In a memo last week, a source said, Major League Baseball reminded its clubs that the rule changes implemented last summer in preparation for the sport’s pandemic-shortened season were guaranteed only for 2020, have since expired and won’t necessarily be part of next season.
That means that as of now, the National League does not have the designated hitter. It is among the aspects of the 2021 season that are being negotiated by the league and the players’ union, a la last May/June but hopefully with less public feuding. The working assumption, subject to change, is that the DH won’t exist in the NL and that pitchers will have to hit in those ballparks in 2021.
For the Mets, whose roster is particularly suited to include a hitter who doesn’t have to play the field, that would be bad news. As much as they benefited from the sudden existence of the DH in the National League in 2020, the lack of that rule in 2021 would be suboptimal, undercutting some of their top-notch offensive production from last season.
With a DH, the Mets could play both of their first basemen, Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith, whose hitting abilities demand everyday playing time. Alonso led the Mets with 17 starts (out of 60 games) at DH in 2020 after he was pushed into that spot by Smith earning regular at-bats and playing better defense.
Without a DH, the Mets still could play both of their first basemen, but at a defensive cost at three positions. Alonso would have to play first, which means Smith would have to play leftfield, which means Brandon Nimmo and his elite on-base skills would have to be on the bench or in centerfield.
What would that mean for George Springer or some other centerfielder signed by the Mets this offseason? How would the lack of a DH in at least 2021 — a more permanent solution is likely to come with a new collective bargaining agreement in 2022 — influence how Sandy Alderson and his eventual general manager approach the offseason? Will the Mets look into trading a first baseman?
Such is the problem the Mets and other clubs are facing. Now in the meat of the offseason, with a pared-down version of the winter meetings taking place virtually this week, teams have to build rosters and imagine lineups without knowing all of the rules in effect.
Alderson said the Mets are fortunate in that they wouldn’t need to go out and acquire a DH if the rule is re-added to the NL. They have plenty of in-house options.
"I just hope we have the DH so that we can better utilize what we already have," Alderson said Nov. 23.
He also likes it for the obvious other reason: Pitchers are bad at hitting — have been for more than a century, though there always are individual outliers — and watching them try to hit typically is not fun.
"Both from a Mets standpoint and from a general baseball standpoint, having a DH in the National League is a good thing," Alderson said. "The fact is, pitchers can’t even bunt anymore. So I’m in favor of putting a hitter in that additional slot. And ultimately it makes the game more exciting. More offense, or more opportunity for offense, a bigger challenge for the pitchers.
"We’ve gotten to the point where pitching has become so specialized, and the risk of injury hitting, while I don’t think it’s significant, is there. But more importantly, I just think for the overall quality of the game, the excitement level of the DH is the right thing in the National League."
With David Lennon
At the plate: Mets DHs vs. Mets pitchers
2020 Mets DH stats (60 games): .248 batting average, .310 on-base percentage, .517 slugging percentage, 15 HR, 32 RBIs
2019 Mets pitchers stats (152 games): .167 batting average, .198, on-base percentage, .241 slugging percentage, 6 HR, 17 RBIs
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