Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the universal DH has been agreed upon for the upcoming season and beyond. How does this impact the San Diego Padres?
Pitchers hitting is an archaic venture. It’s unwatchable and puts prized pitchers in dangerous situations that are completely unnecessary. Do we really need a $100 million pitcher tearing an ACL on the basepaths?
Not anymore. While the lockout still remains in effect, Rob Manfred announced on Thursday that the two sides, though far from a full agreement to a new CBA, have at least agreed to implement the universal designated hitter, giving the DH to National League teams full-time. American League teams have had the DH since 1973.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters the league has agreed to a universal DH.
"I believe we will have an agreement in time to play our regular-season schedule." pic.twitter.com/oXCrkLq2Mp
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) February 10, 2022
It’s not like the DH completely eliminates the use for a manager’s brain. Mostly gone are the days of an everyday DH who moves the speed of a sloth and is a one-trick pony. Now managers use the DH to give an everyday fielder half of a day off, giving him respite from the field while still keeping his lethal bat in the lineup. Another avenue is to use it to give touted prospects a chance to get their feet wet in the big leagues without giving them a complete baptism by fire. There could be a scenario where a player has a sore throwing shoulder but can still swing the bat. The DH has plenty of uses.
This announcement should excite most Padres fans since San Diego had a great deal of success in 2020 when the rule was temporarily implemented for the COVID-shortened season, on their way to ending a 14-year playoff drought.
There are several big bats worth looking at that San Diego might not have considered last year when the universal DH was put on pause for 2021. The Padres were fourth in the NL in OPS in 2020 and dropped to eighth in 2021. The Padres needed the designated hitter to return.
Nelson Cruz headlines a free-agent class full of solid DH candidates. The 41-year-old slugger is still playing at a high level, primarily thanks to the existence of the DH in the first place. He hit 32 home runs with a .832 OPS and 130 OPS+ last season for the Twins and Rays. Since 2014, he has averaged over 36 home runs per season with a .908 OPS and 147 OPS+. Plus, he is one of the most beloved and respected players in the game in the clubhouse. Who wouldn’t love a guy like that in Padres pinstripes?
Jorge Soler and Nick Castellanos are both still viable in the outfield, but maybe better fits long-term as a DH. Both have incredible power and can change the game in an instant. The former is coming off of winning the 2021 World Series MVP.
Castellanos hit 34 home runs with 100 RBI and was second among all outfielders with a .576 slugging percentage.
Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto, Joc Pederson, and Eddie Rosario could be potential designated hitters for the Padres in 2022. Even if they are not full-time DHers, they would add depth and allow the Padres some flexibility in who to play in the outfield versus designated hitter.
Perhaps this could present an opportunity for a reunion between San Diego and fan-favorite Franmil Reyes? A perfect, prototypical DH-type, Reyes is fresh off of a 30-homer season and is under team control for another three seasons. A.J. Preller would need to coax him from the Cleveland Guardians, who may not want to deal away one of their best power hitters.
The Padres need reliable bats in the lineup that will drive in runs alongside Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Jake Cronenworth. The outfield may need a complete overhaul, and the outfielder and DH market will explode once the lockout thaws.
Some moves may be necessary to clear room for the payroll freedom needed for such acquisitions, such as moving Wil Myers or Eric Hosmer this offseason. Speaking of Hosmer, do the Padres dare hang onto him and attempt to platoon him as a DH and pair him with a far better defender at first base?
Even if a major move is not made to deploy a full-time designated hitter, the Padres would make good use of it, giving their everyday starters a day off of their feet in the field while still keeping their bat in the lineup.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is a good example. There were times in 2021 where he was not healthy enough to be playing in the field with his balky shoulder. However, his bat is invaluable. He seems to feel comfortable as a DH. In 15 plate appearances as a DH, Tatis is batting .333 with a 1.383 OPS with two home runs.
The same argument can be made for any Padres hitter. Manny Machado played hurt for a portion of the season. He definitely could have used an extra day or two off of his feet when not hitting. To be able to keep their bat in the lineup while letting them rest on defense would do wonders for load management over a 162-game season.
This also could be an opportunity for the Padres to season a few of their younger prospects with some quality at-bats. CJ Abrams, Robert Hassell III, and Luis Campusano could get some major league quality at-bats without being overextended in the field.
Any way you slice it, the DH can only help the Padres. It could bring an exciting slugger to San Diego or give players currently in the organization more opportunities to pile up at-bats with limited risk.