For most of the time I’ve been writing, I’ve begrudgingly told you the DH was coming to the National League. Even as I begin another column with the designated hitter as a main subject, I’m envisioning half the comments being a simple “Nooooooooooooo”.
It very much so is going to happen though. Should baseball actually find its way back to playing games that decision has nearly been universally agreed upon and I’d brace myself if you’re staunchly against it because I don’t see it going away. It was already rumored for 2021 rule change proposals and after some see it didn’t kill their enjoyment entirely in a shortened season, I see little getting in the way of this rolling stone.
There have been some wild predictions out there as to whom the Pirates would use as DH and of course there are myriad ways of going. I think there are two main candidates and I’ll take it further; they are the candidates more so due to the problems that could be solved should they be used as such than overt hitting ability.
I feel like thoughts outside Josh Bell or Colin Moran are probably overthinking this a bit. Josh Bell would be easiest in many ways, one, he’s a switch hitter, meaning you can put him in the four hole all game every game and that’s about it. Josh being taken off the field would provide, at long last, a place for Jose Osuna to play which in this case would actually be the extra bat in the lineup. Going even further, Colin himself could perhaps platoon at first to accommodate the right-left matchups.
The other low hanging fruit is to get Colin off the field and make him predominantly a DH. I think this would have to be split time with Jose too in my opinion, but Ke’Bryan Hayes would take the everyday reps at third. I truly believe if Moran didn’t play the field and hadn’t been part of the Gerrit Cole sell off he’d have a bit more favorable of a view. If for some reason, Hayes isn’t ready, Osuna could play there as well, but I’m not entirely convinced there will be many days you’d want both of those guys in the lineup at the same time.
None of this sounds like David Ortiz ripping 35 homeruns a season while he jokes with everyone in the dugout. We have a sample size look at this every season as interleague play has taken hold, let’s just hope Derek Shelton is not like Clint Hurdle was and feels someone like Sean Rodriguez can fill the role. Like any position it takes a unique skill set to sit on the bench all game long and come up 4 or 5 times a game to contribute in the one way you can.
Josh Bell, while not a virtuoso over there at first, takes great pride in his defensive game and after 2017 reportedly spent more time on that facet of his game than in the batter’s box. As he felt more comfortable going through 2018, he refocused on the bat and, well, we all saw 2019.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying oh he worked hard let’s leave him there, I’m just saying it’s a part of the game that many people grew up with. Being a DH is not the same as going out on that field and trying to save runs every half inning, and one of the biggest concerns with Josh as a hitter has been his tendency to tinker and overthink. A move to DH could put that into overdrive. It could also devalue him in the market, which might not make Mr. Boras very happy.
Point is, even though Bell makes the most sense academically these are real players and there are very real reasons it won’t work for everyone.
I leave Gregory Polanco off this list not for his defensive excellence (excuse me while I clean up the coffee I just spit on the screen laughing), ok I’m back, no, I leave him off because the Bucs simply don’t have the outfield depth to cut El Coffee out of the mix and again he isn’t the guy you want as a DH against Chris Sale or Clayton Kershaw.
I’d love to tell you Will Craig could finally have a home, but his numbers just don’t get me excited. If he has truly become an option in the outfield as he was working on last season maybe there is a platoon option there, but I’d prefer Osuna or even Martin get those at bats right now. The guy is only 25 years old but at the same time he’s 25. As my grandpa loved to say, time to poop or get off the pot.
I’ll stretch it a bit here and propose one more, Kevin Newman. This would put the defensively superior Cole Tucker in the everyday lineup and allow Kevin to focus on nothing more than table setting at the top of the lineup.
15 teams are going to go through this. Most of them will welcome the opportunity to remove a poor defender but on the other side of this in the AL, 15 teams will happily watch knowing that’s not necessarily the best way to land on a decision here. As I look just in our division, the NL Central, the Brewers could use it to give Yelich some rest for that back by staying off the field a couple times a week, problem there is he is a premium defender too. Maybe they have a purpose for Braun again. The Cards just shipped Martinez out of town, and he would be an absolutely perfect candidate, but maybe they use it to keep Yadi’s bat in the lineup when he isn’t catching. Cincy signed Moustakas to play a position he quite frankly isn’t great at. I could see him being their candidate or maybe it extends Votto’s usefulness. The Cubs, I can’t go anywhere but Schwarber but they have players like David Bote and Ian Happ who could also fall in that category.
Bottom line is, half the teams aren’t built for this and it probably isn’t going to be smooth per se for anyone. I’m sure the narrative will ultimately turn to the Pirates being woefully prepared, but I’d predict right now at least 10 of these teams won’t be satisfied with who they have to fill the role.
Regardless of who ends up as the DH for Pittsburgh, its important to remember this won’t be decided without cause and effect all up and down the lineup and in the field. It won’t just be the best hitter or the worst defender and more than anything, it won’t happen without hiccups.