No universal DH in 2021 after all? How it would hurt Phillies and MLB free agency


When the offseason began there was an assumption, an expectation that the National League would again use the designated hitter in 2021. The DH came to the NL in 2020 as a pandemic-related rule change. The idea was to reduce injury risk for pitchers in a two-month season that already had enough uncertainty.

The DH rule, like all rule changes made this summer because of the pandemic, was no longer in effect once the 2020 season ended. But after watching it in practice, it was hard to envision MLB taking a step back and having pitchers hit in the NL in 2021. It was the kind of rule change the game was going to make eventually and the process was sped up by COVID.

The league and players’ association would have to reach an agreement this offseason to make the DH universal in 2021. Otherwise, it could be a year. The current collective bargaining agreement expires after 2021 and the likelihood is high that the DH becomes universal as part of the next CBA.

But Thursday on the Giants’ YouTube page, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi poured cold water on the idea of the universal DH next season, saying, "At least for one year we may be back to old style National League baseball."

The universal DH is something the players want. It increases the opportunity to earn. It would expand the free-agent markets for players like Nelson Cruz, Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall and others by at least a handful of teams, maybe two handfuls. And it doesn’t hurt any players because it’s not as if certain pitchers are paid more for their ability to hit.


As we discussed on Thursday’s Phillies Talk podcast, the league could keep the universal DH in its back pocket as a sweetener for players during the next CBA negotiation. ESPN reported on November 4 that MLB was willing to make the DH universal in 2021 if the players signed off on an expanded postseason field. That hasn’t yet happened.

From a Phillies perspective, they’d be among the NL’s biggest losers in 2021 without the DH. Neither of their corner infielders, Alec Bohm or Rhys Hoskins, is an above-average defender. Andrew McCutchen did not move in 2020 as he did in 2019. It’s also a spot the Phillies used for Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto at times to get them off of their feet while still utilizing their bats.

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