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It’s the End of the NL as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)

The latest proposal by the owners includes two-years of the DH. The NL lost. The AL won. Baseball will never go back to pitchers hitting.

Divisional Series - St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves - Game One Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

MLB and the Player’s Association still can’t get on the same page regarding a 2020 season. Yesterday, it was reported that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark had met and the two sides had reached a deal in principle to play a 60-game season, pending approval by their constituents.

The “constituents” – otherwise known as the players – balked. The Player’s Association then issued an adamant denial that an agreement was reached.

More negotiations and frustrations remain, despite the players making a hashtag and homemade t-shirts out of the mantra “tell us when and where”.

In the proposal, the “when” would be July 19 and the where would be home ballparks for an isolated three-week spring training before the start of games.

Most likely the PA will hold out a little longer to try to stretch the season to 65 games. Mo money is mo money, after all, but let’s hope they don’t push things too far. This is a decent arrangement for the players and probably better than they could have expected. Simply the threat of a potential grievance caused the owners to bump their proposal by a dozen games at full pay and include a variety of other conditions that the players have desired for decades. They might want to play more and get paid more, but the reality is that this is likely the best they are going to do when considering the restrictions of TV contracts, scheduling, and the coronavirus.

The perks include in the proposal include the expansion of the playoffs to 16 teams for two years and a DH in the National League through 2021. Yes, two years of the DH.

The current CBA agreement between the players and the owners ends in 2021. While the future of the game is foggy at best, one thing has become clear. Both the owners and the players now universally support the DH in both leagues.

R.I.P. National League baseball.

The Designated Hitter was first adopted in 1973 by American League clubs looked for a gimmick to help boost attendance. It worked. Wikipedia tells us that Yankees’ first baseman Ron Blomberg was the first DH. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance at the position.

The experiment worked and the AL adopted the DH permanently.

The NL almost did the same in the early 1980s, with the Cardinals contingent voting for the measure. A majority could not be reached, however, and since then, the DH question has become more about finances than about preserving tradition.

The Designated Hitter creates space on rosters for players who would otherwise be relegated to bench roles and who might not even be able to stick in the majors. Role players and professional pinch hitters are not well paid. However, if the same player can receive 400 or more plate appearances at DH, their value and salary increases.

The DH as a financial sweetener for the players is about simple math. National League teams have only had to pay eight full-time hitters in their lineup. The American League can pay nine if they choose. A universal DH means that thirty extra players have the opportunity to get paid as full-time hitters.

National League purists view the DH somewhere between clubbing baby seals and Ba’alzabub on the evil scale. I get it. The NL game is traditional baseball. It’s how the game was designed to be played. I personally enjoy the strategy that revolves around the pitcher’s spot, double-switches, and the need to use an entire roster. Over my decades of watching and writing about baseball, I’ve developed in-depth strategies on roster construction and player development specifically to maximize a team’s roster without a DH. I’ve got a lot of things to re-think.

The adage goes that the AL game is boring. It’s straight forward. It lacks nuance. It’s about waiting for the next three-run homer.

I do wonder if its more challenging than we NL fans like to imagine it.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. NL managers can escape trouble simply by working around professional hitters to get to non-professional ones. Sure, now and then a pitcher will come through in those situations and make a manger look the fool, but those moments are few and far between. They are noteworthy and entertaining because of their rarity.

While an AL manager might not have to deal with the challenge of universally terrible hitters occupying a roster spot, they do have the challenge of professional hitters throughout the lineup. That perhaps makes the strategy less obvious but it’s just as difficult.

Seattle Mariners v New York Yankees

Let’s be honest, which of these is harder? Deciding whether or not to double switch Dakota Hudson out of a game with runners on in tie game, or deciding how to pitch to David Ortiz or Edgar Martinez with runners on in a tie game?

Of course, modern DH’s don’t look much like Ortiz or Martinez. The AL DH is occupied more by mediocre hitters and developing players with limited defensive abilities than elite caliber batters. I suspect that will be the same in the NL.

As I wrote earlier this spring, the Cardinals are likely to use the DH to get good young players, like Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson, and Andrew Knizner onto the field and into the lineup. Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler seem to be the likely candidates to fill the DH spot regularly, though Mike Shildt would be wise in a shortened and potentially compressed season (if more games are added) to use the spot to keep quality bats in the lineup while giving them occasional days off from the field. Paul DeJong, Yadier Molina, and Paul Goldschmidt could find themselves in the DH spot occasionally while batting in every game in this coming season.

As far as pitchers hitting, that will likely become as rare as hitter’s pitching. Miles Mikolas will be the last Cardinals pitcher to get a hit in the pre-DH game. Mikolas went 1-1 in game one of the Division Series against the Braves.

I’m certain that this, along with the dramatic expansion of the playoffs (16 teams total) will frustrate many. Knowing this was a reality, I’ve spent the last few years getting used to the idea. It is the end of the NL as we know it, but if I’m honest about it, I feel fine.