The calendar has flipped from 2021 to 2022, and we're all still waiting for Major League Baseball to fire back up. The owners locked out the players as soon as the collective bargaining agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 1, immediately bringing the hot stove to a halt. No free agent signings or trades involving the 40-man roster are allowed during the work stoppage.
MLB and the MLBPA are expected to discuss core economic matters this month and those more than anything else will determine when the lockout ends. Baseball is a $10 billion a year business and the how that $10 billion gets divvied up is at the core of the work stoppage. Everything else (rule changes, etc.) is secondary. The lockout will end when the money says so.
Whenever the two sides reaches an agreement, it is expected the new collective bargaining agreement will make the universal DH permanent. There's a segment of baseball fans who are traditionalists and want pitchers to hit, but they are in the minority. MLB, the MLBPA, front offices, and the majority of fans want the universal DH. It is all but certain we'll get it starting in 2022.
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Once that happens, the 15 National League teams will have to adjust their rosters and figure out exactly how they will fill that new DH position. Some teams already have a player (or players) who could step into the DH spot. Others will have to bring in a player from outside the organization to be their DH and make their lineup whole.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the 15 National League clubs and gauge their current DH situations. Once the lockout ends, teams don't figure to have much time to finish their offseason business before spring training, so you can be sure NL teams are already thinking about the universal DH even though it's not official just yet.
Anyway, Arizona is coming off a 110-loss season and the D-Backs are stuck in a tough division, making it unlikely they spend on a free-agent DH. Hummel came over from the Brewers in the Eduardo Escobar trade and he crushed Triple-A in 2021, hitting .311/.432/.546 with more walks (63) than strikeouts (61). He is 27 already and a catcher/first base/left field type, so expect to see him get a nice long look in 2022. Beer is a natural first baseman and a former first\-round pick who made his MLB debut this past season and hit well in Triple-A. The universal DH is exactly what the 25-year-old needs.
If anything, the universal DH will keep Christian Walker and David Peralta on the D-Backs roster, not give opportunities to Beer and Hummel. The D-Backs need to prioritize younger players who can be part of the future, not veterans who are part of their past. Without the universal DH, it could be Walker and Peralta who lose their roster spots to make room for Beer and Hummel, not Beer and Hummel who find themselves on the bench or in Triple-A. Arizona has its DH already.
In-house DH candidates: Marcell Ozuna
When the Braves re-signed Ozuna to a four-year deal worth $64 million last offseason, it is all but certain they did so with the intention of making him their DH in 2022. He is a poor defender but an excellent hitter, so it's a natural fit. Ozuna was given a 20-game suspension under MLB's domestic violence policy last month, though that includes the time he missed this season, so he is eligible to play on Opening Day.
With Ozuna set to DH, the defending World Series champs will lean on Travis Demeritte, Adam Duvall, Guillermo Heredia, Cristian Pache, and top prospect Drew Waters until Ronald Acuña Jr. returns from his knee surgery, which could be in May. (Also, Acuña could see time at DH when he first returns, just to ease him back into action). There is definitely the potential for Atlanta to add another outfielder once the lockout ends (Joc Pederson reunion?). A pure DH though? Nah. Not unless they release Ozuna, and they've yet to give an indication that is in the cards.
The Cubs signed Marcus Stroman to a pricey three-year contract prior to the lockout, so spending money on a DH isn't out of the question. They are in position to cycle through internal options with some upside though. Frazier is a former top prospect in his post-hype days, Ramirez is an exit velocity darling, and Rivas is a career .310/.410/.411 hitter in Triple-A. David Bote (or Patrick Wisdom with Bote at third base?) could be in the DH mix too once he returns from shoulder surgery.
The Stroman signing tells us the Cubs are willing to be opportunistic. They traded away almost all their core players at the 2021 trade deadline, but they aren't locked into a full-blown rebuild. If something comes along that makes sense, they'll pounce, and we should assume that extends to DH position too. If a free agent comes along at the right price, great. If not, then the Cubs would be justified giving opportunities to Frazier, Ramirez, and Rivas given their perceived upside.
In-house DH candidates: Jesse Winker
This might be the most obvious NL DH situation. Winker is a tremendous hitter (career .288/.385/.504) and a brutal defensive outfielder (minus-23 defensive runs saved career). He was born to DH. The Reds could also give Aristides Aquino and Nick Senzel time at DH, ditto Joey Votto at age 38, but yeah, expect Winker to be Cincinnati's full-time DH. Their offseason to date (i.e. salary dumping Tucker Barnhart and Wade Miley) tells us not to expect the Reds to spend money on a free-agent DH, so let's not overthink this one. Winker is the guy.
Good luck trying to figure the Rockies out. They should rebuild given their persistent mediocrity and the current state of the NL West, yet they did not trade Trevor Story and badly botched the Jon Gray situation (no qualifying offer? really?). They then rushed into extensions with CJ Cron and Antonio Senzatela early in the offseason. Those aren't bad moves, necessarily (someone has to play for them, right?), though the Rockies didn't exactly shop around and look for the best opportunities. They stuck with what they had.
