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If there’s a universal DH in 2020, there will be no going back

Los Angeles Angels first baseman and designated hitter Albert Pujols in the dugout for the National Anthem. Photo by Kevin Wong.

A universal designated hitter has been a long-debated plan that has picked up steam in recent years. Now, it finally looks like the National League will be joining the American League in using one, nearly 50 years after the AL first introduced it.

Early Wednesday, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported that the players are expected to approve the universal DH as part of the plan for the 2020 season.

For this season, it makes sense. If there is a season, it will reduce some strain on the pitchers who will likely have a larger workload than ever before. There is no reason for them to risk further injury by taking at-bats.

However, if and when the baseball world returns to normal and there is a full, 162 game season that starts in late March, don’t expect the NL to go back to normal. Why would they?

As Heyman noted, a universal DH has been a “long favored idea” for the players, and it makes sense. Pitchers who don’t like to hit wouldn’t have to anymore, and hitters who may be defensive liabilities have a better opportunity to see extended playing time. 

Looking at it from simply a monetary standpoint, it would add 15 more everyday players to the major leagues, which would mean 15 more potential contracts. Looking at it from that standpoint, it makes sense why the owners are against it, it’s one more everyday player they would be expected to pay (it wouldn’t be an extra roster spot, but the salary for an everyday DH would naturally be larger than the last guy on the bench or in the bullpen).

There are just 11 players in the MLB who have their primary position listed as a DH on Spotrac. Some of them, like Yordan Alvarez and Franmil Reyes, are young guys still in their first two or three years in the league and thus on small deals. However, the list also includes the likes of Miguel Cabrera ($31 million per), Giancarlo Stanton ($25 million per), Albert Pujols ($24 million per) and J.D. Martinez ($22 million per). Yes, Pujols and Cabrera are older players that weren’t signed to be a DH but transitioned there, and Stanton does it because of a surplus in the Yankees outfield, but Martinez is the definition of a DH.

Aside from Alvarez and Reyes, just Jorge Soler is making under $10 million per year, and he still at $7.3 million. The universal DH will inevitably mean one more sizeable contract that the owners will have to dish out if they want to compete.

Now let’s look at it strictly from an in-game perspective. Proponents of the universal DH argue no one wants to see a pitcher who has no business hitting step up to the plate, take three straight pitches and go back to the dugout. It’s not particularly great to watch, and often times it could kill a rally. On the flip side, people who are against a universal DH say that it would really hurt the strategy aspect of the game. Sure, your pitcher being up in the middle of a rally might hurt, but that’s what makes baseball so great. The manager needs to balance, say, a situation where he wants the pitcher to go another inning but this might be the team’s best chance at runs. I tend to fall on the side of no universal DH being an NL fan (Mets) because it makes a team’s bench more important and makes the job more difficult for the manager.

On top of that, there’s also an element of fun that will be taken away from the game. A little over a week ago was the four-year anniversary of Bartolo Colon hitting the first home run of his career. The sheer spectacle of someone his age who throughout his entire career had been completely inept at the plate hitting his first home run was nothing short of magical. Now, a moment like that may never happen again.

However, regardless of where you fall, if there is a season and the universal DH is instituted, there will be no going back. Why would they at that point? The players would have gotten something that benefits them, and there’s no way they’d let it get reversed.

With this comes the death of #PitchersWhoRake, and the end of an era in Major League Baseball.

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