COMMENTARY | I hate the designated hitter. Let me be clear about that before we begin. As far as I'm concerned, the DH is baseball's only legalized form of cheating and deserves to be unceremoniously scrapped.
It's just not baseball.
How can it be baseball? Babe Ruth didn't play it. Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial never saw it. Sure, the immortal Hank Aaron had his time at DH, but was it really worth it?
In 711 at-bats, Hammerin' Hank hit .235 with 22 home runs as a DH -- easily the worst performance of any "position" he played. And the sad part is, it was all unnecessary. Aaron had already broken Ruth's home run record the year before he took his first AB at DH (1975-1976).
Of course, some would say the DH made it possible for us to enjoy Aaron's mighty swing for two more years. I say it helped many remember him as a less-than-average hitter instead of the Hall of Fame batsman he was while playing in the field.
Maybe we should have considered it an ill omen when Willie Mays, one of the best baseball players to ever live, said goodbye the very same year the DH debuted in 1973.
Since that time, the designated hitter rule remains one of the great travesties of the game.
But all of that may be irrelevant now. The writing, it seems, is on the wall.
A Call For One Set of Rules
With the increase of interleague play, the call to implement the DH in the National League has never been more pressing. Teams with lineups constructed using nine professional hitters will face other teams in National League cities in August and September with playoff spots on the line but without their vaunted designated hitters.
To make matters worse, the idea of watching a game-winning grounder glance off the glove of David Ortiz at first base, or balky knees virtually explode as Lance Berkman lunges for a line drive, are enough to make even the sturdiest general manager feel faint.
And it's enough to bring the DH to the NL. It's coming. All we can do now is get ready for the inevitable. For a team like the St. Louis Cardinals, inevitable can't get here soon enough.
Too Many Hitters, Too Little Room
When you're 20 games over .500 and leading your division in mid-June, the last thing you want to think about is making significant changes. The starting pitching is dominating, the offense is clicking, and the bullpen is finally figuring things out. And yet changes may be coming to the Cardinals' 2014 roster all the same.
Kolten Wong, second baseman and former first-round pick, is demanding a look with his play in Triple-A Memphis. But Matt Carpenter's potential All-Star performance in St. Louis may have settled the argument before it can begin.
Of course, the Cardinals could always return Carpenter to third base, but that would mean saying goodbye to hometown hero David Freese. Currently riding a 20-game hitting streak, Freese's resurgent bat may have something to say about that.
Manager Mike Matheny could consider playing Freese or Carpenter at first base, but any move that sends Allen Craig and his 5-year extension to the outfield would also see power-house Matt Adams take over at first, his natural and only position.
And then there's Oscar Taveras and Carlos Beltran.
Beltran's desire to remain in St. Louis is clear, but Taveras is the heir-apparent in right field, Beltran's current position. If the club retains Beltran, Taveras would move to center field while Matt Holliday and Beltran man the corners, not Allen Craig.
Throw in the "Pete Kozma or Ryan Jackson?" debate, and the Cardinals have a problem they haven't faced in a long time, if ever -- they literally have too many hitters for a standard National League lineup.
Five years ago, a similar problem would have presented its own solution. General manager John Mozeliak could use any one or two position prospects in a package to acquire a pitcher. But the impressive depth of the St. Louis pitching system makes any such acquisition awkward at best.
The Cardinals don't need a starter, and an everyday position player with a plus bat seems a steep price to pay for a middle reliever. So that brings us back to the original problem.
What are they going to do with so many hitters?
The Bryan Anderson Lesson
Mozeliak learned a hard lesson with catching prospect Bryan Anderson. The left-hander with the line-drive bat was once thought to be one of the top prospects in a then-shallow system, but his ascendance was blocked by Yadier Molina. Instead of leveraging the asset to acquire more help, the Cardinals allowed Anderson to waste away in Triple-A before eventually losing him to the Chicago White Sox through minor-league free agency.
They received nothing in return.
Leary of the same outcome, Mozeliak moved quickly in 2012 when he traded hitting prospect Zach Cox for reliever Edward Mujica. The same could happen again if he can't find at-bats for hitters like Adams and Wong. The only way to find more at-bats is to add more hitters to the lineup. The only way to do that is to embrace the designated hitter in the NL.
Accepting the Inevitable
Like I said before, I hate the idea of allowing the DH to further corrupt baseball, but if it's coming either way (some estimates have it debuting as early as 2016), the Cardinals should lead the charge and get it here sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the celebrated St. Louis farm system is going to be forced to watch potentially elite players waste away in Memphis, or worse yet, compete against the Cardinals as trade chips for years to come.
It's not easy to accept, but seeing Matt Adams in the lineup every day as the DH would sure make it easier to swallow.
Kevin Reynolds is the author of Stl Cards 'N Stuff and host of The State of the Nation Address podcast at Stl Cards 'N Stuff. He's been writing and podcasting about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2007 and can be found chatting about baseball on Twitter (@deckacards).
- Sports & Recreation
- National League
- Hank Aaron