Did that article title make you throw up a little? That’s understandable. Like it or not, however, the designated hitter (DH) is coming to the National League (NL) for the 2020 season. It will once again vanish into the ether in 2021 like some bad dream, but it will most certainly come back for good at some point. It may return as soon as the 2022 season after the next collective bargaining agreement is established. Despite the protestations of we purists, it just makes too much sense for both the owners (by route of pitcher health) and the players (by route of more money and longer careers) for it not to happen. It’s become a question of “when” rather than “if” over the last few years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has simply provided a trial period to get us used to it before the band-aid is eventually ripped off entirely.
Now that we’ve accepted the inevitable, let’s talk a little about how the DH will affect the Mets roster, however large that ends up being in 2020. The Mets’ defense in 2019 was…not good. They were 28th in DRS at -86. Small samples of defensive metrics should be taken with a grain of salt, but this is a clear indication that the team was shooting themselves in the very same foot they probably used to kick the ball all over the field.
As my colleague Chris Dial argued back in March, though, many of the Mets’ defensive woes can be attributed to an awkwardly constructed roster and players playing out of their optimal positions. Additionally, the potential returns of Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie make it that much tougher to get the best bats into the lineup without sacrificing defense. The DH will (mostly) help solve both of these problems by enabling Luis Rojas to maximize the offensive potential of his flawed roster with less of an impact on the team’s defensive performance.
This isn’t to say that Rojas doesn’t have a challenging task in actually leveraging the DH to maximize the team’s performance. If Cespedes shows even a hint of his former prowess with the bat, you have to put him into the lineup as often as possible, right? Given his injury history, the DH spot is perfect for him. That still doesn’t solve the defensive issues, though. Perhaps it would be best to plug Robinson Cano into the DH spot to free up second base for Jeff McNeil and third base for J.D. Davis (where he’s only below average rather than an outfield disaster). This would allow for Brandon Nimmo to transition from a poor defender in center field to a plus defender in left field, with Jake Marisnick‘s elite defense in center. If Amed Rosario‘s bat continues to develop, the DH would also allow for him to be kept in the lineup with someone like Luis Guillorme manning shortstop periodically.
There really are a multitude of options for Rojas given how this roster is constructed, particularly with an expanded roster in 2020, and I suspect we will see a plethora of mid-game defensive positional swaps during the upcoming season. As much as NL purists hate the idea of the DH, the Mets are among the teams that would benefit the most from the introduction of an additional bat to the lineup. Truth be told, I’ve personally started coming around to the idea of the DH in the senior circuit. Perhaps it’s because of the inevitability of it, or maybe it’s the aftereffect of watching what poor in-game management does to a team over the last few years. Either way, we’re about to witness the experiment in real-time whether we like it or not. At the very least, they’ll have somewhere to play Cano during the last forever years of his contract. That’s kind of a win, right?
Let’s end with a couple of questions for discussion:
- What would be your ideal DH scenario for this team?
- What historical Mets player would have benefited the most from the DH while he played for the team?