Generally speaking, any team heading into the offseason should know what direction it wants to take with every single aspect of the roster. That includes, of course, what positions need to be filled before the start of spring training. Thanks to Major League Baseball and the
tireless tired leadership of commissioner Rob Manfred dragging their feet on a certain rule, half the league is going forward with a blind spot. Free agent players are getting shortchanged, too.
That rule would be the designated hitter rule. It was added to the National League without warning for the 2020 season, but that could be forgiven under the circumstances of a worldwide pandemic that changed pretty much everything about 2020. Entering the 2021 season, however, no final ruling on the DH in the NL has been made.
Here's what Brewers president David Stearns said Wednesday night after the non-tender deadline:
Stearns said NL teams have not been told yet if there will be a DH in 2021.— Tom (@Haudricourt) December 3, 2020
The timeline so far this offseason on related matters:
- Oct. 30: Contract option decisions due
- Nov. 1: Qualifying offer decisions due
- Nov. 1: Free agency begins
- Nov. 11: Deadline for players who got qualifying offers to either accept or reject
- Dec. 2: Non-tender deadline
- Dec. 3: National League teams still don't know if they will use a designated hitter next season in NL-only games
We don't really need to beat around the bush on this one, do we? This is laughable.
Not only does it put many National League teams in a situation where they are trying to build their best roster possible, but they also have to have contingencies in place for either scenario. We know their interleague games need a DH anyway, but that's a far cry from using one every day, especially if we're looking at a full season as opposed to the 60-game mish-mash we just experienced.
Of course, this pales in comparison to what it is doing to the players, who are already getting squeezed after the owners didn't get any gate money in 2020.
Consider three non-tendered players from Wednesday's deadline:
- Adam Duvall - He slugged .567 in limited action in 2019 and hit 16 homers in just 190 at-bats with a .532 slugging last season for the Braves. He's not a good defender but he's a good bet to homer 30-plus times in a full season. Reports indicate the uncertainty around the DH spot contributed to the non-tender.
- Kyle Schwarber - Look, we all know he's a polarizing player and that's long been the case. The fact of the matter is he hit .250/.339/.531 with 38 homers in 2019, though. That's an everyday bat. He was bad in 2020, but if we're judging on just 60 games, here are his last 60 of 2019, the last time things were "normal:" .285/.374/.622, 16 HR, 45 RBI.
- Eddie Rosario - He hit 32 homers with 109 RBI in 2019 and then homered 13 times in 57 games last year. He has a 114 OPS+ the last four seasons. He's not a good defender, but a bat of his caliber shouldn't be getting dropped on the scrap heap. Now, obviously Rosario was with an AL team in the Twins, but the entire market is affected and the Twins were trying to deal Rosario before non-tendering him. If this rule was settled, it's possible things were different. Either way, his free agency market is now harmed by the lack of clarity with the rule, much like the markets for Duvall and Schwarber.
The longer this issue lingers, the more the free agent market is affected as well. Consider these two big-time free agent sluggers:
- Marcell Ozuna - He took a one-year deal with the Braves last offseason to bet on himself and should have won. He led the NL in home runs, RBI and total bases while slashing .338/.431/.636. The market feels ripe for him to get screwed over again, doesn't it?
- Nelson Cruz - Surely at some point he'll stop slugging. It hasn't happened yet. In 2019 in just 120 games, he hit 41 homers and drove home 108 runs with a 168 OPS+. Last year in 53 games, he had 16 homers, 33 RBI and a 169 OPS+. He's long only really appealed to half the market, but at his age (he'll be 41 on July 1), a bigger market would greatly benefit.
Lower on the list, what about...
- Brad Miller - Once a middle infielder, he can't really hold down a position, or a team, really. He can hit, though. In 2019-20, he's only had 341 plate appearances, but he's hit 20 homers with a 123 OPS+. DH certainty in the NL would really help.
- Carlos Santana - He hit just .199 with a .350 slugging last season, but Santana also led the AL in walks with 47. As such, his .349 on-base percentage was 30 points above the AL average. He also hit 34 homers in 2019. He's 35, but there should be a market.
Instead, players like Miller and Santana are probably going to be stuck waiting around this winter. Even just a little certainty would help all parties involved. AL teams would know whether or not NL teams are in the market for a DH and then could react accordingly. From there, offers can start rolling in and players can start making decisions.
Also, the trickle down effect could end up affecting the markets for position players like Justin Turner, Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson, Brett Gardner, Tommy La Stella, Mitch Moreland and more (Yasiel Puig?).
Lots of factors are clogging the free agency market this offseason and that will continue to be the case, but in delaying a decision on the designated hitter, MLB is unnecessarily adding an issue.
The longer Major League Baseball drags its feet on this decision, the longer the NL teams and, as a result, many of these players and even then AL teams are getting jobbed in the offseason. This is far from the only problem MLB has this winter, but it's a problem nonetheless. Someone take control and make a damn decision already.