Doug Glanville

Glanville: To DH or not to DH, that is the question

Glanville: To DH or not to DH, that is the question

With commissioner Rob Manfred’s announcement yesterday that Major League Baseball will hold off on the universal designated hitter, it took me back to this scene when I was playing in the American League for the first time at the ripe old age of 32.

“Seriously, their starter is still in the game?” I wondered.

It’s 2003. I am an outfielder with the Texas Rangers; a lifelong National Leaguer on a one-year free agent deal in the AL West. Where am I?

Earlier in the game that day, we had knocked the starting pitcher around. My internal National League clock told me the pitcher was out of the game because he would have come to bat by now. It was the fourth inning. No way the manager would keep him in after all the hits we just racked up. He cannot get anyone out.

But he is still in there. How?

I grew up in northern New Jersey, so I had a balanced baseball experience between the AL New York Yankees and the NL New York Mets. But my favorite team was the Philadelphia Phillies, so I was an NL fan.

At the time, it was not so much about passing judgment about the caliber of the players. I saw the AL, DH-happy, Yankees steamroll their way to championships, stomping the Los Angeles Dodgers a couple of times. The same Dodgers that knocked out my Phillies many times to get to the World Series. For this reason, my eight-year-old logic told me that the Yankees, AL or not, were a good ballclub.

It helped that the NL had some very good hitting pitchers. I did not roll my eyes when Pirates pitcher Don Robinson came to bat, or pretty much anyone in the Phillies' rotation. Steve Carlton could hit, Larry Christenson, Randy Lerch, and across the league, Rick Reuchel, Rick Rhoden…. These guys were serious at the plate, and no pitcher took them lightly. It was far from an automatic out.

So, after Cubs drafted me, it locked me in as a National Leaguer. It was not until I had many years in the big leagues that my AL–NL thoughts would become a live experiment in Texas.

When you are an everyday starter, and thankfully, I was for most of my career, you don’t pay as much attention to the details since whether AL or NL, you are just in the lineup. Once in a while, you may get caught up in an NL double switch, but it is nothing personal. Just timing.

But coming up in the NL as a young player, I had to sit on the bench, platoon, pinch run, pinch hit, go in for defense. That is a different experience in the NL. At any minute you can be called on because the pitcher is coming up to bat. The first time you go in during a double switch whether in the minors or majors, it is totally confusing.

I had understood these dynamics from a distant perspective, but in Texas, I lived it. The starting players could literally play all nine innings, especially when your lineup has Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Michael Young, Juan Gonzalez and Carl Everett. Ridiculous; who would pinch hit for these guys?

If you come off the bench in the AL, it is for hitting matchup reasons, late defense, or a late inning pinch, but you live independently of your team’s pitcher. He throws, and if he gets knocked around, you bring in another arm. There is no natural way to use the lineup to get him out of there, so bench players could wait on the bench, hoping for an opposing reliever in which they have good splits against to enter. Tick Tock.

I was slowly becoming a role player in Philadelphia. By 2002, I had to watch Phillies manager Larry Bowa like a hawk to see when he might call me into the game. Then it was like a five-alarm fire. “Glanville! You’re hitting here!” So you learn to be a few steps ahead (makes for a good foundation for a future manager). There weren’t quite as many fires in the AL.

The Cubs would be beneficiaries of a universal DH coming to a baseball town near you. All the debate about Kyle Schwarber’s defense or how to use Ian Happ, David Bote, or Albert Almora Jr. start to calm down when you have an extra permanent bat in the picture. You can leverage offensive firepower every time in the DH slot if you so desire, as his glove does not matter much at all. Kris Bryant, under the DH model, could bring even more gloves to the stadium to maximize any given lineup Maddon wants to slap up there. I think Maddon’s offensive chess game will now become 3D chess. Contreras, grab an outfield glove!

But keep in mind, the Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Reds also get an extra hitter….

For Schwarber, it isn’t necessarily a great thing to be pigeon-holed as a DH as a young player. He improved last year in left field. Despite the simplicity of the concept, DH-ing takes some planning. You have to be ready after sitting on the bench for innings at a time; stay warm in Chicago Aprils. This discipline favors experience, especially when many DHs (like an Edgar Martinez) may have injuries from age and can’t do much else.

