With the chance of the NL having a DH in 2020, the Nats are in a great position to take advantage of this.
Last week, Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that the MLB is expected to offer the MLBPA a return-to-play proposal within the next week. That came to fruition and the League sent in their proposal to the players. One of the key components of the proposal was that in 2020, MLB will implement a DH in both leagues.
With Heyman’s recent tweet, it seems the DH is coming to the NL sooner than we expected. Now, there are some options on the open market who could fill the DH void for NL teams, a la Yasiel Puig. Some of the NL teams are better suited for the switch than others. One team that will benefit immensely from a universal DH is the Washington Nationals
Why the Nationals will benefit from a universal DH
It is well noted that the 2020 Nationals are full of depth. Mike Rizzo has decided to load up on position players and has Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman, Kurt Suzuki, Yan Gomes, and Eric Thames all vying for infield positions. Gomes and Suzuki will platoon behind the plate, Thames and Zimmerman will take turns at first, Cabrera will primarily man third until Carter Kieboom is ready, while Castro and Kendrick will hold down second. That still leaves four players on the bench who could be daily contributors. But now that the NL might have a DH, the Nationals depth will come in handy.
When it was announced the players will vote on a universal DH, the first name that came to mind was Howie Kendrick. Kendrick 36, is a year removed from rupturing his Achilles and showed in the 2019 playoffs that he isn’t the same fielder he once was. When Kendrick re-signed with the Nationals in the off-season, Jesse Doughtery of The Washington Post stated,
“Heading into the offseason, it seemed likely that Kendrick would land with an American League team and be a designated hitter for the rest of his career. And since designated hitters play most days, unlike his potential role with the Nationals, it seemed likely that an AL team would drive his price beyond what Washington was willing to spend. But Kendrick chose the Nationals’ offer over other two-year deals, according to a person with knowledge of his free agency, with his mind set on coming back to the team he helped lead to its first championship.”
Kendrick was the team’s DH in the World Series and it worked wonders. He hit the biggest home run in Nationals history in game seven. Down 2-1 in the top of the seventh, Kendrick launched a go-ahead two-run shot that won the Nationals the series. Last season in 121 games, Kendrick hit .344, with 17 homers, and 62 RBIs. Kendrick should be the team’s primary DH in 2020, which will keep him rested.
The beauty of the Nationals depth is that Kendrick isn’t the team’s only option at DH. In fact, Ryan Zimmerman and Eric Thames can both play the role well. Zimmerman has struggled with injuries in the past, but putting him at DH will keep him rested. Zim missed a good chunk of 2019 due to injuries and finished the season hitting .257 with an OPS of .736 in 52 games. However, when Zim can avoid the injury bug, he has proven he can still play. This was seen as recently as 2017 when he hit .303, with 36 homers, and 108 RBIs.
Thames was brought in as a free agent from the Brewers. After playing in the KBO, the slugger had a career resurgence with the Brew Crew. In his three years in Milwaukee, Thames hit .241 with 72 homers, 161 RBIs, and an OPS of .848. Originally the plan was for Thames to platoon with Zimmerman at first. Thames crushes righties, having hit 23 of his 25 homers against them last season, where Zimmerman excels against lefties. He hit .367 against lefties last season compared to .213 against righties. But now with the DH, Martinez can switch between all three to give his Veterans some needed rest.
Asdrubal Cabrera could also see some reps at DH. With Washington’s plethora of depth, Martinez will have plenty of options at his disposal and it will be fun to see how he utilizes this opportunity.