ST. LOUIS — With the new MLB proposal involving universal usage of the designated hitter and the players reportedly being all for it, the question now turns to team rosters around the league as managers and coaches decide who is going to get four extra at-bats a game.
Free agents like Yasiel Puig will probably find a job at last. The journeyman outfielder's main feature is power and a bat that brings some turbulence but production as well. For most teams though, it will be a look behind their own curtains.
For the St. Louis Cardinals, the DH will most certainly be an internal option, which is President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak's favorite idea. When you think about (one of Mozeliak's favorite sayings) the Cardinals' roster and how it shapes up, there are a few obvious options for Mike Shildt to explore.
Let's go over five of them.
The veteran outfielder doesn't offer much defense in the field, so taking the glove out of his hands would be a wise option. According to Fangraphs, Fowler's DRS (defensive runs saved) is -21 as a Cardinal, meaning he's cost the team 21 runs with his work out there.
What he does offer is cool to moderately okay offense. He'll crank 15-18 home runs, drive in 70, and hopefully get on base around the .350 mark. This would give Dylan Carlson an open lane to start in right field and improve the defense in the field instantly. Pout all you want about Fowler playing, but if he's healthy, he will be in the lineup just about every day. Book it and repeat the phrase like a mantra until he is traded or the contract runs out. "Fowler will play if he is healthy!" Save the team some runs and let him DH.
During Yadier Molina's absence last year, Wieters really picked up the slack offensively, giving the Cardinals extra punch in that lineup. Wieters could be a starter on a fair portion of MLB teams but really gives the Cardinals an ace in the hole. With extra at-bats sitting out there, Wieters would be a sly pick, especially with a younger catcher potentially in the dugout. Or...
Since the minor league season is going to be cancelled and teams will be able to employ a practice squad type backup squad, the Cardinals should see what the young catcher has in store. If there are people who think he can be a better producer than Molina, let's see what he can do with a bat. I can tell you right now Knizner will NEVER be as good as Molina is, so hopefully he can hit. He hit 12 home runs and slugged .463 for Memphis in 66 games last year.
The Cardinals could put Lane Thomas, a better fielder than J. Crew Muscles, in left with Harrison Bader in center and Carlson in right field. O'Neill's defense can be hit or miss, but his bat is a no-brainer. There will be strikeouts, but you can also expect hits and raw power. O'Neill needs to get at-bats so his future can be better determined and not wasted in a bench spot.
The most likely option could finally rest his body and dedicate all his energy to hitting, which when Carpenter is right, puts him up there among the best on the team in terms of working over a pitcher and crafting a nice at-bat. Carpenter struggled in 2019 but still hit 15 home runs and 20 doubles at the plate. If he's 100% health wise, a redemption song is in order for him in 2020. Fangraphs Depth Charts has him producing a 2.2 WAR, which would be just fine. Carpenter's back may benefit from some DH time and he would still give the Cards an on-base machine with some legit pop. Carpenter has averaged 25 home runs a season over the past five years.
While COVID-19 has taken away at least half of the 2020 season, it may have sped up a few of the changes that would have been waiting for the Cardinals after the next Collective Bargaining Agreement proposal. Like it or not (for a long time, I did not), the designated hitter will take away the annoying presence of a pitcher trying to get a hit while avoiding injury. People will bring it up, but think about Adam Wainwright's Achilles Heel injury back in 2015. Those freak injuries won't happen anymore, and a team has a better chance of producing a run in that DH spot. As a purple-headed titan once said, you can fight it or run from it, but the DH will arrive.
The Cardinals can take advantage of this in multiple ways, improving their defense on the infield by inserting Tommy Edman at third base or getting a better outfielder into the lineup. They can also explore the ceiling of the bats belonging to their backup catchers. Spin the wheel or stick with one, this will lead to more runs.
Thanks for reading.