Young players are less likely to have some irreversible physical issue that makes them the perfect DH. Can’t throw? OK, go DH. Not that simple when you are a rookie and have an upside in other facets of the game. Or, you could get healthy. David Ortiz at the end of his career simply shut down defense unless it became absolutely necessary

The platooning will still be in full-effect, strategy-wise. Lefty-righty matchups; use the DH to give Zobrist a day off. It is not always who is the best bat from the rest of the bunch. A manager still has to think about what matchups will come later in the game and who needs a defensive day off.  

In the meantime, spring training would sort all of this out anyway. The designated hitter debate will rage on a little longer with Manfred’s announcement, still ranting about watching a pitcher hit. I understand that, given pitchers' .150 slugging percentage in 2018. Not ideal, but we cannot dismiss the early strategic decisions managers in the NL have to make under that model. That is what made me a fan in the first place. Those days may be numbered since pitchers do not go deep in the game anymore, anyway, AL or NL.

Yet with years of Interleague play, it will be familiar territory should MLB accept the universal DH. All managers have familiarity of running a game under either set of rules. No more surprises will sneak up on these managers. Analytics will help sort it out anyway.

But while we wait, let’s cherish the NL tradition and look behind the bad swings to remember there was a time when a pitcher was in, could hit, and was going nine innings. That time may have passed (complete games are rare now) so the game must adapt, and the players will soon have to follow.

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Glanville: Kris Bryant and the small window a player has to make big money


Glanville: Kris Bryant and the small window a player has to make big money

The Chicago Cubs are quickly approaching an era where the young core of talented players is about to hit paydirt. It is the nature of the business that you play in the minor leagues to get seasoned, to make your game more complete before you earn your way to the top.

It is understood that you will not make much money in salary in the minor leagues, just as when Kris Bryant was sent down in 2015, he made a pro-rated $82,700. Of course, by non-pro sports standards, that is good money, but since he banked $10.85M last year, the difference is stark.

Bryant has entered the years where the power pendulum has swung his way. He has the hammer; once you hit three years of service, you get to arbitration, and now you can argue your value compared to your peers.

Players who have the same service time, put up the same numbers, same position, age…these are some of the “comps” to know who you will use as a reference to justify your asking price. The teams want to go low, and the player wants to go high. And arbitration has no gray area. Decisions are final and they pick one side.

When the Cubs sent Bryant down in 2015, they were making a long- term plan. By shorting him of that full season, they could have another year of control on the back-end (which led to a grievance filed by Team Bryant.) Theo Epstein was forthcoming about this standard strategy employed by teams.

But Bryant is represented by Scott Boras, who will file that away (literally) and do what he can to claw back that year in earnings. This could be done by a patient approach, putting up numbers year-by-year and maxing your value in smaller increments. Or, dangling the idea that his client will leave as soon as possible.

But this comes with risk. Injuries, bad years, anything can come up to make you wish you had the security blanket of a long-term contract. So you trade annualized max money for visibility and, let’s face it: at what Bryant will command, he will do well.

Yet in major league baseball, value is about what someone is willing to pay and the market that defines that value. There is a difference between $200 million and $275 million, even if you can buy a small island with either.

This is the economics of the game; balloon payments after paying your dues. You are represented by an agent who has institutional knowledge with a clear-eyed understanding of how short a career can be. Seize the day to get your value no matter what it says about your inflated place in society.

Baseball creates wealth as a business and players get paid out of that pool. But it is a pool that swims in relativity, which is why Kris Bryant is looking at Machado and Harper to see when the first big domino falls.

Let’s not dismiss who is representing Bryant in Boras. Someone with a long memory and the patience of a sloth. He will flood you with data, just as when he was recruiting me decades ago. Boras flew across the country to Philadelphia, dropped a nearly five-hour presentation on me which was complete with charts explaining why my signing bonus should be nearly three-times the standard.

His argument was that I was an engineer at an Ivy-league school who will be losing all kinds of income while toiling away in the minor leagues. It was compelling, to say the least. But I ended up choosing Arn Tellem as my agent, a Philly-guy. Boras does not play games. He will push you to the brink.

But the Cubs are not just dealing with Bryant and Boras, they are looking at arbitration eligible players in Schwarber, Hendricks and Baez, too — guys who will see some big pay hikes. Do you lock in these young players for a long time now or do you slowly work year to year, moving in and out chess pieces to adapt to an aging core of players? Who is your core?

Most players, once they get to the pay day, reference the minor leagues to lose the guilt of getting paid seven or eight figures to play a game. My $327 paycheck when I played with the Geneva Cubs certainly was a motivator to work hard and a reminder to take the long-term deal on the table I would ultimately get from the Phillies in stride.

