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The universal DH is a ‘safe bet’ for the NL. What would that mean for the Cubs?

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It’s coming, so let’s examine this.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Buried in this Sunday notes column by Buster Olney at ESPN, in discussion about free agent DH Nelson Cruz, is this comment about the universal designated hitter:

Regardless of whether the universal DH is again negotiated for use in 2021 — the safe bet is that it will, unless the MLB and players’ union animus erupts to the point of complete dysfunction — Cruz might get a lot of teams’ interest, but probably not big, big dollars.

Olney is one of the national writers who seems pretty plugged-in to what’s going to happen in baseball, and I believe him. Now, it’s certainly possible for “complete dysfunction” in player-owner talks for the 2021 season, but I suspect Olney is correct, and that we will have the DH for all teams and all games going forward.

My position on this topic is well-known and I won’t belabor it. Also, this isn’t really the place for those of you who don’t like the DH to bemoan it and say “I’ll never follow baseball again!”

What I intend to do here is to examine what the universal DH would mean for the Chicago Cubs. I would hope that if the universal DH does come to be approved, that it’s done quickly so that teams can plan for 2021.

Willson Contreras was, by far, the Cubs’ best DH in 2020. He hit .298/.431/.561 (17-for-57) in that role with four home runs — far better, in fact, than he did while catching, where he hit just .220/.320/.341 (29-for-132) with three homers.

Now, both of those are small sample sizes compared to what you’d see in a 162-game season, so they come with caveats.

Does this mean Contreras should be the “full-time” DH when not catching? I would say no. Even though the DH role doesn’t require the physical load catching does, you still want to give him some days off.

Interestingly, Victor Caratini had a similar DH/non-DH split in 2020, though not as extreme:

As catcher: .203/.304/.275 (14-for-69)
As DH: .244/.340/.317 (10-for-41)

Again, those are pretty small sample sizes. Caratini and Contreras combined for 34 of the 60 starts at DH for the Cubs in 2020. Next was Kyle Schwarber with eight, and Kyle was awful as a DH (2-for-29, 15 strikeouts).

Should the Cubs go out and look for a full-time DH similar to Nelson Cruz? I would say no, unless the rosters are expanded to 28 as they were in 2020. With a 26-man roster I don’t think a team has room for a guy who doesn’t do anything but hit.

One player I do NOT want to see as Cubs DH — or Cubs anything else, for that matter — is Jose Martinez, who went 0-for-22 as a Cub in 2020. Martinez made $2.125 million in 2020 and would be in line for an arbitration raise. He’ll likely be non-tendered.

It’s an interesting question, and apparently, one the Cubs will have to deal with very soon.

Poll

If the universal DH is instituted in 2021, who should the Cubs use? (And no, there’s not going to be an "I hate the DH" option here.)

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Victor Caratini
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    Willson Contreras
    (4 votes)
  • 19%
    Willson Contreras and/or Victor Caratini, whoever isn’t catching
    (93 votes)
  • 41%
    A combination of multiple players as was done in 2020
    (196 votes)
  • 29%
    Acquire a fulltime DH (similar player to Nelson Cruz)
    (140 votes)
  • 5%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (27 votes)
468 votes total Vote Now