The universal Designated Hitter is coming to Major League Baseball. It’s been expected for a long time based not only on public discourse, but also on the fact that it was featured in two of the recent CBA proposals by both the players and the owners (UPDATE to confirm: the CBA is done, and the universal DH is here).
We’ve been talking for a long time about how we expect the Cubs to utilize the DH spot this year, primarily a vehicle to distribute at bats to guys who are getting some rest, to guys who are being platoon optimized, or to guys whose gloves you’d prefer to park on that particular day. I don’t anticipate the Cubs going out in Offseason Part Two and specifically targeting a DH-type bat. Yes, they might – should! – sign another big bat, and that guy might figure into the DH rotation, but I don’t see the Cubs as a team that would, for example, go out and try to hit up Nelson Cruz’s phone.
That topic got me curious, though: we know what *WE* think the Cubs will and should do with respect to the coming Designated Hitter slot, but how to outsiders see the Cubs DH situation shaking out? I don’t know what lessons can be gleaned, necessarily, but it’s just one of those things I was curious about.
I poked around and found a few places to get a good sense of what thoughtful third parties were thinking the Cubs could and should do at DH. The first two are Roster Resource and Depth Charts at FanGraphs.
Roster Resource is, kinda like it sounds, a one-stop place to see a whole lot of information about a given roster. If you’ve never checked it out before, here’s the Cubs’ version at FanGraphs. With respect to the current roster and the lineup, it does its best to come up with *THE* player at each position for the team. So who gets the DH nod for the Cubs on the current roster? Actually, probably a pretty good choice: Clint Frazier.
In a setup with Willson Contreras as “the” catcher, Frank Schwindel as “the” first baseman, Nick Madrigal as “the” second baseman, and Nico Hoerner as “the” shortstop, a lot of your movability is lost, and then you’re left to just pick one bench guy as “the” DH. Frazier, whose outfield glove may be atrocious (it’s still a little unclear at this point in his career just how bad it is or isn’t, or how much it can be improved), could still offer up a DH-caliber bat. A lot is still open to question about his health considerations from last year, so you can’t bank on his bat returning (which is why he got such a modest deal). But, again, if you were just picking one DH to rule them all on this roster, Frazier makes as much sense as anyone, given the other positional spots.
I tend to think, if Frazier makes the Opening Day roster, he would at least rotate into some DH starts. But I’m sure he would make the team only if the Cubs thought the glove could play a bit, *OR* that the bat was just so very back that you were going to want him in the lineup almost every day at DH. The latter seems pretty unlikely, but I suppose I’ll leave it open as a possibility given the history and pedigree.
Depth Charts, by contrast, actually apportions out the projected starts at a given position. Frazier appears on top at DH, but with only 217 of his projected PAs coming at DH. It turns out Willson Contreras, at 196, is seen as almost as DH-y as Frazier. That makes a lot of sense to me, given the desire to protect Contreras’s health and the addition of a near-starting-caliber back-up catcher in Yan Gomes. Frank Schwindel then gets 126 PAs, and Harold Ramirez rounds out the sizable portion of the group at 84 PAs.
I tend to think that we will actually see more DH appearances by Nick Madrigal mixed in there, but I don’t know that you can project that until the Cubs add another shortstop (which would free up Nico Hoerner to make some second base starts, where his glove is elite, but then you don’t lose Madrigal’s bat from the lineup). On the whole, with the roster as it stands, that projected mix of DHs makes rough sense.
In one other place to check out the outsider perspective on the Cubs DH situation, CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa looked at every team’s internal composition as a way to explore whether an external addition is needed when the lockout ends. For the Cubs, Axisa listed the internal DH candidates as Clint Frazier, Harold Ramirez, and Alonfso Rivas. Again, if you’re having to pick ONE guy for the post, those names make sense (though I’d switch Rivas with Schwindel, since Rivas is viewed as having a plus glove at first base, so you wouldn’t DH him in service of leaving Schwindel at first).
As for what it means for the Cubs, Axisa (rightly, in my opinion) concludes that the Cubs could and should be opportunistic in the market after the lockout ends, but otherwise should just let the internal options sort themselves out.
Keep in mind, while it’s easy and obvious to say the Cubs would be better off signing a huge bat for DH, it’s also true that we do kinda want to know whether Frazier can get his big bat back (he comes with team control). Whether Ramirez can translate his big Statcast metrics into actual production (he also comes with team control). Whether Schwindel’s later breakout is real enough to stay way above average (again, team control). Whether Rivas can add enough power to make the full offensive set work at first base (again, team control). Getting that information has long-term value, even if it isn’t the best on-paper approach to competing in 2022. So that’s the balance.
If Nick Castellanos’s market or Anthony Rizzo’s market (or whoever else at DH or 1B or OF) craters, sure, you pounce. If some huge lefty power bat with no glove becomes available on the dirt cheap in trade or, heck, on the waiver wire, sure. But if not, I don’t think the Cubs need to be out there trying to sign the best and most expensive dedicated DH, or anyone else to specifically address the DH spot.