Harper joins fellow offseason pickups Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and J.T. Realmuto to give the Phillies one of the most fearsome lineups in the National League. I reckon manager Gabe Kapler will use a lineup that looks something like this when Philadelphia opens the regular season at home against the Braves on March 28:
- LF Andrew McCutchen
- SS Jean Segura
- RF Bryce Harper
- 1B Rhys Hoskins
- C J.T. Realmuto
- CF Odubel Herrera
- 3B Maikel Franco
- 2B Cesar Hernandez
- SP Aaron Nola
Flipping Hernandez and Nola in order to use Hernandez and his on-base skills as a "second" leadoff hitter wouldn't be a bad idea given the thunder at the top of the lineup. Clearly though, that's a formidable batting order. There are no soft spots except for, well, Nola, the pitcher. Pitchers absolutely stink at hitting. Even the pitchers who can kinda of hit aren't good at it compared to position players.
Pitchers are so bad at hitting these days -- pitchers collectively posted a .293 OPS in 2018, their worst ever, and seven of the eight worst hitting seasons by pitchers have come in the last seven years -- that soon they won't even have to do it. The MLB Players Association is pushing to bring the designated hitter to the National League, though commissioner Rob Manfred cautions it won't happen immediately. :
"Those are significant economic issues (because DHs tend to make more than bench players). They are different in kind than the type of playing-rule changes that we have out there," Manfred said. "I think that there are pieces of [the MLBPA's] response on the on-field proposal that were very encouraging. I think what needs to be sorted out is how closely the two agendas are tied, in other words, the on-field stuff and the economic stuff."
The MLBPA wants to implement the universal DH this season, as in 2019, though that won't happen. It's not fair to clubs to drop a significant rule change like that on them weeks before Opening Day. Manfred indicated the universal DH will likely have to wait until 2022, the first year of the next collective bargaining agreement, assuming there's no work stoppage.
Point is, the conversation is happening, and both sides are open to the idea. Baseball purists will hate it, I get it, but the universal DH is inevitable more than theoretical. It's going to happen and soon, and that is great news for the Phillies, who just signed Harper through his age-38 season. The same applies to the Padres, who signed Manny Machado through his age-35 season.
It is no secret players tend to be less productive in their 30s than their 20s. The wear and tear adds up and the body doesn't move or recover like it once did. That's why teams have become so wary of signing players to big money deals that extend into their late 30s. Albert Pujols, who signed his 10-year deal at age 31, is the perfect example of a big money deal gone wrong.
Once the NL adopts the DH though, the Phillies and Padres will be able to reduce that wear and tear on Harper and Machado by getting them out of the field regularly. Even if the universal DH arrives in 2022, those two will still be only 29 years old and in their prime. Philadelphia and San Diego can begin getting them DH days early with their eyes on the long-term.
The universal DH is not guaranteed to happen nor does it guarantee Harper and Machado will age gracefully, but it would be another tool in the shed to help the Phillies and Padres protect their investments. It could help Harper age like, say, Nelson Cruz or David Ortiz, who haven't/didn't decline at all into their late-30s, largely because being a DH helped keep them fresh.
There isn't a doubt in my mind the Phillies and Padres entered into the Harper and Machado contracts under the assumption the DH is coming to the NL at some point. They accepted it is not a certainty but assumed it is likely because, well, MLB and the MLBPA are talking about it. There's momentum. It won't happen in 2019, but it should within a few years, and that's good news for these two NL clubs and their new long-term investments.