Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has come down pretty clearly in favor of bringing the designated hitter to the National League.
“I think we’re going to see the DH in the National League,” Epstein recently told USA Today. “Hopefully we’re just a few years away.”
With the Houston Astros moving to the American League, leaving 15 teams in each league, interleague play is now a necessity throughout the year. Some see it as the final precursor to an adoption of the DH rule in the National League.
Epstein is all for it, primarily because of the disadvantage the rule imposes on National League teams.
“I think the AL has a big advantage,” Epstein told USA Today. “When a team goes into Boston, they have to face [David] Ortiz, and you’re putting a guy who’s a utility player as your DH.”
Cubs manager Dale Sveum was asked about the DH, and, although he said he prefers the traditional NL approach, he acknowledged the problem Epstein pointed out. Sveum also mentioned big first base prospect Dan Vogelbach as someone who could benefit from the DH coming to the National League. (Generally speaking, I avoid mentioning Vogelbach when discussing the DH, because I don’t think it makes much sense to support or oppose such a long-term, substantial rule change based on a single player in Low-A. But, if you were going to mention an NL prospect in this discussion, Vogelbach is probably the very first one that everyone in baseball would mention.)
I’ve come around on the DH thing in the last couple of years, and have laid out my position before. Among the arguments made by those in favor of the DH in the NL, in addition to the issue addressed by Epstein, which is the most compelling:
- Pitchers are supposed to pitch, and watching them flail away at the plate is no fun.
- AL pitchers risk injury by only intermittently doing things – hitting and running the bases – that they don’t otherwise do regularly.
- AL teams can more comfortably bid higher on free agents like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, knowing that in the latter years of their deals, the players can be stashed at DH.
Fine arguments, all of them. But the one Epstein highlights, which I’ve discussed before, is the biggest one by far. To restate my thoughts on it:
While an AL team is able to dedicate a roster spot to finding purely the best hitter it can find, and then deploys that guy when the AL and NL square off in interleague games and the World Series, the NL team is left to pick a guy off of its bench when in AL parks. Because pitchers as hitters – whether AL or NL – are roughly equal in performance, the fact that the AL team has a dedicated DH puts the NL team at a decided disadvantage in half the games. I am not OK with this. Ironically, it is because I’m an NL guy at heart that I think they probably should adopt the DH. I can’t stand the unequal footing.
If the DH does come to the NL, when would we see it? Well, your best bet would be 2017, which would be the first year of a new collective bargaining agreement (the current CBA runs through 2016). That is not to say that rules cannot be changed, on agreement, before the expiration of the CBA. Indeed, if the pitcher/DH problem in interleague games in September impact playoff races, all bets could be off.
That is to say: if you’re a pro-DH type, you’re going to want to pull for an NL team to be ostensibly screwed in September by the lack of a dedicated DH, or an AL team to be ostensibly screwed in September by the fact that their pitcher has to bat while their DH is on the bench.