Every January for as long as I can remember at the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up fan festival, general manager John Mozeliak has been asked a variation of the same question – does he see a National League move to the designated hitter on the horizon?
Every year, he shoots it down – firmly calling the idea “a non-starter” – asserting there had been exactly zero discussion among his peers about the matter – that is, until Saturday. In both his fan Q&A session and his media briefing, the inevitable question was answered differently from before.
For the first time, Mozeliak acknowledged that the designated hitter has come up in league meetings.
When a 140-character summary from a local writer reported this news, at least two national articles on the subject quickly popped up. A challenge is that those writers seemed to be basing articles on one comment presented without full context, leading to what appears to be an incorrect assumption.
According to Mozeliak, the reason why the designated hitter is now being considered is to help reverse declining run scoring across the Senior Circuit.
Instead, both articles cite pitcher injury risk as motivation - using Adam Wainwright's Achilles tear last season as 'Exhibit A'. One article even includes the Wainwright injury video, asserting that pitcher injury concern is a “main driver in the support for the DH in the NL”. No backing information was provided, so the reader cannot tell if this is more than an overstated opinion.
However, one thing is clear. Despite losing his staff ace for most of the 2015 season, Mozeliak does not see pitcher injury while hitting as an issue. In fact, he brushed it off on Saturday by noting that Wainwright could have been injured just as easily in the shower.
Further, St. Louis’ GM stated that his overall position on the DH and that of his boss, team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., remains unchanged. They still believe that “pitchers should continue to hit.” Mozeliak did add later, however, that the Cardinals would be “open-minded” if there was a significant push for the DH from the rest of the league.
Asked about timing, twice Mozeliak stated that the idea of the DH coming to his league by the time the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is scheduled to go into place – at the end of this year – “is likely too fast”.
It is easy to understand why. Many extremely meaty issues between players and management are likely to be negotiated in the upcoming months – draft pick compensation and related team tanking, an international draft, players’ declining share of MLB revenue, the qualifying offer system, service time manipulation and more.
Some think the DH could be thrown onto the negotiating table by owners as a bone to win other more important points with the union. While that is possible until proven otherwise, it seems more likely to me that the DH will be so low on the priority list compared to these other matters that it may not get any traction in 2016.
An interim approach raised by one questioner was also shot down by Mozeliak. The GM replied that NL owners would be firmly against a hybrid implementation in which DHs would be used exclusively in interleague games - because the AL has a perceived advantage with the construction of today’s 25-man rosters.
One colleague who is also very interested in the issue believes that owners could offer a roster increase to 27 or 28 players as part of a DH proposal to the union. While the player representatives would almost surely eat that up, I do not think the owners would agree to even put it on the table.
The incremental expense in such a proposal – adding 60 to 90 players across the game - would be considerable and ongoing – not only in salaries, but benefits, service time and retirement, as well. It should be remembered that designated hitters are typically not minimum-salaried players.
I say 60-90 players because roster expansion would almost certainly require agreement from the American League as well, a group that likely has no issue with the current DH implementation that has been in place and unchanged for more than 40 years. There would seem no motivation for AL owners to agree to personally spend more money just to increase scoring in NL games – or even to keep NL pitchers more healthy, for that matter.
So, yes, there is apparently general discussion where there was none, but if the designated hitter is not in the cards this year, the next CBA window is likely another six years away.
A lot can happen between now and then. Maybe run scoring will rebound and this idea will return to being a “non-starter” or maybe another approach for more offense will be found.
On the other hand, perhaps the designated hitter rule will become universal one day.
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