Amid the contentious talk of Major League Baseball playing its 2020 season is a rule change that some traditionalists object to: a Universal DH. While some National League teams would have roster work to do in order to address this contingency, the Miami Marlins are not among them.
The Designated Hitter (DH) is something the American League adopted in 1973, and now it appears as if the National League may add it in advance of the new collective bargaining agreement for 2022. Players know it can prolong careers, while general managers see it as an opportunity to prevent pitchers from unnecessary injury exposure in the batter’s box or on the base paths.
Recast in the light of this development, offseason moves from the Marlins now seem prescient. The addition of hitters like Jesus Aguilar and Matt Joyce, even Matt Kemp, point to potential candidates at the position.
Sure, the Marlins have had success in the past with pitchers at the plate, but not recently. Long gone are the days of Chris Hammond and Dontrelle Willis. Jose Fernandez connected on two career home runs, but it’s been more than four years since a Marlins pitcher hit one out.
Since 2015, Marlins pitchers rank 14th out of 15 NL teams in On-Base Percentage (.137) with over 1515 Plate Appearances. In addition, they sport the highest strikeout rate of all NL teams (45 percent).
Should MLB come to an agreement with the Players Association for a truncated 2020 season, and should that agreement include this rule change, here’s a look at five reasons a Universal DH will benefit the Marlins.
Universal DH: Helps Solve the Outfield Logjam
The Marlins have 10 players for three positions. Of those 10, one, either newly signed Jonathan Villar or the returning Brian Anderson, will man third base. Anderson is the odds-on favorite to start in right field. Free agent addition Corey Dickerson will probably patrol left, though Miami manager Don Mattingly may elect to sit Dickerson versus left-handed pitching.
That leaves seven players for one spot. Even with an expanded 30-man roster and a 20-man taxi squad, that’s too many outfielders to carry. But with a DH in the lineup, the likelihood of these players sticking with the club increases considerably
Harold Ramirez and Matt Joyce immediately become options for consistent plate appearances. Jon Berti can remain in a super-utility role, and Magneuris Sierra sees his chances of staying with the franchise improve dramatically. Sierra’s out of minor league options and would need to be traded or released if he doesn’t make the team.
This also means the battle for center field, between Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison among others, might not see the loser banished to Triple-A.
Universal DH: Frees Up First Base
When the Marlins claimed Jesus Aguilar off waivers this offseason, most took it as a signal that Garrett Cooper may be destined for the outfield or the bench. Although Aguilar will need a bounce-back season, the former All-Star put up the best numbers of his career while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018. In 149 games, he slashed .274/.352/.539 with 35 home runs and 108 RBI.
Injury struggles led Mattingly to imply, back in December, that Cooper’s not an everyday player. In 107 games last season, Cooper slashed .281/.344/.446 with 15 home runs and 50 RBI. He started 66 games at first, and 31 games in right, with two turns at DH.
One of these two is likely the everyday first baseman, while the other can man the DH spot. Matt Kemp saw some time at first during Spring Training, and, at this stage in his career, he profiles more at DH than outfield.
There’s also a longshot for a 23-year-old prospect Lewin Diaz to play first. The six-foot-four Diaz came to the Marlins from Minnesota as part of the Sergio Romo trade last year. He’s a lefty with plenty of pop in his bat.
Universal DH: Jorge Alfaro
Jorge Alfaro landed with the Marlins as part of the J.T. Realmuto trade, coming to Miami with pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart. In 2019, he connected on 18 home runs and drove in 57 runs over 130 games. Injuries affected Alfaro’s overall performance, but he showed promise handling the pitchers.
The addition of veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli, as well as the option to DH, should help Alfaro avoid some of the nagging injuries that wear on a catcher during a season, even a shortened one. Having Cervelli as a tutor should help Alfaro defensively, where he needs some improvement, and with calling a game.
Positioning Alfaro as DH and Cervelli as catcher immediately improves Miami’s defense. And while Cervelli isn’t known for his plate production, his 19.2 percent career-strikeout rate means he should put the ball in play more often than not.
James Rowson & the Future
Miami added James Rowson to Mattingly’s staff this offseason Not only will the former Minnesota Twins hitting coach be the Marlins bench coach, but he’ll also work with hitting coach Eric Duncan. These two have been tasked with developing a program to improve every level of the organization at the plate. And being from the AL, Rowson is very familiar with deploying a DH.
Last season, Rowson’s Twins hit a league-best 307 home runs. The Marlins? A paltry 146, a league worst. Minnesota sported one of the most potent offenses in MLB, and his signing with the Marlins may prove to be the best offseason addition of the year. The addition of a Universal DH will only aid in that development.
For the future, a prospect like Jerar Encarnación profiles well as DH. Encarnación was one of 13 Marlins prospects selected to participate in Captain’s Camp, and during Spring Training he flashed his potential power at the plate, connecting on an over 400-foot blast in his second at-bat. At 21-years-old, he could still use some minor league seasoning, but the DH spot may speed up his arrival to the bigs.
Yasiel Puig is on the record stating that the Marlins were among the teams to make him a contract offer. He rejected Miami’s advances, in part, because he wanted a bigger contract. Playing in a city with deep Cuban roots might mean fans would place unrealistic expectations on him.
Puig had an uneven 2019. Overall, he slashed .267/.327/.458 between stints in Cincinnati and Cleveland. Prior to the trade, Puig connected on 22 of his 24 homers for the year. But afterwards, his batting average and on-base percentages improved dramatically (.297/.377).
Having a DH slot would allow Miami to bring in this high-profile name to excite the fan base. If Puig performs well, once fans are allowed in again, there could be an attendance spike not seen since the days of Jose Fernandez on the mound.