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Is MLB Actually Going to Yield on the Universal DH Before Opening Day?

Chicago Cubs

With the universal designated hitter getting re-dumped for the 2021 season, Chicago Cubs pitchers are putting together a friendly competition now that they’ll be returning to the plate.

“We’re trying to figure out the categories,” Jake Arrieta told the Sun-Times. “It’s probably going to be bunts, hits, home runs, walks, and a combination of a couple other things to keep it fun, keep it competitive and see where we stack up at the end of the season. I’m hoping that a couple of our other guys would be able to hit some balls over the fence. It’s always fun to see a pitcher hit a homer. But yeah, we’ve talked about [having a prize] and keeping it fun and competitive.”

Good and fun. Fine by me in a world where the DH is back to being an American League-only affair. So long as Kyle Hendricks doesn’t get in any more collisions at first base.

Buuuut is the whole DH thing definitely, actually, finally determined for 2021?

Yes, I’m very well aware that the players are not going to negotiate about the DH as some huge “give” by the owners, and I’m also very aware that the owners refused to make the DH part of this year’s health and safety protocols, though it would’ve been very thoughtful to do so. I’m also aware that teams have been preparing for the season as though the DH is gone again, with free agents having to proceed that way, too.

But the latest from Buster Olney suggests it remains possible that MLB and its owners will simply decide to bring back the DH this year, even if they don’t “get” anything in return:

Every day that passes without Major League Baseball surrendering to the players’ association on the DH issue is another day of unnecessary injury risk for National League pitchers, another day bypassing what just about everybody on both sides recognizes as a product enhancement ….

Now MLB is left with a choice whether to implement the DH for 2021 or not. Refusing to do so changes nothing about the sport’s toxic labor relations. Refusing to do so would be a manifestation of stubbornness with no big-picture benefit for the sport, and would tee up the commissioner for a tidal wave of criticism if and when some pitcher suffers a major injury running the bases or hitting. Commissioner Rob Manfred is the anointed leader of the group that has the power to push through the DH. Fair or not, he would be blamed for clinging to dispensable conditions that almost nobody wants and almost everybody assumes will be obsolete after the next labor agreement. If someone like deGrom or Scherzer gets hurt on the bases or in the batter’s box, the fallout for Manfred would be enormous.

To be sure, at this point, the owners lose nothing by yielding on the DH. There are no more high-priced jobs to “cost” teams, what all pricey free agents long having already signed. The players have taken it all the way in not giving anything up in exchange for the DH – and why would they at this point? – so you’re not going to get any additional movement there. The DH is better for the sport, for the health of the pitchers, and it worked just fine last year. There is no longer any reason whatsoever to hold the line just for the sake of sticking it to the players.

So maybe the league just decides to change course.

… would you bet on that, though? I mean, come on. Fool me ten times, shame on me.

No, what’s vastly more likely is that the league will once again approach the players at the last minute about signing off on expanded postseason (remember, last year, a deal didn’t get done on that front until the night before Opening Day), and they’ll try to loop the DH into those talks yet again. It’s so silly and unnecessary.

I’ve always figured this would come back up, even after final this and finished talking that. But I still wouldn’t put my money on something actually getting done, either on the DH or the expanded playoffs. Things have just soured too much.



Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.