If the 2020 MLB season ever gets started, there will be some changes to the normal routine. The details are still being negotiated, but one possibility includes a universal DH.
It’s seemed inevitable for a while that the NL would eventually join the AL in adopting the designated hitter, with the only question being when, and now would be as good a time as any to give it a try. One proposed version of the 2020 season would have the AL and NL remain intact in the standings, but with teams playing against just their geographic divisions — so, the A’s would play against AL West and NL West opponents. That would mean over half of all games would be interleague, so it would make sense to have everyone playing under the same rules.
If this does happen, then the A’s will be playing against five NL teams who are scrambling to fill a new position that they’ve never needed to worry about before. Some clubs could rotate through multiple options, as the A’s have done at times in the past, and there’s always the chance that some could look for an external addition. But as things stand, here’s one prime candidate for each team.
D’Backs: Jake Lamb
He was an All-Star in 2017, bopping 30 homers after hitting 29 the year before. However, his defense at third base receives mostly negative reviews, and he missed substantial time to injuries the last two seasons — he played just 134 games in 2018-19 combined. And for what it’s worth, the 2018 injury, a shoulder that eventually required surgery, happened while diving for a ball on defense. Big bat, bad glove, and health issues? Sounds like a DH!
Arizona has a good-to-excellent fielder at nearly every position, including two current Gold Glovers, so most of their hitters don’t make a lot of sense at DH. What’s more, while Lamb was hurt they filled third base by acquiring Eduardo Escobar, so Lamb needs a new position anyway. Beyond him, Kevin Cron hit 38 homers in 82 Triple-A games last year but is blocked from 1B in the majors, and the all-bat no-glove Yasmany Tomas is still in the organization.
Dodgers: A.J. Pollock
Sure, he won a Gold Glove in 2015, but since then he’s averaged just 81 games per season from 2016-19 due to a long list of injuries. He’s generally been a productive hitter when healthy, and at age 32 maybe he could benefit from this reduced role.
Of course, the smart bet is that Pollock will get hurt again. If and when he does, Joc Pederson would make sense here, as the pair was set to split time in LF under normal circumstances. And in reality, the perpetually ultra-deep Dodgers could be one of the teams that rotates between several names, or at the very least employs a L/R platoon.
Giants: Hunter Pence
He was a DH last year for the Rangers and did such a good job that he made the All-Star team. Now he’s back with the Giants, where his 2019 success and beloved hero status already made him a lock to crack SF’s terrible roster. Adding a DH spot to the mix would also give him an avenue to regular playing time, in a role that is optimal for him at age 37.
Also making sense at DH would be Buster Posey. He caught 101 games last year, but his bat has deteriorated over the last two seasons and questions have begun swirling about when he might someday move off the position toward first base. There’s also Alex Dickerson, a strong hitter who missed all of 2017-18 to injuries and was limited to 68 games last year, and Wilmer Flores, a strong hitter stuck behind a packed infield. Oh, and let’s take a moment to appreciate that the universal DH is coming the year after Madison Bumgarner left the Giants.
Padres: Wil Myers
He’s generally considered a poor defensive outfielder, and his old home at 1B is now taken by Eric Hosmer. His bat fell off last year but he’s still usually an above-average hitter, so he’s worth keeping in the lineup if possible.
San Diego also has second baseman Jurickson Profar, who was one of the worst defenders in the sport last year due to his throwing yips. If they wanted to hide him at DH, then they’ve got Brian Dozier on hand to cover 2B. Or, just use Dozier at DH.
Rockies: Ian Desmond
He played around half of his 140 games last year in CF, where he got brutally negative marks. He’s been a poor hitter for the last half-decade, and he’s 34 now, but the Rockies keep giving him playing time. With the outfield looking full, this could be the spot for him.
Or, they could turn to Daniel Murphy. He was always considered a bat-first second baseman, and last year he made the full-time switch to first base at age 34. If he’d been in the AL then he might already have become a DH by now, so this is a natural fit. Really you could flip a coin between him and Desmond for DH and put the other at first base, and indeed Desmond was the full-time 1B in 2018 before Murphy arrived. I went with Desmond as the DH, though, because Murphy is the one who got the nod over him at 1B last year.
Free agent: Yasiel Puig
There’s still one big free agent hitter left on the market, and that’s Puig. He can still play defense so he doesn’t have to DH, but he could serve as either a last-minute plugin for a team in need. Or he could push an inferior defensive outfielder into the DH spot. The point is, if an NL team still wants to add a plus bat to account for having an extra non-pitcher spot in the lineup, then he’s the top name available.
MLB Trade Rumors rounded up an interesting list of free agent candidates, in addition to Puig: Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo, Melky Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez, and Lucas Duda. They’re all 34 or older, and Melky is the only one who played more than 40 games last season, but they’re all notable names with bats that were once feared.