As the league and the union met to discuss rule changes prior to the 2019 season, the MLBPA brought up one of the most controversial topics of the last two decades: bringing the DH to the National League. While the proposed change was aimed at the upcoming season, it’s unlikely the league would approve such drastic rule change so close to the start of spring training. The NL DH feels more inevitable than ever now, however, and the effects of such a rule change on the Mets’ current roster merit discussion.
Among the Mets’ young players, Peter Alonso is the most likely to soak up long-term DH at-bats. Scouting reports on his defense during his climb up the minor league ladder range from ‘not good’ to ‘horrific,’ and while he’s improved to the point where a trade to the American League isn’t a necessity, he’s always going to be something of a liability at first. In the short term, slotting a better defender, like Todd Frazier, at first base and moving Alonso to DH would remove the Mets’ biggest defensive liability while keeping possibly their best right-handed source of power in the lineup. Long term, a DH spot makes for a good backup plan in case Alonso’s defense is unplayable, offering him at least a part-time home free of defensive pressures.
In terms of veterans, the Mets have two obvious candidates to slot in at DH in Wilson Ramos and Robinson Cano. Ramos’s defense behind the plate hasn’t been the same since tearing his ACL, and knees typically don’t get healthier as you age into your mid-30s. Occasional DH time would keep his bat in the lineup while hopefully keeping him healthy over the life of his two-year contract. Cano, meanwhile, hasn’t started slipping on the defensive end yet, but he’s 36 and is signed for the next five seasons. The ability to either give Cano periodic rest days or, if things start going down hill in a year or two, install him as the primary DH, should make the back end of his contract more palatable. It’s not as if the Mets will simply be inserting a warm body at second base in Cano’s wake either, as Jeff McNeil or Andres Gimenez should be above average options at the keystone if Cano takes up DH duty.
I’ve buried the lede here a bit, as I’ve yet to touch on the most natural short-term candidate for the DH spot: Yoenis Cespedes. The Mets have smartly constructed a roster that isn’t totally reliant on Cespedes returning this season and being a major contributor, but that also means there’s no uncontested spot in the lineup for him if he does return. A DH spot would allow Cespedes to consistently remain in the lineup while also reducing the stress on his surgically repaired heels and chronically injured legs. In 2020, the final year of Cespedes’s contract, the Mets could keep him in the lineup without having to play a corner outfielder in center by rotating Cespedes with Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto through the DH and two corner outfield spots.
Simply put, I’m not sure there’s a single team in the National League that benefits more from the addition of the DH than the Mets. The Brewers could shift Ryan Braun to DH for the next two seasons and have an internal option in Eric Thames, but that’s a short term pressure. Joey Votto is 35 and signed through 2023 and the Reds would benefit from having the option to move him to DH, but they also don’t have an obvious replacement for him at first base like the Mets do at second. The Giants could limit the wear and tear on Buster Posey, who is signed through 2021, but they don’t figure to be contenders anytime soon. No team has the combination of both short and long term DH candidates, MLB-ready replacements, a short-term roster crunch, and an open contention window that the Mets have.
In the short term, the Mets could solve what would have been something of a logjam with Yoenis Cespedes and put one of their best bats back into the lineup without needing to bench another young star. Long term, a DH spot would mitigate the damage from Peter Alonso’s defense or could buffer the physical decline of Robinson Cano as he approaches 40. The DH coming to the National League is something the Mets should be happy to see, even it the baseball purists among us lament the change.