The Braves May Have A “DH-elimma”

Everyone knows that if you want to start a fight in a sports bar all you have to do is mention one of these two topics: Pete Rose should (or should not) be in the Hall of Fame, or the National League should (or should not) adopt the Designated Hitter. For the record, I am of the opinion that Pete Rose should not be accepted into the Hall of Fame until at least a year after he has drawn his final breath, but that’s an argument for another pandemic. For now, let’s focus on the second of those taboo topics: the DH.

MLB owners reportedly sent a proposal to the MLBPA that would pave the way for baseball to resume sometime in July. Among the items in that proposal are a reduced schedule of around 80 games, expanded rosters, expanded playoffs, and various rules changes that would help limit exposure during games and cut time off of games. For a full picture of what the proposal might look like, check out this article in the USA Today.

Of all the proposed rule changes, the one that has made the most noise among fans is the decision to expand the designated hitter to the National League teams. Essentially, since the league wishes to restrict travel for teams, they have decided to limit the schedule to teams playing within their own division and the corresponding division in the other league. With that being the case, and NL teams finding themselves in a severe disadvantage playing so many games against AL teams who have the DH, the league decided to even the playing field and provide the DH for all clubs.

Naturally this has caused quite the stir among NL fanbases, but once you get past the “I’ll never watch another game” lunatics there is quite the discussion to be had about how teams will look to fill that position. There might not be another player in the league more excited to hear about the possibility of the DH coming to the National League than the Braves’ Austin Riley. Well, except maybe Yasiel Puig, who, much to my dismay, remains unsigned. Riley was having a solid spring for the Braves and was still faced with the very real possibility of being left off the opening day roster in favor of veteran Johan Camargo. So naturally if the Braves were to suddenly have to fill a DH position, one would think Austin Riley would have the inside track, right?

Actually, I believe that once MLB admitted to themselves that it would not be possible to hold a minor league season, it became a foregone conclusion that Austin Riley would make the team. The impetus for keeping him off the roster to begin with was to give him regular playing time in Gwinnett, and if there is no season for the Stripers then the only place he could get regular playing time would be at the big league level. The person that might most benefit from the DH position is, believe it or not, Nick Markakis.

Markakis was staring down the barrel of a part time role in the outfield, getting one AB a game off the bench and occasionally starting against a tough right handed pitcher. His carrying tool these days is not the Gold Glove he won a few years back but his bat to ball skills. He may not have much power left in his tank, but he’s a tough out who makes solid contact, works deep counts, and tailors his approach from one at bat to the next based on the situation at hand. Frankly, he’s got the kind of bat you hate to put on the bench, but you can’t afford to keep him in the field due to his aging legs and deteriorating arm strength. As a DH, however, he could provide the Braves some steady AB’s in a lineup filled with youth and impatience.

Here would be my projected lineup with Nick Markakis serving as the DH:

Ronald Acuña, Jr (RF)
Ozzie Albies (2B)
Freddie Freeman (1B)
Marcell Ozuna (LF)
Nick Markakis (DH)
Austin Riley (3B)
Travis d’Arnaud (C)
Ender Inciarte (CF)
Dansby Swanson (SS)

Now, along with the addition of the DH position, there is talk about adding as many as 4 more roster spots, bringing the total up to around 30. So naturally, one would look at that and say “wow, my team can sign player X and really be in a position to compete!” Before you get too excited, consider the following factors:

  • Owners are poised to lose money no matter how the negotiations go with the MLBPA
  • Pitching will be the most affected by a shortened season
  • Along with expanded rosters, the league is looking to institute a “taxi squad” made up of a team’s MLB ready minor leaguers, and some of those roster spots might figure into that scenario.

Here’s a brief review of what I think the 26 man roster would have looked like at the end of Spring Training. Please note, however, that Hamels should be 100% so I am including him on this 26 man roster.

Starting Pitchers – Mike Soroka, Cole Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried, Felix Hernandez
Relief Pitchers – Will Smith, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Luke Jackson, Darren O’Day, Josh Tomlin, Sean Newcomb
Position Players – Acuña, Albies, Freeman, Ozuna, Riley, d’Arnaud, Swanson, Inciarte
Bench – Flowers, Camargo, Hechavarria, Markakis, Duvall

Understanding that the owners are, in fact, losing money no matter what they do, it stands to reason they may be less inclined to retain non-guaranteed contracts and instead look to their minor leagues to provide cheap depth. Instead of, for instance, Adam Duvall at $3.4M, the Braves may decide to go with the cheaper Cristian Pache at the MLB minimum. Rather than keep Felix Hernandez in the rotation at $1M, they might opt to let Newcomb take that 5th spot in the rotation and back fill the bullpen with one of a myriad of reliever candidates like Kyle Wright, Patrick Weigel, Jeremy walker, and Phillip Pfeifer. They could also look to trade players like Shane Greene or even cut them, again in favor of cheaper options. Granted, the salary hit to the team would be pro-rated based on the number of games, but that also applies to the minimum contracts as well. And again, the lost revenue from the first half of the season can’t be made up in the second half due to no fans being allowed in the stadiums.

We really don’t have the full details on any restrictions on a proposed expanded roster, but let’s assume they go to 30 and allow 2 more pitchers and two position players. The Braves would probably opt to add a third catcher, meaning Alex Jackson makes the club. They also don’t have a legitimate CF back-up outside of Ronald Acuña, so there would be a real temptation to bring along Cristian Pache since he won’t be getting the playing time he needs in AAA. Wright and Pfeifer are legitimate considerations to the pitching side, but the Braves would obviously like to give Jacob Webb, Bryse Wilson, and Tucker Davidson some time as well. And the one thing the Braves truly lack even with the expanded roster above is a legitimate left handed power bat off the bench.

It’s easy to see a scenario where the Braves cut ties with at least one of Hernandez, Duvall or Greene. I actually believe it’s likely at least two of those players will be with other clubs opening day. If I had to make a prediction, Duvall and Hernandez are cut before opening day to make room for Jackson and Wright at the MLB minimum, and there will be an addition from outside the club to address the lack of a LH power bat off the bench.

No matter how it eventually shakes out, one thing is certain: it’s great to be talking about the possibility of baseball instead of rehashing old games and handicapping video game results. What are your thoughts or expectations for the 2020 season? Hit us up in the comment section, on Twitter at @ChattTennBraves or @ChattTennSports, or find us on Instagram and Facebook!

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