Baseball is returning, but the National League rules will be a little bit different in 2020.
One change made for this season only, in the wake of the delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the institution of the universal designated hitter. No longer will the DH appear only in games played in American League ballparks, as has been the case since 1973. With an increased emphasis on pitcher health after an abbreviated second “Spring Training,” National League clubs will be able to use the DH as well, and not just in Interleague games.
Of course, that rule change will not affect each of the 15 NL teams equally. Some are better equipped than others to add an extra bat to the lineup, either because of the depth on their rosters, or given the presence of a defensively challenged player who is simply a better fit for that role.
With all that in mind, MLB.com tasked five writers to draft the NL clubs’ DH situations, with each getting three picks. These selections were based not just on the players now projected to be primary DHs, but rather each squad’s full range of options.
Primary projected DH: Enrique Hernández
Matt Beaty, Gavin Lux, Joc Pederson, A.J. Pollock, Edwin Ríos, Chris Taylor, and heck, even Will Smith when he needs a break from catching. Those are all names I didn’t list as the primary option, but they all could log time at DH. No NL club mirrors an AL club’s ability to rotate the DH spot like the Dodgers who, in case you didn’t know, are very, very deep. This will be a by-committee approach.
One of Los Angeles’ only flaws in recent years has been having more talented players than available playing time, and so adding a DH spot only helps that. Andrew Friedman and Dave Roberts can use the DH as they like -- either to lend a breather to stars like Cody Bellinger or Max Muncy, platoon with someone like Hernández or Pederson or give at-bats to an up-and-comer like Beaty or Ríos. -- Matt Kelly
Primary projected DH: Howie Kendrick
After signing Eric Thames and Starlin Castro and re-signing Ryan Zimmerman and Asdrúbal Cabrera in the offseason, the defending World Series champion Nationals have as much depth as any team in the NL besides the Dodgers. With so many proven veterans, Washington may use a DH rotation to keep everyone fresh, especially if Carter Kieboom (MLB’s No. 21 overall prospect) shows that he can handle the third-base job on a regular basis. The National who figures to benefit most from the DH role is Kendrick, who hit .344/.395/.572 with 17 homers and 23 doubles over 370 plate appearances last year, getting routine days off to stay fresh. With the DH spot available and a shortened schedule, the soon-to-be 37-year-old could end up playing virtually every day. -- Thomas Harrigan
Primary projected DH: Jesse Winker
The Reds’ two biggest additions in an aggressive offseason were Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas, the former an improving right fielder who has put up some ugly advanced metrics, and the latter a natural third baseman the Reds are planning to slot in at second. On any given day, Cincinnati could use the DH spot to keep them in the lineup while improving defensively. But the biggest bonus here is simply opening up an extra spot for the club’s avalanche of outfield bats. The left-handed Winker, with a career .909 OPS against righties but -14 Outs Above Average, might be the most significant beneficiary. Manager David Bell can also get more at-bats to the promising Nick Senzel, Japanese free-agent acquisition Shogo Akiyama, the lefty-mashing Phillip Ervin, Aristides “The Punisher” Aquino, and others. And perhaps regular time at DH would help Joey Votto bounce back from the worst offensive numbers of his career. -- Andrew Simon
Primary projected DH: Dom Smith
How the Mets will look at DH hinges on Yoenis Céspedes’ health. If he’s healthy and ready to play in 2020, he figures to play the position a fair amount, given his recent injury history. Putting him at DH allows the Mets to reap the benefits of his offensive prowess with less worrying about a chance of potential reinjury.
If he’s not able to play, the Mets have two good options in Smith and J.D. Davis. Neither is a defensive asset in left field, and both are blocked at first base by reigning NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso. Those two (or three, with Céspedes) could rotate through the DH position, as each offers plenty of offensive upside. -- Sarah Langs
Primary projected DH: Matt Carpenter
The simplest thing to do for the Cardinals would be to put Carpenter at DH, Tommy Edman at third base and Tyler O'Neill in left field. Stick the athletic youngsters in the field and hope their promising bats continue to develop, and let the veteran Carpenter, a great hitter who dealt with a couple of injuries last year, preserve his health so you can keep his bat in the lineup. But maybe that doesn't work out perfectly. Then St. Louis has Brad Miller to plug in. Edman and Carpenter's versatility could help players like Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong get days off their feet by DHing, too. Oh, and if top prospect Dylan Carlson gets a call this season and the Cardinals end up with a surplus of bats, that DH spot could really come in handy. -- David Adler
Primary projected DH: Ryan Braun
The universal DH is just what Braun needs. He's 36 years old but still a really good hitter -- he had 22 homers and a 116 OPS+ last year -- and the DH solves the Brewers' problem of how to keep him on the lineup card. Take him and Justin Smoak, stick one at first base and the other at DH (probably Braun at DH, mostly), let Avisail García play the outfield full-time, and there you go. There's also one other sneaky option: Keston Hiura. Hiura absolutely rakes, but he was a poor defensive infielder in his rookie season. If the Brewers can finagle it every now and then (say, by letting Brock Holt fill in in the middle infield), some Hiura DH days might work out. -- Adler
Primary projected DH: Kyle Schwarber
Schwarber (-10 Outs Above Average last season) has always profiled as a DH, so this would seem to be a particularly helpful addition for the Cubs. Offseason signing Steven Souza Jr. missed all of 2019 after left knee surgery in March, but if he’s healthy, as he was in Spring Training, it appears left field would be his for the taking. Even if Souza were to not work out in left, the Cubs have other outfielders they can slide around, including Ian Happ. Perhaps Happ and Schwarber could even end up splitting time at DH and in left, if Happ slugs like he did in his 58 games in 2019. -- Langs
Primary projected DH: Marcell Ozuna
The Braves signed Ozuna this offseason primarily for his bat, and using the slugger regularly at DH could mitigate his declining defensive profile. (Ozuna had -8 OAA last season and has struggled with throws). Adding a lineup slot also would allow Atlanta to make a platoon starter out of righty Adam Duvall and lefty Nick Markakis, whether that’s in left field or DH. Another intriguing possibility would be to give 23-year-old Austin Riley a shot to grab that role after he showed enormous power -- albeit with a sky-high strikeout rate -- as a rookie. Riley was raking this spring before the shutdown and could help Atlanta make up for the loss of Josh Donaldson. -- Simon
Primary projected DH: Daniel Murphy
The addition of the DH could open the door for youngsters Garrett Hampson (25 years old), Sam Hilliard (26) and Brendan Rodgers (23, MLB’s No. 29 prospect). Colorado will likely use Murphy at DH much of the time, and on those days, Ryan McMahon could play first, with Hampson or Rodgers at second. Murphy’s production slipped in 2019 (87 OPS+), his first year with the Rockies, but perhaps not having to play the field will give him fresher legs at the plate.
