MLB Return: Which NL club has the best options at DH for the 2020 season?
A universal DH: How does it affect the National League?
If an MLB season is played in 2020, then it’s likely going to include a universal designated hitter for the first time in league history.
Even though the National League’s teams weren’t expecting it while building their rosters this offseason, many will now be tasked with filling an additional spot in the lineup using the players they already have.
However, that puts some teams in better positions than others. Here’s a ranking of the 15 teams in the NL by the best options they have in-house to fill the DH spot this season.
15. Arizona Diamondbacks – Jake Lamb
The Diamondbacks were expecting Christian Walker and Jake Lamb to compete for the starting job at first base this spring, but that competition now becomes moot.
Given Lamb has only played 32 career games at first, he would become the team’s primary option at DH with hopes of rebounding from down 2019 (.193 batting average in 78 games).
If Lamb struggles against lefties, the Diamondbacks could platoon him with teammate Kevin Cron—younger brother of Detroit Tigers first baseman C.J. Cron.
14. San Diego Padres – Wil Myers
Wil Myers’ six-year, $83 million contract with the Padres has been nothing short of a disaster, and the team appeared ready to bench him when it acquired outfielders Tommy Pham and Trent Grisham over the offseason.
But with no other obvious candidate on the roster to play DH, Myers will have the chance to turn his career around without costing the Padres defensively with his poor fielding.
He still has three years left on his deal, but Myers may be a candidate for release if he doesn’t show improvement after watching his OPS drop each of the past three seasons.
13. Miami Marlins – Garrett Cooper
Depending on how soon they want to start calling up their top prospects, the Marlins have many different ways they could use the DH spot.
But with the players they currently have at the major-league level, utility man Garrett Cooper is the easy choice for DH so that Jesús Aguilar can handle first base full time and the Marlins have one fewer name vying for playing time in the outfield.
Even though Cooper did well in his first extended stint with the Marlins last season (.344 on-base percentage in 107 games), he could be platooned with outfielder Matt Joyce once more prospects start breaking into the majors.
12. San Francisco Giants – Hunter Pence
The Giants’ makeshift outfield actually turned in positive results last season, mainly from Mike Yastrzemski (.852 OPS in 107 games) and Alex Dickerson (.880 OPS in 56 games).
Yet San Francisco went out and brought back fan favorite Hunter Pence anyway after he hit 18 home runs in 83 games with the Texas Rangers last season.
Originally expected to come off the bench, the 37-year-old Pence can now assume an everyday role that will be the delight of Giants fans still holding onto what remains of the team’s dynasty from last decade.
11. Colorado Rockies – Daniel Murphy
Daniel Murphy didn’t hit nearly as well as expected in his first year with the Rockies, but his poor defensive metrics make him the likely choice for Colorado’s DH spot.
By putting Murphy at DH, the Rockies would be able to start Ryan McMahon full time at first base and make room for top prospect Brendan Rodgers at second.
A crowded outfield might also force Ian Desmond into a timeshare with Murphy, although that’s contingent on either Raimel Tapia or Sam Hilliard taking steps forward in their development.
10. St. Louis Cardinals – Matt Carpenter
Perhaps the easiest choice on this list, Matt Carpenter had nowhere to play in the Cardinals when spring training began.
Now, he’ll play DH while Tommy Edman gets the opportunity to show his surprising 2019 season was no fluke and Paul Goldschmidt continues to lock down first base.
He’s coming off perhaps the worst season of his career at the plate but is still less than two years removed from finishing ninth in NL MVP voting.
9. Philadelphia Phillies – Alec Bohm/Jay Bruce
The Phillies have been looking for a way to bring up top prospect Alec Bohm, and now they might have their chance.
Blocked by Jean Segura (third base) and Rhys Hoskins (first) on the depth chart, Bohm would compliment lefty slugger Jay Bruce nicely as a fearsome platoon at DH.
There is still the question of how well Bohm adapts to the major-league level—hence why they’re only ranked ninth on this list—but the upside is undeniable, especially with Bruce’s history of crushing righties.
8. Pittsburgh Pirates – Josh Bell
One of the Pirates’ first baseman is going to play DH, it’s just a question of who.
