How the 2020 Cubs might look if the DH comes to the NL
As Major League Baseball works toward a return this season, baseball will look a lot different in 2020.
It’s going to be a shortened season, the rosters will almost assuredly be expanded beyond 26 (which was already new for this year), the schedule will look different — even division alignments and home ballparks could be adjusted.
Now, we’re hearing the possibility of a universal designated hitter is being discussed, as The Athletic’s Jim Bowden reported over the weekend.
The reasoning is sound — if the schedule and divisions are adjusted and interleague games are more common, why continue to have two different sets of rules for each league? Also, it would help pitchers avoid injury even more and that’s already going to be a potential issue depending on how long they’re given to ramp back up in a second spring training.
The possibility of the National League adopting the DH has been rumored for years, but the coronavirus shutdown may be just the craziness needed to shake things up and enforce that for this season.
It would immediately put NL teams at something of a disadvantage because they did not have the luxury of a full offseason to plan their roster around adding another hitter into the mix on a daily basis.
But the Cubs could actually be one of the teams in a good spot to seamlessly adopt the DH right now.
The initial first reaction of many people would be to assume the Cubs would automatically move Kyle Schwarber into the designated hitter slot, but that’s probably not how they would handle it. Sure, Schwarber might DH a bunch, but his defense is not necessarily the issue most outsiders think it is.
Schwarber finished last season with -3 Defensive Runs Saved, which is below average and ranked 80th out of 114 outfielders with at least 500 defensive innings. But for comparison, Albert Almora Jr. finished with -5 DRS while Christian Yelich (2014 Gold Glove winner) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (2018 Gold Glove winner) both turned in a -2 DRS mark.
Now, defensive metrics are not end-all, be-all stats and they can change from year to year. For example, Schwarber posted a +3 DRS in 2018, which ranked 46th out of 114 outfielders with at least 500 defensive innings. Bradley, who won the Gold Glove that season playing center field for the Red Sox, had a +1 DRS.
In other words, Schwarber isn’t the huge liability in left field he’s often portrayed as. He also would have to be able to mentally handle the switch to a spot where he only takes 4-5 at-bats a game and no longer plays defense, which is an adjustment for younger players who have never done that before on a regular basis (Schwarber has 22 career starts at DH during interleague games). He excelled in the role in the 2016 World Series, but those were extenuating circumstances and there’s no guarantee he would be able to handle that move full time.
More likely, the Cubs would insert Schwarber at DH some of the time with either Steven Souza Jr. or Ian Happ manning left field, which would give the lineup more length and firepower.
In those cases, here’s how the lineup might look:
1. Kris Bryant – 3B
2. Anthony Rizzo – 1B
3. Javy Báez – SS
4. Kyle Schwarber – DH
5. Willson Contreras – C
6. Jason Heyward – RF
7. Ian Happ – CF
8. Steven Souza Jr. – LF
9. Jason Kipnis/Nico Hoerner – 2B
With another bat in the order and no pitcher’s spot, the Cubs could also be more comfortable prioritizing speed or defense in the outfield and inserting Albert Almora Jr. or Ian Miller into the lineup hitting eighth or ninth while keeping Schwarber and Happ’s bats in there.
Other times, Happ or Souza might DH instead of Schwarber or first-year manager David Ross could put Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant or Javy Báez in there to give them a half-day off and get them off their feet a bit.
The same could be said for Willson Contreras — he could get a day off from catching but the Cubs could still keep his bat in the lineup. On days Contreras is catching, Victor Caratini could get the nod at DH. With expanded rosters expected, the Cubs will be carrying at least three catchers, meaning they could utilize Contreras or Caratini at DH and still have Josh Phegley or P.J. Higgins on the bench, able to catch later if an injury occurred.
There’s also the matter of second base, where the Cubs had a plethora of players competing for the gig before the COVID-19 shutdown happened. With the expanded rosters and potentially no minor-league action during this unusual season, Nico Hoerner would probably be with the big-league club, meaning he could play second and Jason Kipnis, Daniel Descalso or David Bote could be DHing (or any combination of the four playing second/DHing).
Ross and the Cubs would have a lot of options at their disposal and they could use the DH as more of a rotating spot to give people breathers and keep them healthy, rather than assigning the role to one person for a majority of the time.