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Strike Zone

Universal DH Big For Braun, Kendrick

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: May 13, 2020, 2:51 am ET

We’re probably going to see a universal designated hitter when play begins this season, so today’s column is a look at what National League teams will do with that DH spot.


Arizona - The Diamondbacks might have initially had some regrets about not non-tendering Jake Lamb after the Starling Marte acquisition left him with little role on the club, but the need for a DH would return him to the lineup against righties. Lamb hit .248/.357/.487 in his last healthy season in 2017 before coming in at .208/.315/.350 in 464 plate appearances the last two years. He’s just 29, so he’s a reasonable bet to bounce back and perhaps rate as a fringy mixed-league option. Against lefties, the Diamondbacks could turn to Kevin Cron, John Hicks or maybe even Yasmany Tomas. None figured to make the team’s 26-man roster, but they all rate extra looks now with rosters being expanded.

Atlanta - The Braves have the option of swinging for the fences and installing Austin Riley as their primary DH or settling for a single and going with Nick Markakis. The guess here is that they’d do the latter, though if Riley picks up where he left off (10-for-28, 2 HR, 5/4 K/BB) when spring training resumes, he’ll make it very interesting. If Markakis is the choice, he’d presumably play a lot of left field, with Marcell Ozuna DHing. Adam Duvall is also an option for the club, but he’ll probably get most of his time against lefties initially, with Ender Inciarte taking a seat. Riley would be worth a late-round pick in mixed leagues if given the job.

Chicago - Mixing and matching would be the likely plan for the Cubs, who could use Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Ian Happ in the DH spot. That could work out nicely if Albert Almora hits, since Almora’s presence in the outfield would give the defense a nice lift. The Cubs could also have Victor Caratini, Steven Souza Jr. and Robel Garcia vie for time. Caratini hit .266/.348/.447 in 279 PA last season and was off to a great start this spring; he could be a really good second catcher in two-catcher mixed leagues if he starts four times per week. Garcia has some upside, too; he lacks a position and plate discipline isn’t a strength, but he hit 27 homers in 388 PA in the minors last year and five more in 80 plate appearances for the Cubs.

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Cincinnati - The Reds would be one of the two biggest beneficiaries of NL teams transitioning to the DH for a year. That big logjam they have in the outfield clears up nicely with Jesse Winker fulfilling his destiny as a DH against right-handers. Nick Senzel, who should be fully recovered from shoulder surgery when play resumes, can slide into the lineup on a full-time basis, which would again make him a top-100 player in my rankings. That’s somewhat complicated by Aristides Aquino’s presence, but I think Senzel is the clearly better bet and Aquino could still play against lefties.

Colorado - The Rockies should have signed Yasiel Puig months ago and their need would get that much more obvious if they had a DH spot open, but since they’re so cheap, Scooter Gennett or Lonnie Chisenhall is probably the best that can be hoped for. If they fail to add, putting Daniel Murphy at DH and Ryan McMahon at first base would be quite a boon for the defense, opening up second for Brendan Rodgers or Garrett Hampson. Rodgers, who had about 300 points of OPS on Hampson in Triple-A last year, seems like the far better option of those two. He’ll immediately become one of my favorite sleepers if the Rockies fail to add. I’d also be higher on McMahon with his job looking more secure; he’d move up into my top 100.

Los Angeles - I already believed it was for the best that the Joc Pederson-Luis Rengifo trade fell through, but it’ll especially pay off if the Dodgers need a DH. That would allow both Gavin Lux and A.J. Pollock to play fairly regularly and also open up some additional starts for Chris Taylor and either Matt Beaty or Edwin Rios. I’ve been staying away from Lux in drafts, but he’d have a better chance of being worth his March price tag with his playing time issues cleared up. Pollock might still be available in the later rounds of drafts, but he’d likely be a significant asset when healthy. In essentially two full seasons worth of playing time the last three years (1,268 plate appearances), he’s hit 50 homers and stolen 38 bases.

Miami - It looked like the Marlins dipped into the well once too often when they added Matt Joyce on top of already having lengthened their lineup with Jonathan Villar, Corey Dickerson and Jesus Aguilar, but that will work out a lot better with Joyce and Garrett Cooper taking turns DHing. Joyce hit .295/.408/.450 in 238 PA for the Braves last season, and Cooper came in at .281/.344/.446 in 421 PA for the Marlins. Neither one is capable of serving as a full-time right fielder, but a job share could benefit both; Joyce can DH regularly against righties and Cooper can play there against lefties while also getting some starts in right or at first base against righties. Lewis Brinson, who was the talk of Marlins spring training, will get most of the starts in right. No one from the group seems like a draft-day option in mixed leagues, but it’ll be worth watching.