Although Schwarber and Bryant had very brief minor league stints, they understand not to let youth blind you from how short your window is in baseball. Make your money. Their agents will remind them.

I remember that crossover moment from my career when the Monopoly money started get thrown around in contract talks. It was after my first year with the Phillies, a full year after the Cubs traded me. I had a partial season and two full seasons under my belt. I was similarly situated to Willson Contreras, who is not quite at the three-year mark, but in a position where the Cubs would consider locking him up before his price tag goes up from a big season.

It was surreal to see seven figure numbers thrown around remembering that a debate came up between my agent and the team over $50,000 or so dollars. A lot of money, but the discussion ended up framed as “Let’s not nickel and dime over it.” Really? Fifty grand is a nickel or a dime? That is the world that hits you literally overnight.

In my case, since my parents always emphasized investing one’s money and planning ahead, I had to think back to the year when my dad had me write down the price of a mutual fund every day in a little black book to get used to tracking investments. I was very fortunate for that guidance.

Good fortune also helps a player feel secure. My road was longer by today’s standards certainly, for a first-round college draft pick since it took me five years to arrive, but what mattered was appreciating the road that took me to Philadelphia as a starting player with a contract in hand that granted me three years of breathing room.

I still needed to get better and adapt to the rhythm of 162-game marathons, while finally playing without the anxiety of being one play away from being out of the game and finding a new line of work. At least, that is how it felt.

It also was validating to get this vote of confidence from a team. The naysayers, the setbacks, the years in winter ball, all could be reframed as a necessary part of the journey. It was an example of how you could truly change the past. My manager in Triple-A Iowa, who had my career buried for dead, would have been proven right if I somehow fizzled out after Triple-A. That would have been my story. I ran into a rough and tumble manager in the minor leagues who did not like me very much and I fell short.

As a mentor of mine (and coach that brought me to Puerto Rico for winter ball), Tom Gamboa said “If you didn’t make it to the show, and your bubble gum card ended after Triple-A Iowa, you would have had good reasons, but you would have cheated on your destiny.” Destiny. Powerful word.

This group of Cubs have one significant leg up on me in feeling established at a young age. They are world champions. They have defined destiny.

Destiny looks ahead, but that long-term commitment also makes you look back in time. Many names came to mind for how I got to that point. Coaches, family, friends, mentors, heroes. I was taught by some amazing professionals. Sandy Alomar Sr., Jimmy Piersall, Tom Gamboa, countless teammates, like Shawon Dunston who passed on wisdom on a daily basis. I also remembered Jim Riggleman, my first manager in the big leagues with the Cubs.

Riggleman would pull me aside and remind me that one day “You will be an everyday centerfielder. Maybe not here, but somewhere.” He would walk into the outfield during batting practice and plant the reminder. In a world of great talent all around us that fills up Major League Baseball, words mattered, words counted and these words came rushing back to me when I was about to sign a long-term contract with the Phillies that endorsed the belief that I was a big-league centerfielder.

Kris Bryant, like any player on the cusp of a financial windfall, will think back on key words and those who helped him along the way. There is something clarifying about truly arriving and being able to look at your craft through a lens that can see past tomorrow.

In 2015, when I was at ESPN, I interviewed Kyle Schwarber and Bryant at the same time in San Francisco (sadly I can’t find that tape), a day when Barry Bonds was hovering around the cage. I happened to talk to Bonds for a while at the cage and Bryant and Schwarber were in that wide eyed-stage. Open, optimistic, excited, new.

They shared a lot about adjusting to the life; they were in the midst of that childhood joy. I recall learning that Bryant was a big Bonds fan growing up and was torn between admiring his greatness (as his childhood did cartwheels) and being frustrated with the PED allegations after Bryant learned firsthand what it took for him to make it honorably.

Just fast-forward to today and Bryant is still a young man. But now he is a Rookie of the Year, an MVP, a World Champion, but he also went through a down year with injury, doubt, frustration and responsibility. The rollercoaster has begun.

Bryant is reaching the heart of his career. The eye of the hurricane in baseball when a player is at peak performance. As the late-Ken Caminiti said to me one spring “Baseball is a great when it is going well. Nothing better.” So true. Not so fun when on the bench hitting .176 going into a Chicago late April night game.

But with a long-term deal of the magnitude that Bryant will command, it helps that you are much more likely to have the time to get out of any slump. You are granted time in a long-term deal, but you are expected to produce more in that time. Fair enough.

