How the Nats stand to benefit from universal DH in 2022


After 48 seasons of the designated hitter only being used in the American League, the universal DH is all but guaranteed to be instituted in 2022. The National League temporarily adopted the DH in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a press conference Thursday that MLB’s owners had agreed to include the universal DH in its CBA proposals for this season and beyond.

“We’ve agreed to a universal designated hitter and the elimination of draft-choice compensation,” Manfred said. “These changes will improve the free agent market by creating additional jobs that are often filled by veteran players and by reducing, actually eliminating, the drag from compensation.”

For the Nationals, the addition of a DH slot to their lineup likely won’t mean a hitter is going to suddenly get 150 starts at the position — at least among those currently in the organization. Perhaps the players who stand most to benefit in 2022 are catcher Riley Adams and outfielder Yadiel Hernández.

Adams showed some offensive potential with an .887 OPS in 35 games after being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Brad Hand deal at the deadline. However, he won’t suit up at catcher more than once or twice a week as long as Keibert Ruiz is healthy. Manager Davey Martinez already had Adams start getting work in at first base in 2021 to give him another path to playing time. By starting him at DH, the Nationals could get an extended look at Adams without cutting into Ruiz’s development.

Hernández, a 33-year-old rookie last season, was a solid hitter as well. He appeared in 112 games for Washington and hit .273 with nine home runs and a .742 OPS, taking over as their everyday left fielder down the stretch. His defense (-9 DRS in LF) left much to be desired, making him a better candidate for DH than outfielder especially if the Nationals decide they want to give any two of Lane Thomas, Victor Robles and Donovan Casey regular spots in the lineup.

Then there’s the infield, where there are going to be several more bodies than positions available. Josh Bell is entrenched at first base, but the other three positions are wide open. Carter Kieboom, Luis García, Alcides Escobar, César Hernández and Lucius Fox all figure to be in the mix as members of the 40-man roster, while Dee Strange-Gordon and Maikel Franco will also be in camp on minor-league deals.

In addition, Ryan Zimmerman has not yet announced whether he intends to return in 2022. The addition of the DH spot might be enticing enough for him to make a run at 300 home runs (needs 16) and 1,000 runs scored (37 shy). He would still give Bell the occasional day off at first, but the Nationals can’t play Bell, Zimmerman and Adams there on a regular basis.

When the lockout ends, Washington will have two open spots on its 40-man it could fill in free agency. If president and GM Mike Rizzo decides to target a hitter, outfielders like Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler are among the best fits as power bats capable of playing in left. Either player would likely take up some of the time at DH as well to give the Nationals the flexibility to test out some of their younger pieces.

All in all, the DH spot will give the Nationals some newfound roster flexibility. There will be more opportunities to give young players reps, something a team in a state of transition could certainly use to its advantage.

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