Daza and Tapia figure to platoon with Connor Joe and Sam Hilliard in the outfield, so it could be three of the four will be in the lineup on any given day. Welker is one of the organization's better prospects. He missed much of 2021 while serving an 80-game performance-enhancing drug suspension and may need more minor-league at-bats to get up to speed. The Rockies are a definite candidate to bring in a DH after the lockout. I doubt they'd spend significant money on a free agent or give up top prospects in a trade, but they could make a move. Signing someone like Eddie Rosario seems very Rockies-y.
In-house DH candidates: Gavin Lux
Lux is listed as the DH candidate because we have to list someone. The Dodgers, as much as any other team, are poised to use a rotating DH in which their regulars cycle through the position to get a regular "half day off." One day Mookie Betts is the DH, the next day it's Justin Turner, then it's Cody Bellinger, etc. Chris Taylor's return and versatility, and Lux's improving versatility, allow the Dodgers to plug them in anywhere to cover for their DH du jour in the field.
That said, we should never rule the Dodgers adding players. They were connected to Freddie Freeman before the lockout, for example. Signing Freeman would push Max Muncy and to DH. Alternatively, they could sign Kyle Schwarber or Anthony Rizzo, or trade for Matt Olson or Matt Chapman. Re-signing Taylor means the Dodgers don't need to do anything at DH now. They can stick with their in-house options. But, if something better comes along, you can be sure they'll look into it.
In-house DH candidates: Garrett Cooper
Few players stand to benefit from the universal DH more than Cooper, a stathead favorite who has put up big exit velocities and quietly hit .284/.371/.478 the last two seasons. He's a natural first baseman who the Marlins have had to shoehorn into the outfield in deference to Jesús Aguilar. Now they can let Aguilar and Cooper share first base and DH duties, and let them both rake without worrying about suboptimal defense. The Avisaíl García signing combined with the emergence of outfield prospects Bryan De La Cruz and Jesús Sánchez all but guarantees Miami will go with Cooper at DH. I wouldn't expect an outside addition at this position.
In-house DH candidates: Keston Hiura?
The Brewers non-tendered Daniel Vogelbach, their most obvious DH candidate, so Hiura gets the nod here by default. Hiura has been so overmatched the last two years (.192/.279/.362 with an astronomical 21.9 percent swinging strike rate) that there's just no way a contending team could hand him a job in 2022. He'll have to earn it. Other in-house candidates like Mike Brosseau, Corey Ray, and Tyrone Taylor aren't going to move the needle a whole lot at DH.
All that makes Milwaukee a prime candidate to add a DH following the lockout. I would bet on it being a player who can also play the field rather than a DH-only type, but adding a bat to an offense that was middle of the pack (and not all that competitive in the NLDS) seems pretty obvious. The Brewers have previously had interest in Yankees first baseman Luke Voit, according to the New York Post's Joel Sherman. Voit would fit well as Rowdy Tellez's first base/DH partner, though there are no shortage of DH candidates out there.
The pre-lockout spending spree (Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte) plus Cano's reinstatement gives the Mets more starting-caliber players than lineup spots. That is in no way a bad thing. The expectation within the industry is the Mets will trade either McNeil or Smith (or both?) for pitching, according to the New York Post's Mike Puma, but they could do that and release the 39-year-old Canó and still have Davis to DH.
Another name to keep in mind: Nick Plummer. New York signed the 25-year-old former first-round pick of the Cardinals to a major-league contract prior to the lockout, after he hit .280/.415/.479 during a breakout season at Double-A and Triple-A. Plummer could factor into the DH mix as well. Point is, the Mets have no shortage of options. Because they owe Canó north of $20 million each of the next two years, my guess is he'll get an opportunity to show he can be productive, so the DH spot could be his with McNeil or Luis Guillorme at second base.
Either way, it seems unlikely the Mets will sign or trade for a DH after the lockout. They have several qualified DH candidates on the roster and will now focus more on the back of their rotation and bullpen. Given all their position player talent, a rotating DH seems likely, even if McNeil and/or Smith get moved for pitching. The Mets do not have a clear DH answer and that's only because they have multiple good options. This is a "problem" rather than a Problem.
Ideally the Phillies would add a new third baseman (hello Kris Bryant or Matt Chapman) and move the defensively deficient but offensively gifted Bohm to DH. Bohm struggled this past season, though he's a recent high draft pick (No. 3 overall in 2018) and was the Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2020, so he'll get another opportunity. Smart teams don't cut bait on talented 25-year-olds after one down season. Rhys Hoskins could be another DH candidate, though finding a new first baseman doesn't seem to be a priority.
The Phillies were fairly quiet prior to the lockout and their offseason to-do list is quite long. They need help at shortstop, third base, and in left and center fields. Didi Gregorius' contract might get him another shot at shortstop in 2022, but even then the club has several positions to address. How they address them -- Philadelphia was reportedly interested in Kyle Schwarber prior to the lockout -- will affect the DH situation. Bohm at DH with a new third baseman would be ideal. If the market shakes out in such a way that keeping Bohm at third and bringing in another DH-type makes sense, then the Phillies will go that route.
