One very large acorn fell from Ken Rosenthal’s report for The Athletic on Tuesday (subscription required) about negotiations between MLB and the Players Association on rules changes: The union in January proposed adding the designated hitter to the National League this year.
A rapid change seems unlikely given the decadeslong intransigence of NL team owners. Among the reasons: They don’t want to increase payroll by employing full-time DHs.
Is the money argument valid, though? The answer appears to be “No.”
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Most teams already have expensive DH candidates on their rosters, and the glut of offense-first free agents would make late signings affordable. In fact, it should be relatively painless to add bats until and unless baseball’s economic structure changes.
To show how easy it would be for NL teams to embrace the DH for the 2019 season, SN put together this group of top in-house options for each club (2019 salary figures, per Baseball Prospectus, in parentheses):
Yasmany Tomas ($15.5 million). No, really. The Snakes are paying their former right fielder to rake in the PCL because they don’t have a roster spot for him at the moment. This way, “El Tanque” would be able to rake at Chase Field. Before his game fell apart, he was a legit right-handed power threat, with 31 home runs and an .820 OPS in 2016.
Brian McCann ($2 million). Atlanta could still use McCann behind the plate on occasion as Tyler Flowers’ backup, but his main job would become swinging the bat against right-handers. The Braves could go with right-handed hitters Josh Donaldson ($23 million) and Adam Duvall against left-handers. That, in turn, would allow Johan Camargo to play more. Atlanta is not shy about adding catching depth, and it has journeyman Raffy Lopez on the 40-man roster if it wanted to carry a third backstop over a 13th pitcher.
Kyle Schwarber ($3.39 million). He’s the free space in this bingo game. Brawny, defensively challenged as a playing-out-of-position outfielder (catching is his first love), the slugger as DH would allow Joe Maddon to make left field a revolving door of, say, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant and Ian Happ. Speaking of Zobrist and Happ, those switch hitters would be useful options against left-handers.
Matt Kemp ($21.75 million). The Dodgers are paying a reported $7 million of that salary this year, which means Cincinnati is committing a lot of money itself. Making him a regular DH would be a good use of those funds. He enjoyed a shocking revival in the first half of the 2018 season before slumping badly in August and then recovering as a part-time player in September. He’d allow the Reds to move Scott Schebler to left field and slot Phil Ervin into center to replace Billy Hamilton.
Daniel Murphy ($10 million). Colorado signed him to be their regular first baseman, but his age (34 on April 1), knee issues and defensive shortcomings (he’s better at first than he is at second, but he’s still not great at first) scream “DH at Coors!” If Colorado didn’t want to do that, it could go with Mark Reynolds, who’ll be in camp as a nonroster player.
Max Muncy (salary TBD). The surprise hit of the 2018 season could become the default option against right-handers. He’s a versatile infielder, but LA could cover with other players, especially if Corey Seager (elbow) is ready to return to shortstop. Manager Dave Roberts could go with a rotation of right-handed hitters against left-handers: David Freese, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor and regular third baseman Justin Turner.
Martin Prado ($15 million). As always with Prado, you have to attach “health permitting.” The Fish’s former third baseman has had trouble staying in the lineup because of injuries; keeping him out of the field could be the remedy. Brian Anderson looks to be the long-term solution at third in Miami, so Prado is looking at a bench role in the final year of his contract. The young Marlins could benefit from seeing his professional at-bats on a more regular basis.
Eric Thames ($6 million). He isn’t slated to get much time in the outfield or first base, but he would become a regular threat against right-handers as the DH. He hit 15 of his 16 homers against them last year, albeit with a .223/.313/.491 slash line. Milwaukee could use first baseman Jesus Aguilar or left fielder Ryan Braun against left-handers, which would increase at-bats for Hernan Perez.
Todd Frazier ($9 million). It could be Yoenis Cespedes ($29 million) later in the season if he returns from heel surgeries, and Jeff McNeil could be a platoon option, but Frazier would be the default early pick (remember, this is all hypothetical). Frazier is looking at a shuttle between third and first base as New York fits Jed Lowrie into the infield, and when Peter Alonso is called up to take over at first, infield at-bats will become scarcer.
Maikel Franco ($5.2 million). Making him the DH would allow Philly to make Scott Kingery the everyday third baseman — assuming, of course, that Manny Machado doesn’t sign with the Fightin’s. Franco turned in a 113 OPS+ in 2018, but he missed time late in the season with injuries and lost time to the Carlos Santana, who moved across the diamond from first base in September. The Phils dealt Santana, an ideal DH type, in the offseason to open up first for Rhys Hoskins.
Corey Dickerson ($8.5 million). He appeared in 117 games as a DH during his two-year stint with the Rays, but now he’s a Gold Glove left fielder after working to improve his defense, so DH might not be a good idea. Pittsburgh could instead go with Jung Ho Kang (which would keep Colin Moran at third base), or it could troll for a free agent (think former Pirates prospect Robbie Grossman).
Jose Martinez (salary TBD). He’s another gimme. He lost his first-base gig when the Redbirds acquired Paul Goldschmidt, and he isn’t solid enough with the glove to be a regular outfielder for the club. St. Louis reportedly offered him to the Giants at the winter meetings for reliever Will Smith; with the DH in play, the Cards could keep Martinez and his .821 OPS and 17 homers in the lineup.
Franmil Reyes (salary TBD). Wil Myers is moving back to the outfield, which means Reyes will be fighting for at-bats against Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero and Travis Jankowski, barring a trade. Reyes’ power could be the decider if DH were an option. He had 16 dingers and a 137 OPS+ in half a season (285 PAs) last year. Advanced fielding metrics had him at minus-1 DRS last season, which was well behind Myers, Renfroe and Manuel Margot.
Pablo Sandoval ($545,000). Yes, the Panda. He’s hanging on as a bench player partly because the Giants only have to pay him the minimum while the Red Sox choke down $18.6 million. A DH gig could extend the 32-year-old switch hitter’s career a few years. He contributed nine home runs and a 105 OPS+ in 252 plate appearances for San Francisco last season.
Matt Adams ($3 million). “Big City” completes this board. He’s sharing first base with Ryan Zimmerman at the moment, but the DH would get both men in the lineup at the same time. Utility player Howie Kendrick would be another option, mostly in place of the left-handed swinging Adams against left-handers.
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