike Trout.
Non-contending NL teams:
Sort of the opposite of the final bullet on the winners’ side. They’re not at all winners, but these teams aren’t quite relevant enough for me to state them in isolation. Prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic, teams like the Giants, Pirates, and Marlins weren’t expected to compete for playoff spots in 2020. The news of adding a DH certainly doesn’t change that outlook for them. In fact, it could make their season’s even uglier!
The Marlins have the best DH options of this group – even featuring a sneaky enticing young starting rotation. Regardless, Miami’s still a year or two away from knowing what to make of their young unproven bats. The other teams projected to be bottom-feeders in the NL have little to no reason to trade for bats. Let’s hope they entertain the option of a fun free agent signing to keep fans watching games.
Time for a quick letter to these teams:
Dear MLB Non-Contenders (but mostly the Miami Marlins),
Hear me out – there are plenty of former stud sluggers out there willing to play for relative pennies on the dollar. They’ll sell you plenty of merchandise. That revenue might be more important than ever with ticket sales essentially entirely ruled out of the equation for 2020. The Marlins were last in revenue among MLB teams in 2019. The retail sales aspect of their revenue stream, while undisclosed, must be of concern for the Marlins ownership. With the recent decision to sign with Fanatics as their official merchandise distributor they’re clearly showing a desire to invigorate their retail numbers.
What better way to bump up jersey and ‘shirsey’ sales than by signing an internationally-known, uber-talented MLB legend like… Manny Ramirez! I’ll buy a Marlins jersey if it’s got Ramirez, #99 on the back! Why not sign Hanley Ramirez, too?! It’d be a perfect final rodeo for Han-Ram, returning to where his major league career took off. But Manny is the key to bring them to the promised land of being a high-revenue generating franchise.
Derek Jeter, for once in your life – as a baseball executive, do the right thing.
Is it too early to start rumors of the 47-year-old Manny Ramirez signing to serve as a player/coach with the Miami Marlins? Did I just start it? Oh shit.
-Mike Gilligan (@BigGilli, and @SmallStateTakes Podcast) – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/small-state-big-takes/id1432138166
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