Josh Bell has a well-documented history of struggles with throwing at first base, so he gets the nod over José Osuna and Colin Moran.
Moran can start the year at third before either platooning with Osuna or hitting the bench once slick-fielding prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes is deemed ready.
7. Atlanta Braves – Marcell Ozuna/Austin Riley
The Braves have two starting third basemen (Austin Riley and Johan Camargo) and five starting outfielders (Ronald Acuña Jr., Marcell Ozuna, Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte and Adam Duvall). As a result, they could go either way in filling their DH spot.
Both Ozuna and Riley have their issues in the field, making them the most likely candidates to take up a lion’s share of the plate appearances at DH.
However, the Braves are also a team that will likely use its DH spot to give players a rest without having to take their bats out of the lineup. So any combination of those seven players would likely see time at DH at some point this season.
6. New York Mets – J.D. Davis/Yoenis Céspedes
If Yoenis Céspedes is ready in time for the start of the season, then he’ll likely be the team’s everyday DH while he works himself back to 100 percent.
Of course, Céspedes’ health is no guarantee, leaving room for J.D. Davis to play in that spot.
Davis is coming off a breakout year with the Mets (.895 OPS in 140 games) but bounced back and forth between left field and third base because he struggled at both.
5. Cincinnati Reds – Nicholas Castellanos/Jesse Winker
Another team worth more outfielders than it knew what to do with, the Reds can keep Nicholas Castellanos an everyday player by putting him in right field against righties and DH against lefties to make room for Aristides Aquino in the lineup.
On days when Castellanos plays in the field, Winker can play DH. That leaves center field open for Nick Senzel while Shogo Akiyama and Phillip Ervin platoon in left.
Like I said, they have a lot of outfielders.
4. Chicago Cubs – Kyle Schwarber
Former-catcher-turned-outfielder Kyle Schwarber has been a below-average defender in left field on a team full of defensive stalwarts.
By putting him in at DH, the Cubs then open themselves up to an outfield manned by Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ—a clear upgrade over Heyward, Happ and Schwarber.
Chicago could also use the DH spot to help ease outfielder Steven Souza Jr. back into the lineup as he returns from a torn ACL that forced him to miss the entire 2019 season.
3. Milwaukee Brewers – Ryan Braun
Even at 35 years old, Ryan Braun showed last season that he can still hit (.285 batting average with 22 homers).
However, his age has been catching up to him in the field for a few years now. The Brewers could preserve their former NL MVP by pulling him from the field altogether and making him a full-time DH.
And yet, the Brewers would still have a stacked outfield with Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Avisaíl García playing from left to right, respectively.
2. Washington Nationals – Howie Kendrick
One of the best-kept secrets in baseball until last October, Howie Kendrick played like an MVP candidate for the Nationals last season—albeit in only 121 games.
But even at DH, Kendrick still likely won’t play every day given his age and 2018 Achilles surgery. That could open the door for the Nationals to try one of two intriguing ideas:
1) Play Michael A. Taylor in right field on days Kendrick sits and push the defensively challenged Adam Eaton to a part-time DH role.
2) Allow rookie Carter Kieboom to get used to facing major-league pitching while allowing him to continue working on his defense by having him split time with Kendrick at DH.
Either way, the Nationals have as much infield depth as any team in the league and almost no NL clubs are better equipped to take advantage of the universal DH.
That is, expect for…
1. Los Angeles Dodgers – Joc Pederson/Chris Taylor/Kiké Hernández
No team moves it players around defensively from game to game more often than the Dodgers. With a DH slot now at their disposal, expect manager Dave Roberts to have a field day with his lineups.
If Mookie Betts is their everyday right fielder, then Cody Bellinger is switching back and forth between center field and first base. Either Chris Taylor or Kiké Hernández can play center when he’s not there and Max Muncy can play first otherwise.
In left, Joc Pederson and A.J. Pollock can either split time or Pollock can play left every day while Pederson serves as a lefty platoon hitter at DH. Gavin Lux is the future at second base, but Muncy, Taylor and Hernández can all play there as well.
If baseball does return with a universal DH in 2020, no team serves to benefit more than the one already the favorite to win the pennant.