Yet you have to come to grips with the fast-acting maturity that must reach before your 30th birthday. You must be ready to peak at a young age compared to most other professions. The team has made a long-term investment in you. That investment needs to pay dividends and generate interest, now. There is no more future potential and upside. It is now-side. Get it done so we can win.

Now the pressure really starts.

Glanville Offseason Journal: Negotiating a contract while trying to fit in with a new team


Glanville Offseason Journal: Negotiating a contract while trying to fit in with a new team

It is one thing to be traded, it is another thing to adjust to life on the other side with a new organization.

The offseason after I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies, my professional life shifted from the familiar with the Cubs, to learning a new team with the Phillies. Once the media interest slowed, one of the first questions I had to answer that offseason was what number I wanted.

Lenny Dysktra, aka “Nails,” was still hanging on as the Phillies center fielder but he was battling a back issue. I had to win the job, which was the only way I thought to approach it. But I wanted a single-digit number and with the Cubs I had “1” (before Lance “One Dog” Johnson took it off of my back) and “8,” which was kind of just assigned to me.

I am not counting “31” when I first was in spring training camp after Greg Maddux was in Atlanta. I would settle on “6” which was my number for the rest of my career with the Phillies and the Rangers (other than my return to the Cubs in 2003.)

After the loss of my grandfather, I had been gaining optimism with each passing day in the offseason of the trade. I realized that I would be entering the organization that framed my childhood. Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Garry Maddox were my favorite players and I now had a chance to be part of my childhood as a player.

That is such a rare opportunity; the sting of being sent away from the Cubs grew into opportunity, even thanks for moving me from behind so many outfielders on the depth chart.

I had gotten my first major league hit in Veterans Stadium playing against the Phillies in my rookie season, so it was special to forge that next chapter as a maturing player with a lot to prove. This consumed my offseason. I was itching to go and get down to camp early to start getting to know my new team, new staff. And Clearwater in January was a lot better than Philly or New Jersey winters.

Yet my becoming a starter was not automatic.

When you are traded, especially before you have an established a major league track record, you are starting over. Your work ethic, your relationships, your coachability are all being re-evaluated. But as you are writing a new profile, before the season starts, you have to sign a contract.

Since I was not eligible for arbitration yet (which kicks in after three years of MLB service, and I only had less than two years of service – see Kris Bryant circa 2016), I was at the mercy of what the team was willing the pay. The only hesitation a team has in just offering the minimum salary every year before you get to arbitration is that this will not look good if you do go all the way to arbitration.

Arbitration is when you can argue a case for your value. You make your case, then the team makes their case and a ruling is made for one side or the other. There is no gray area; the ruling may consider that the team was underpaying you if they had lowballed you time and time again when they had control over you.

In my case, I was coming off my second year by hitting .300, in over 450 at bats, so it would be hard to justify my making at or near the minimum for a third year in a row.

This is where your agent comes into play. Part of the key aspects of having an agent is that they know the market. They know what everyone is making and where you fit into the class of values. When it came time to negotiate with my new team, the Phillies, I was told through my agent’s research that I was worth more than my original offer.

But instead of the Le’Veon Bell hold-out approach, (especially given I was not a franchise player), all I could do is not sign and let the Phillies “renew” me, which is another way to say they decide the number and you have to take it (see Andre Dawson MVP season).

This was not the way I wanted to start my career with a new organization, but I trusted my agent, Arn Tellem, and since the staring contest spilled into spring training, then Phillies GM, Ed Wade, pulled me aside in the dugout before a spring training game to clear the air and express support. I reciprocated the sentiment.

We agreed to let the renewal ride and play ball in hopes that one day, I would be back to the table after some successful seasons and we would work together for years to come.

When that season ended, I made some strides in my first full season as a starter tape to tape. Ed Wade, my agent and I would be back to the table to work out a long-term deal. Although I had a horrible September, I played in 158 games and led the National League in at bats and racked up 189 hits. That led to one of the wilder offseasons of my career.

Negotiating a multi-year contract, which when I heard it was in the works, was its own kind of stress in-season. I kept thinking, "What if I get hit by a bus?"

Nevertheless, my agent was put to work and I finally understood why agents don’t worry about taking commission while you are in the minor leagues. It was for the moment when the money starts rolling in and the investment (and patience) in you starts to pay back dividends. Thankfully, my agent had truly become a friend and this made it easier, especially since after I told my mom the opening offer, I think she may have passed out on the other line.

But there is another shift with transitioning to the high stakes arena. No more potential to hide behind. Time to be productive and earn that paycheck.

Will the game still be fun?