In-house DH candidates: Michael Chavis
We know one thing for sure: Pittsburgh won't commit even a moderate amount of resources (money or trade chips) to the DH position. The Pirates are still fairly early in their rebuild and investing in that position is not a thing that will happen just yet. They could take a shot on a buy-low candidate with upside (former Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andújar, who doesn't have an obvious spot with the Yankees?), but anything more than that would surprise me.
Most likely, the Pirates will rotate players through the DH spot, with Chavis seeing time there and at the three non-first base infield positions. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo will get DH at-bats as well. I reckon DH is pretty far down GM Ben Cherington's priority list. The Pirates will figure DH out as they go and fill it internally however they can.
'In-house' DH candidates: Albert Pujols!
Wouldn't a Pujols reunion be wonderful? Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright all playing one final season together before riding off into the sunset would be pretty neat. Pujols hit .294/.336/.603 against lefties this past season, so as long as you use him properly (i.e. against southpaws only since he hit .180/.223/.266 against righties), he can still contribute to a contending team. Pujols finishing his career with St. Louis would be a storybook ending.
Pujols fan fiction aside, the Cardinals' best in-house DH candidate is Paul DeJong, or really Edmundo Sosa, since DeJong is the superior defender. Outfielder Lars Nootbaar impressed during his brief big-league debut last season and is an analytics darling with impressive exit velocities. He could get DH time. The Cardinals have been a middle-of-the-pack team offensively the last few years, so Pujols or otherwise, bringing in another bat to DH would be a wise move. I'm not sure they'd do it given the whole Cubs thing, but shelling out for Kyle Schwarber would make sense given the righty-heavy lineup.
In-house DH candidates: Wil Myers
The Padres had almost an exactly league-average offense in 2021 and yet they subtracted from their lineup before the lockout rather than add to it ( ). Myers is a DH who has been stuck playing the field the last few years, and now the Padres can put him where he belongs. How about this series of moves?
Tatis played 24 games in the outfield to protect his shoulder this year,. The Padres would give up some value by moving Tatis to a less premium position, but if it keeps him on the field, they'll recoup that value quickly. Kim was a star in Korea who struggled as a part-time player in 2021. San Diego owes him more than $20 million through 2024. Might as well see whether he can contribute with regular at-bats, right?
If the Padres keep Tatis at short and put Myers at DH, they will need to bring in an outfielder. The options are that, or do something crazy like stick catcher-turned-outfield Jorge Alfaro or non-roster invitee Nomar Mazara in right field full-time. We know the Padres and GM A.J. Preller are unafraid of big moves. Their relatively quiet pre-lockout period suggests money is tight, in which case it won't be a significant move to add a bat.
(The X-factor here is Eric Hosmer. The Padres are said to be willing to attach a top prospect to Hosmer to unload the four years and $59 million remaining on his contract. If they succeed in unloading Hosmer, freeing up that money opens up a world of outfield/DH possibilities.)
No team maximized its roster through platoons and versatility more than the 107-win Giants a year ago. They had more quality players than roster spots, and it stands to reason they will take advantage of the DH spot as well as any NL team. That said, you can only carry so many position players. It's not like the Giants could just add two hitters to their roster and built another super productive platoon at DH. Roster spots are a finite resource. Their maneuverability is limited.
San Francisco let Kevin Gausman leave and the Giants don't seem inclined to re-sign Kris Bryant, indicating they won't hand out a large contract this winter. Smaller deals (like the Alex Cobb, Anthony DeSclafani, and Alex Wood contracts) may be their strategy. Even though the Giants have more than enough in-house DH candidates, I wonder whether president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi would look into Joc Pederson, who he knows from his Dodgers days, or Brad Miller, who has a skill that can be leveraged in his ability to punish righties. The Giants don't have to bring in a DH, though they can also jump on anything that makes sense and adds to their already impressive organizational depth.
In-house DH candidates: Yadiel Hernandez
Realistically, this comes down to whether Ryan Zimmerman decides to play in 2022. He received what appeared to be an emotional farewell in the final game this year, but, in November, Zimmerman told 106.7 FM The Fan that "I still definitely am planning on playing (in 2022)." If Zimmerman returns in 2022, then he and Josh Bell will share first base and DH duty, and that'll be that. If not, then the Nationals will have to pivot.
The great Juan Soto is locked into right field. That leaves the lefty-hitting Hernandez and Andrew Stevenson, and the righty-hitting Lane Thomas and Victor Robles, to share the other two outfield positions. Washington could simply play three of the four on any given day and use the DH spot that way. Bringing in a veteran bat wouldn't be a bad idea, even if it's just someone the club could flip at the trade deadline a la Kyle Schwarber in 2021. Does Tommy Pham work? Bottom line, the DH spot is Zimmerman's unless he decides to hang up his spikes.