Phillies Nation

2020 Offseason

The DH might not return to the NL in 2021 and that’s bad news for the Phillies

In a memo, MLB clubs were informed to operate under the assumption that the universal DH will not be returning in 2021, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The union and the league could theoretically come to an agreement at any time before the beginning of the 2021 season. The longer the two sides go without an agreement, however, the greater the chance pitchers will hit again in the National League in 2021.

Andrew McCutchen will get significantly more at-bats in 2021 if the DH returns. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

Every team in the NL is worse off without the designated hitter as opposed to with it and the Phillies are far from an exception.

First baseman Rhys Hoskins is recovering from UCL repair surgery he underwent on his non-throwing elbow in October. He is expected to be back before Opening Day but it’s easy to wonder whether Hoskins could play first base on an everyday basis in the first few weeks following his return from injury. A universal DH would ensure that Hoskins can be eased back into the Phillies’ starting lineup.

While Alec Bohm progressed as a defender as the season went along, he’s not exactly a top third baseman. He ranked 16th among the 19 third baseman who played at least 300 innings at the position in 2020 in defensive runs saved (-5), ultimate zone rating (-1.6) and defensive WAR (-1).

If Hoskins is able to play first base on Opening Day, Bohm will most likely be the team’s starter at third base. The Phillies will give Bohm as many opportunities as they possibly can for him to improve as a third baseman, especially considering the team could call on Jean Segura and Scott Kingery to make the majority of starts at shortstop and second base respectively. The Phillies, however, would probably prefer to have the opportunity to occasionally utilize Bohm as a DH.

Bryce Harper battled a back injury in 2020 and while the injury isn’t expected to linger into next season, it would be smart to proceed with caution in regard to Harper’s workload and get him off his feet more frequently in 2021.

And if the Phillies end up re-signing J.T. Realmuto, they can get more out of him offensively if they can keep him in the lineup while giving him a rest from catching. Andrew Knapp has shown that he can be a more valuable contributor on offense if he’s given at-bats more frequently.

Without the DH, the Phillies might have to throw Realmuto out there more often than they’d like, which can lead to some injury problems down the road. His 2019 season ended after undergoing a procedure on his knee from an injury that, at the very least, was partially attributed to his heavy workload down the stretch.

The biggest issue surrounding the Phillies in the event the DH doesn’t return is what the Phillies would do with Andrew McCutchen. Joe Girardi is confident that McCutchen, who is 34 and set to be two years removed from ACL surgery, can be the Phillies’ everyday left fielder in 2021. But his confidence is dependent on the DH returning to the NL.

“I do,” Girardi said when asked if McCutchen can be the team’s everyday left fielder in 2021 during the final weekend of the 2020 season. “I think I would give him his DH days. He’s not 37 or 38 but he’s getting to his mid-thirties to where I think DH days help him.”

McCutchen had a brutal year in the outfield in 2020. He ranked last in defensive runs saved (-8), ultimate zone rating (-4.3) and defensive WAR (-5.8) among 15 left fielders with at least 300 innings played at the position in 2020. Much of that can be attributed to his injury but it’s fair to wonder how much McCutchen can improve as a defender.

If the DH returns, McCutchen may get the bulk of the at-bats at the position. If it doesn’t, the Phillies will probably have to sign an additional outfielder to platoon with McCutchen. They could opt to give Adam Haseley a significant amount of at-bats in left field but without an external addition, the Phillies would have to rely on a combination of Haseley, Roman Quinn and Mickey Moniak in center field.

Of course, a lack of a designated hitter would hurt the Phillies’ division rivals. The Mets, for example, will have an easier time fitting both Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso into their lineup on a daily basis with the DH in place. DH or not, the Braves need to find a way to replace Marcell Ozuna, who will most likely sign with an American League team if the NL lacks a designated hitter next season.

It would be ideal if the Phillies, along with every other team in the NL, could learn sooner rather than later what the rules will be when they presumably take the field on April 1.


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