Colorado could also roll with the oft-injured David Dahl at DH on occasion, with Murphy at first, McMahon at second and Hampson, Hilliard or Raimel Tapia in center field. The possibility of Hilliard drawing consistent playing time is especially intriguing, as the left-handed hitter produced seven home runs and a 136 OPS+ over 87 plate appearances with the Rockies last season after slugging 35 homers in Triple-A. -- Harrigan
Primary projected DH: Jay Bruce
The DH could provide a three-fold opportunity for Philadelphia. It’s a spot where Andrew McCutchen can ease his way into what will be a tightly packed schedule as he returns from a torn ACL. Then, once Cutch is ready for the outfield, Philly’s lineup can retain the bat of Bruce (still a 20-30 homer threat) and probably gain a little on the whole by taking his glove off the diamond. There should still be at-bats left over for corner infielder Alec Bohm (MLB’s No. 30 prospect), whose timeline could be accelerated with another lineup slot opening up. With so much invested in this year’s club, the Phillies might not be able to wait on Bohm much longer. -- Kelly
Primary projected DH: Jake Lamb
Lamb should have the inside track for this spot, but injuries and inconsistency (75 OPS+ when he has played over the last two seasons) have left him with a lot to prove. That’s even before one considers his career-long struggles against lefties (.594 OPS). But if Lamb at least returns to his prior form, he and the hulking Kevin Cron could give Arizona a powerful lefty-righty DH platoon -- especially if even a percentage of Cron’s video-game Minor League numbers (38 HRs, .777 SLG in 82 games with Triple-A Reno) translate to the bigs. If all else fails, the D-backs have someone else who’d love to hit four out of every five days. -- Kelly
Primary projected DH: Wil Myers
The Padres overhauled their outfield in the offseason, trading for Tommy Pham and Trent Grisham and seemingly leaving Myers to compete for playing time with 22-year-old Josh Naylor and 25-year-old Franchy Cordero. The veteran slugger struggled in 2019 (-0.4 bWAR), but he had a solid 112 OPS+ over his first four years with San Diego and produced 58 homers with 48 steals across 2016-17. He could be primed for a rebound campaign at age 29, and with Myers taking most of his at-bats as the DH, the Padres will be able to get a longer look at Naylor and Cordero -- and possibly Taylor Trammell (MLB’s No. 57 prospect), at some point. -- Harrigan
Primary projected DH: Garrett Cooper
The DH might open up an everyday role for Cooper, who hit an above-average .281/.344/.446 with 15 homers in 107 games last year, his first with significant MLB playing time. Alternatively, Miami could install Cooper at first and Jesús Aguilar at DH, with outfielder Matt Joyce also grabbing more starts against right-handed pitching. The extra lineup spot also might create more opportunities for non-roster invitee Matt Kemp or, at some point, a prospect such as Lewin Diaz. -- Simon
Primary projected DH: Hunter Pence
Pence is the obvious candidate here for the Giants, given his age (37), and the fact that he’s coming off a season with the Rangers in which he mostly DHed, and dealt with injury, while posting a .910 OPS. The Giants also have Pablo Sandoval, whose main position of third base is occupied by Evan Longoria. Then there’s Wilmer Flores, an offseason signing who gives the Giants depth at pretty much every infield position in a utility role. Flores had a strong offensive year with the D-backs in ‘19, hitting a career-best .317, so the team would benefit from his batting even on days he isn’t in the infield. -- Langs
Primary projected DH: Josh Bell
Sure, Bell is a prototypical slugging DH. That might be enough for the Pirates to actually put him there. But then who's playing first base? José Osuna isn't that much better defensively, and he's not a great hitter, so it's not like him playing first and Bell DHing is a panacea. What else can Pittsburgh do? Here's an idea: Gregory Polanco at DH and Guillermo Heredia, an excellent defender, in the outfield. The upgrade of Heredia's glove might be worth taking the downgrade vs. Osuna's bat. (In a dream world, 6-foot-7 prospect Oneil Cruz would get to crush some dingers as a DH, but that's just a dream.) -- Adler