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Ranking how every NL team would benefit from a Universal DH: No. 10-6

Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers from June 8, 2018. Photo by Ian D'Andrea via Flickr.

I’m back with installment No. 2 of which teams in the National League will benefit the most from a universal DH in 2020. This time, three NL Central teams are featured along with one from the East and West. At this point, all of these teams can be contenders.

No 10: Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks might threaten for a Wild Card in 2020, after all, they did so last season, finishing four games back despite trading away Zack Greinke mid-season. They made some really nice acquisitions in the offseason, signing Madison Bumgarner to a five-year, $85 million deal to sure up their starting rotation. They also traded for Starling Marte, creating what could be a deadly Marte-Marte duo in the outfield with Ketel Marte. They have a couple of options at DH, the most vanilla of which being getting Jake Lamb, who has a career .770 OPS but had one notably under .700 last season, some more at-bats. It would also let them start all four of David Peralta, offseason signing Kole Calhoun and both Martes. However, one that is much more intriguing is more at-bats for Tim Locastro. Sure, he only has a career OPS of .691, but that’s a result of his career slugging being .335 — yes, you read that right. He just doesn’t hit for power at all, and his one home run in 265 plate appearances is evidence of that. What he does do is get on base, with his .357 on-base percentage being over 100 points higher than his average. Oh, and he’s blazing fast, with 22 stolen bases in his career on 22 attempts. Yup, he’s never been caught. If they want to get Locastro at-bats, they could also put Ketel Marte at second base full-time to open up another spot in the outfield. For more on Locastro, I highly recommend this video from Foolish Baseball on YouTube, it’s great.

No. 9: Chicago Cubs
In my opinion, the Cubs are at the end of their window. It’s nothing to be ashamed or sorry about, they got a World Series in their window which is much more than a lot of other teams can say, but I just can’t see them being serious contenders anymore. Sure, they might push for a Wild Card spot, but even if they squeeze their way into the playoffs they’re not going to do any damage. In terms of the DH, the Cubs have a couple of options. With Javy Baez occupying shortstop, second base duties were a big grab-bag. David Bote got a decent amount, Ian Happ had some and so did Daniel Descalso. They also signed veteran Jason Kipnis in the offseason, who pretty much solely plays second base. However, I don’t think any of them will be the starting second baseman — I think it will be Nico Hoerner. Hoerner is the Cubs top prospect and is ready to get called up full-time, and he even grabbed 82 plate appearances with the big league club in September last season. That makes one more mouth to feed in the infield, and I believe while Hoerner might not start out as the everyday starter, he will end up there at some point in the season. So, what does that mean for the rest of the group in an infield that is otherwise locked with Anthony Rizzo at first, Baez at short and Kris Bryant at third? They can split DH duties. Happ is probably the best of the bunch seeing he has a career OPS north of .800 and had a .898 in 156 plate appearances — that is, when he isn’t playing the outfield. Bote isn’t bad either, as he had an OPS a bit under .800 in about double the plate appearances as Happ. Kipnis seems to be the odd man out, seeing as the 33-year-old is clearly past his prime and the infield would still be crowded without him, but I’m sure more playing time will open up for him when the inevitable injuries happen. And hey, he has 173 innings in center over his career (which is nothing compared to his 9,000 plus at second but still). The DH helps here, perhaps more than other teams, because the Cubs have a couple of quality bats they can slide into that role.

No. 8: Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies finished exactly .500 last season and still came in fourth in the division, a testament to how competitive the NL East was and still is. Of the six teams who finished fourth in their respective divisions in 2019, the Phillies had the best record by six games. Still, after signing Bryce Harper to the mega-deal of all mega deals in the offseason, there was no silver lining. They expected better than .500, and they couldn’t deliver. A DH could seriously help them try to get over that hump, and they’ve got the bats to do it. The two most obvious candidates to get regular playing time are Jay Bruce and Scott Kingery. Starting with Bruce, the Phillies acquired the now 33-year-old in June from the Seattle Mariners and did alright by his standards, hitting .221/.235/.510 with 12 home runs in 149 plate appearances with Philadelphia. I know, the on-base percentage is terrible, but at this point in his career that’s not he’s getting paid to do — he’s getting paid to hit balls over the fence, and that he did very well. As for Kingery, he hit a solid .258/.315/.474 in exactly 500 plate appearances. One interesting proposition for these two is a platoon. Bruce, while the splits didn’t reflect it last season, has historically hit better against right-handed pitching, with his career OPS being about 100 points higher than against southpaws. Kingery is the opposite, with his career OPS being about 50 points higher against lefties than it is against righties in his career. That number is exaggerated last season, with the difference being north of 120 points. If they platoon Bruce and Kingery, maybe they’ll get the best out of both of them and some significant production from the DH.

No. 7: St. Louis Cardinals
I’ve been switching the teams around in the No. 7-5 range over the past couple of days, that’s how close they are. I finally settled on the Cardinals at No. 7 because of the relative lack of experience from the people who will likely get more at-bats and that in my opinion they’re the weakest of the next three teams. My favorite option involves getting Matt Carpenter out of the field and sticking him at DH, as his fielding has only been declining in recent years. This would open up a starting spot in the infield for Tommy Edman, who hit .304/.350/.500 last season in 349 plate appearances. He also stole 15 bases and only got caught once, so he’s got some serious wheels. It also opens up more at-bats for other players like Brad Miller, who hit .260/.329/.565 last season with 13 homers in 170 plate appearances. There’s also Lane Thomas, who had an OPS of 1.093 in 44 plate appearances last season — very small sample size, but if he can bring anything close to that in an extended role, it will be extremely valuable. They have a bunch of options, and what they may lack in experience, they have in upside.

No. 6: Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers already have a perfect DH built into their team. He’s a former Rookie of the Year, MVP and PED user who has spent all 13 years of his career in Milwaukee. Yes, it’s Ryan Braun. Sure, he’s going into his age-36 season, but he can still hit. In 2019, Braun hit .285/.343/.505 with 22 home runs, 75 RBIs and — wow, 11 stolen bases on 12 tries. He’s just not a very good fielder anymore, or really ever was, so at his age the DH looks like it was meant for him. The Brewers can capitalize on his bat while not wasting him in the field. So, who plays the field? Well the outfield is pretty much a lock, with Avisail Garcia, Lorenzo Cain and, of course, Christian Yelich. Then there’s first base, where Braun likely would have been spending a lot of time this season. The Brewers have a couple of options here, like Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison or Brock Holt. They’ve got a bunch of options. Now, the reason the Brewers are No. 6 here and not higher is because I’m not totally enthused with the trio of Smoak, Morrison and Holt that will get more playing time. Sure, Braun will be one of the better designated hitters in the league, but he was likely going to get plenty of at-bats anyway. Realistically, the people who will be getting more at-bats are fine, but nothing special. Still, more at-bats for quality hitters on a contender can only be a good thing for them.

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