Washington Nationals: The DH in the NL
It’s been rumored and discussed for the past several years, but there’s now increased movement toward the National League adopting the designated hitter rule. The rule could go into effect as early as 2020 and continue for the foreseeable future.
Back in May, MLB sent in a proposal to the MLBPA that included implementing a universal DH. Fast forward to the most recent proposal between the two sides would also include implementing a universal DH for the 2020 season. Originally the plan was to implement the universal DH for good following the shortened 2020 season, but that idea hit a snag.
For now, the universal DH is just for the shortened season.
In early May, we wrote a piece explaining how the Nationals would benefit from this rule. And that stance still hasn’t changed. With the oldest roster in Major League Baseball, the Washington Nationals could greatly benefit from the rule being implemented. As it stands, Manager Dave Martinez will platoon multiple infield positions, so having access to a designated hitter each night will make his job that much easier.
And while the Nationals have budding stars like Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Trea Turner, they also have multiple aging veterans that are nearing the end of their everyday roles. This is where having the extra batting position comes in clutch.
There will certainly be a rotating door on the new offensive slot, but there are three Nationals that should see a bulk of the starts – Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, and Eric Thames.
Zimmerman, 35, has been an everyday player for the Nationals since he debuted in 2005 but, has suffered multiple injuries in the past six seasons that have diminished his playing time. And while his production has dropped off over that time, he could benefit from the lesser role and limited opportunities for injury.
Kendrick, 36, is defying the limits of age. He’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career where he batted .344 with 17 home runs and 62 RBIs. Like Zimmerman, Kendrick has been prone to injury in recent seasons and would benefit from less playing time in the field. But the Nationals need Kendrick’s bat in the lineup as much as possible, even if he doesn’t play to the same tune as he did in 2019.
Thames, 33, joined the Nationals after spending the past seven seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers and the NC Dinos of the Korean Baseball Organization League. Thames is a true power-hitter that doesn’t have a “natural” position, making him the perfect candidate to see time as Washington’s designated hitter.
Other Nationals that could see time in the designated hitter role are Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, and Carter Kieboom. All three will see action at second and third base and shortstop over the course of the season but may benefit from a brief stint away from the field while still providing their offensive production to the team.
There is also the possibility that the Nationals will sign or trade for someone to be there permanent designated hitter, but that seems like unlikely given the number of players already on the roster who could fill the hole.
Most pitchers will be pleased to hear that they will not be required to enter the batter’s box moving forward, but two Nationals starters may not be. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg have held their own at the plate, batting .193 and .152, respectively, for their career. Combined, they’ve tallied 5 home runs and 58 RBI.
If the rule is implemented for good, fans will likely not see storylines such as Madison Bumgarner homering off of Clayton Kershaw or Bartolo Colon going deep at age 43. While these will be missed, other storylines and excitement will surely come to fruition to replace them.
And if the universal DH ends up staying for good, then-Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole will go down as the last pitcher to bat for himself. Cole struck out swinging against Nationals closer Sean Doolittle in the World Series. But, it’s very likely that some pitchers will be utilized as pinch-hitters moving forward, including Scherzer and Strasburg and Michael Lorenzen of the Cincinnati Reds.