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DH for the National League a possibility this season

There's also talk at this week's owners' meetings about speeding up the game with a 20-second pitch clock and forcing relievers to face a minimum of three batters.  

If the National League uses the designated hitter

If the National League uses the designated hitter this season, Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes might return earlier after undergoing surgery on his heels last season. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

ORLANDO, Fla. – Now batting for the Mets in every game in 2019 . . . the designated hitter?

That could happen if Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association can agree to bring the DH to the National League for the season that begins across baseball on March 28.

MLB and the union have discussed instituting the universal DH as early as this season as part of a sweeping package of rules changes ahead of the owners’ meetings that begin Thursday at the swank Waldorf Astoria Orlando, according to reports on ESPN.com and The Athletic.

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Many of the proposed reforms have to do with the pace of game and are only in the preliminary stages, with the most controversial being an idea to require relievers to face at least three batters per appearance (unless it is the end of an inning or the pitcher is injured). That would help stem the endless stream of one-batter appearances that has turned the middle and late innings into a drowsy slog, especially for the hyperactive young TV audience MLB craves.

As for the DH, there is expected to be major pushback from some owners for the players’ proposal to add the position to the NL for 2019, because teams already have set much of their rosters for the season. But many around the game think having one set of rules for both leagues and no longer having to see pitchers trot their limp bats to the plate in NL parks is an inevitability. Pitchers hit an all-time low .115 with a .292 OPS in 2018.

The American League added the DH in 1973 in an effort to increase offense. NL teams have used the DH in AL parks since interleague play was introduced in 1997.

For New York’s NL team, the introduction of the DH in 2019 could mean an earlier return to action for slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who is expected back in mid-season after surgery on his heels. Or it could mean a full-time DH slot for defensively challenged first-base prospect Peter Alonso, who hit 36 home runs in the minor leagues last season.

In future seasons, the Mets could use the DH spot for Robinson Cano, who still has five years left on his 10-year, $240-million contract and is 36 entering his first season in Flushing.

Having the DH also could spur National League teams into more aggressive bidding on long-term contracts because teams would know they could offer the DH spot as the player gets into his later seasons. Right now that is an advantage for AL teams in negotiations.

MLB and the players association traded proposals in January about multiple rules changes affecting on and off-field matters, according to ESPN.com. The collective bargaining agreement between the parties runs until 2021, but there is seen a willingness on both sides to make changes for the betterment of the sport.

The commissioner’s office is interested in increasing pace of play, so its proposals included the three-batter rule for relievers, first reported by The Athletic. It also includes a 20-second pitch clock, a further reduction in mound visits from six to five per team and a rule that would be tested in spring training and the All-Star Game in which each half-inning in extra innings would begin with a runner on second base.

There is also an idea to change the trade deadline from July 31 (with an Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline for postseason roster availability) to a single deadline around the mid-July All-Star break.

The union is concerned with the slow pace of the free-agent market, with megastars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado among the 90 or so players still unsigned with spring training right around the corner. The union is pushing for reforms to draft order that would reward winning teams and penalize teams that are not spending or not trying to win (i.e., tanking). The union also is seeking to tinker with the formula by which players accrue service time to prevent teams from stashing their best prospects in the minors to keep them from reaching free agency too early.

One carrot MLB has in all of its dealings with the union is to offer a 26th roster spot, which would mean 30 new jobs. And commissioner Rob Manfred could dangle the possibility of future expansion to 32 teams, which would allow the leagues to realign and go to eight four-team divisions and an expanded playoff format.

The relationship between MLB and the union has been acrimonious in recent years, so it is seen as a good sign that they are talking. Whether anything comes of the talk remains to be seen.

Comparing the batting prowess of designated hitters and pitchers in the 2018 season:

NL

DHs Pitchers

.236 AVG. .116

23 HRs 22

83 RBIs 202

.719 OPS .295

AL

DHs Pitchers

.249 AVG. .109

439 HRs 2

1,347 RBIs 12

.778 OPS .147

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