Milwaukee - No longer able to rely on Ryan Braun as an everyday outfielder, the Brewers added Avisail Garcia and Justin Smoak over the winter. Braun, though, hasn’t gone anywhere, and he’d seem to have a much better chance of remaining healthy as a DH. I’ve had him right around 250th in my top 300, but with the DH available, he’d move up about 100 spots. I’d also feel better about Garcia, who would move from 193rd up to around 150th. Garcia has been anything but consistent as a major leaguer, but he’d have the potential to contribute some in all five categories while playing regularly and hitting in the middle of the Brewers order.

New York - The mess the Mets will have if a healthy Yoenis Cespedes shows up this year would be alleviated by a DH. J.D. Davis certainly deserves to play after what he did last year, but defense figures to remain an issue for him. If Cespedes could play left field the majority of the time, it’d give the Mets quite a boost to be able to use Davis at DH. However, if Cespedes isn’t a factor, the Mets will be looking at giving Dominic Smith or Matt Adams the spot or focusing on defense by playing Jake Marisnick in center and shifting Brandon Nimmo to a corner. There are enough questions here that no one besides Davis seems worthy of a significant investment now, though Cespedes could become an intriguing late-round flier.

Philadelphia - Jay Bruce was expected to initially serve as the Phillies’ left fielder while Andrew McCutchen completed his rehab from ACL surgery. He lost that gig with the shutdown, but now he’ll likely get to spend the season as the team’s DH anyway. It’s doubtful that he’ll hit for average, but with all of the RBI chances he’ll receive in the middle of the lineup, he could produce some mixed-league value anyway. Kyle Garlick could get some chances against lefties if Bruce fails to get off to a fast start.

Pittsburgh - The Pirates could go in either of two directions here. Plugging in Jose Osuna at DH would be the simplest solution; Osuna came in at .264/.310/.456 with 10 homers in 285 plate appearances as a part-timer last year, and he should have the ability to get a little better in the batting average department. The other option would be to bring up Ke’Bryan Hayes to play third base and make Colin Moran the primary DH, with Osuna playing against lefties. That’d give the defense a big lift, considering that Hayes is a potential Gold Glover and Moran has graded out terribly the last couple of years. It wouldn’t do much for the offense initially, and the Pirates might not want to start Hayes’ service-time clock right away. Neither option has big ramifications in mixed leagues.

St. Louis - As much as any team in the league, the Cardinals would probably mix and match in the DH spot. The biggest beneficiary could be a guy who would rarely see time there; utilityman Tommy Edman. Edman has a good case for a starting gig in left field based on his play last year, but the Cardinals don’t want to commit to him there. One imagines he’d play regularly between the outfield and third base with the extra lineup spot, though perhaps Dylan Carlson would have something to say about that. Brad Miller would also become something of a sleeper with the DH. He wasn’t slated to get much time as a bench player for the Cardinals, but he could force his way into a gig against right-handers if he approaches last year’s production (.260/.329/.565 in 170 PA). I expect that he’d be an asset if given the chance.

San Diego - Not having found a taker for Wil Myers could work out for the Padres with a DH spot. He’d likely be penciled in as a full-timer initially, leaving one opening in the lineup for Franchy Cordero or Josh Naylor. The oft-injured Cordero is the more interesting of those two for fantasy purposes; he’s hit .305/.357/.567 with 21 homers and 18 steals in 517 career plate appearances in Triple-A and .240/.306/.431 with 10 homers and seven steals in 273 plate appearances as a major leaguer. Naylor has more offensive upside, but he’s the weaker defender, which should matter to the Padres, and he’s not likely to steal bases, which matters to fantasy leaguers.

San Francisco - The Giants’ lineup might be the worst in the league, but filling the DH spot won’t be a problem; Hunter Pence was an All-Star in that role for the Rangers last year and Wilmer Flores might be best utilized in that spot, too. If those two weren’t set to play in the game’s worst park for power, they could be interesting in mixed leagues. As is, it’s going to be tough for them to produce fantasy value, especially with runs and RBI being hard to come by in San Francisco.

Washington - The Nationals are right behind the Reds as the team that should be the most ecstatic about the DH. It was going to be extremely difficult for them to both break in Carter Kieboom at third base and keep all of their veteran infielders sharp. That will be much, much easier with the extra lineup spot. Howie Kendrick, last year’s NLCS MVP, should get the majority of the DH starts after hitting .344/.395/.572 in 2019. He’s eligible at second base, so he suddenly looks like a solid mixed-league option again. Eric Thames and Ryan Zimmerman can platoon at first base without having to worry about Kendrick stealing many starts there, and Starlin Castro should be entrenched at second base. Asdrubal Cabrera will be the utilityman.

Matthew Pouliot

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of NBC Sports Edge and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.