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Here’s a really good reason for MLB to have the universal DH

It’s likely coming, whether you like it or not.

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Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Willson Contreras was the Cubs’ best designated hitter in 2020. In 18 games in that role, Contreras hit .298/.431/.561 (17-for-57) with four home runs. (Granted, small sample size.)

In this Jayson Stark article in The Athletic in which he goes over quite a few differences that happened in baseball during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he quotes an unnamed American League executive regarding having a universal DH:

“I don’t know how many games Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts DH’d for the Dodgers,” he said, before we ascertained that the correct answer was two games apiece. “But let’s say it’s three games each. That’s three more games it allows those fans to see Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts on what would otherwise be a day off. And if that keeps guys like that in the lineup for 150 games in a normal season instead of 130, that’s a huge win for baseball.”

This is something I hadn’t considered previously, but it’s a valid point. In Contreras’ one full healthy season, 2018, he started 123 games behind the plate. In general, in modern baseball you don’t want catchers to play many more than that due to general wear-and-tear. It’s one of the reasons the Cubs need to keep Victor Caratini around, even though Caratini could probably bring a reasonable trade return — he could start for a lot of teams. But Victor needs to relieve Willson for 40 or so starts per year.

In MLB’s last full season, 2019, just two catchers started more than 120 games: J.T. Realmuto (130) and Yasmani Grandal (124). As noted, Contreras was in that range in 2018.

But what if you could see Willson in the starting lineup for 20-25 more games a year as the designated hitter? (I can think of one BCB staff writer who would be very happy with that!) As the AL executive said, it’s a “huge win for baseball” if players who would otherwise get days off might get a “half-day off” by just hitting, but still being in the lineup.

It’s a win-win, in my view. This might be the tipping point for the universal DH.

In any case, MLB and the MLBPA ought to decide this soon for 2021, so teams can make offseason plans.