A potential rules change in 2020 gives St. Louis some choices to make when play resumes.
All signs are looking like MLB will go ahead with adopting a Universal Designated Hitter position for the 2020 season:
Universal DH proposed by MLB is expected to be easily approved by players, who long favored idea. It won’t impact finances in ‘20 but could boost pay for select few in ‘21 based on better stats. Teams helped: Dodgers (great depth), Nats (same), Brewers (Braun), Mets (Cespedes?)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) May 13, 2020
Since the NL doesn’t play with a DH, it begs the question of how some of these clubs might rearrange their lineups to give them some extra juice. The Cardinals are interesting because as a team with some solid depth, they’ve got a good number of players who could benefit directly and indirectly from there being a designated hitter.
Here’s what I mean: Say you’re Dexter Fowler. You’ve got a fair bat (19 home runs last year) but you’re not as athletic as you used to be, and you’ve got guys behind you in the outfield depth chart that are younger and have more potential defensive upside (see: Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Dylan Carlson). Depending on who gets that starting gig at left field you could be looking at one of those other two guys in the hunt for your playing time.
Plugging Fowler in at DH to re-sharpen his offense to 2017 or even 2016 levels lets the Cardinals have the best of both worlds in terms of producing offense and not having too many defensive liabilities. Plugging any of those younger bats in at DH could also give them an opportunity to improve on their skills with a bat with a steady, stable schedule.
Rangel Ravelo’s another name that comes to mind when thinking about potential benefactors of a universal DH. As someone who sits pretty sweet behind Paul Goldschmidt on the first base depth chart – and who was pretty regularly used as a pinch hitter last season – plugging Ravelo at DH could help him become a more consistent hitter to go along with his pretty solid power levels. The DH could also work in Goldschmidt’s favor if he started experiencing discomfort at first base again this year.
And then there’s Matt Carpenter.
Carpenter is a doubly interesting prospect for a couple of reasons. First, he’s in that Dexter Fowler category of “older guy with an okay bat” who may just need a stint at DH to try and re-capture some of the offensive goodness that Cardinals fans have yearned for in recent years. The second reason is the implications of a shuffling from third base to the DH. At the moment you could feasibly see someone like utility guy Tommy Edman take Carpenter’s place, but the Cardinals could go fishing for more intriguing third base replacements, maybe to the tune of one Nolan Arenado.
You don’t need me to tell you what adding someone like Arenado to the lineup would do for the Cardinals, both offensively and defensively, so the question remains if the Rockies’ asking price would be too much for the Cardinals to handle. That remains to be seen, but if the relationship between the Rockies and Arenado starts to generate friction, the Cards would do well to pounce, even if it means cleaning out some inventory in the lower A’s.
The Cardinals are in a unique position to use their depth to be prepared for any logical DH scenario. They could give some newfound purpose to old and new players, and could allow them to be more creative and perhaps more aggressive in free agency and the trading block to make further roster improvements. I, for one, am very interested to see which move the Cards think will help them the most.