By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and as the prospect of a possible start to the MLB season becomes more likely, the league has already announced on an exciting short-term change that could become a long-term fixture: the universal designated hitter. For the 2020 season, if and/or when it happens, all teams will play with a DH. Long speculated, the change will cause a considerable shift to the National League game. There will be a two-fold effect.
The most apparent effect is that now teams will not have the benefit of an easy out at the bottom of the lineup. For far too long, NL teams have been able to capitalize on weak-hitting pitchers. While there will be a loss of strategy for late-game double-switches, having nine capable hitters in a lineup will make it worth the loss of any desire to see managers fumble with their decision-making.
Secondly, the universal DH will allow for position players to get a day of rest from the field while remaining in their team’s lineup. The American League has been able to benefit from this for decades, and now the NL will share the advantage. Also, aging position players that may no longer have a defensive home will serve as full-time DHs. The most obvious example of a team set to celebrate the rule change is the Milwaukee Brewers. Ryan Braun was unlikely to have an every-day spot in the lineup thanks to defensive limitations, but now he will likely see regular at-bats as the DH.
Over the weekend, Tampa Bay left-hander Blake Snell spoke publicly regarding concerns that most of his fellow players likely share. Snell stated an unwillingness to play the 2020 season due to MLB looking to reduce player’s salaries via revenue sharing. On the surface, someone complaining about making a couple of million dollars less than expected—while still making many millions—is a bad look. However, Snell’s point of contention has merit.
For players, the 2020 season represents a tremendous risk to their health due to potential exposure to COVID-19. Players are assuming all of the health risks while team owners assume none while also reaping in the profits from revenue sharing. Complaints lobbied toward Snell’s views are fair, but it isn’t like his stance seizes funds from worthwhile charities, research, or taxpayers.
Instead, Snell is merely arguing for the players—the actual people taking the risk and playing—receive the revenue generated rather than the billionaire owners. Agree or disagree, the 2018 American League Cy Young winner has a point. There is also this: while MLB players are tremendous athletes, many suffer from pre-existing conditions that would make contracting COVID-19 far more dangerous. Many players are diabetic, suffer from asthma, or have any other manageable conditions that enhance the dangers surrounding the virus.
One certainty for MLB is the 2020 Draft, which will take place during June. The league has announced a massive change for this year, with the draft lasting only five rounds. After the first five rounds, all undrafted players will be able to sign with a team of their choice, though the maximum allowed contract for undrafted players is a mere $20,000. The massive reduction in salary is a disappointing sacrifice for players not going in the first five rounds, and research done by Baseball America illustrates that teams will be able to save close to $3 million in commitments thanks to the limit on salary.
Given the nature of the MLB Draft, it seems incredibly likely many players opt not to sign this season. Instead, players can return to college, head to JUCO, or simply play semi-pro baseball in hopes of a more lucrative situation with the 2021 draft. There will be a large number of players worth of top-five round selections likely not entering the MLB pipeline in 2020. While the league’s owners will benefit in the short-term with the money saved, in the long run, the league and fans, itself will suffer by the short-sighted decision to punish the 2020 draft class.