The universal DH could cost the Boston Red Sox Kyle Schwarber
Boston Red Sox fans may no longer have to see the unfortunate sight of one of their pitchers trying to hit a baseball. If there is a MLB season this year, there will be a universal designated hitter. Though this is not official yet, it might as well be. Let me explain. On Monday during a press conference about the lockout, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that the league has agreed to the implementation of the universal DH.
This is huge because of the two sides, the players were the most likely to support a universal DH. It creates more opportunities for players who can only really play the DH position due to age or subpar defensive skills. And more opportunities obviously leads to more cash earned in free agency for those players. With Manfred signaling that the league supports this change, it all but guarantees that when this lockout ends and baseball is played again it will be played with a universal DH.
However, this is bad news for the Red Sox. It not only means that JD Martinez will likely not be coming back after next season, but it also decreases the chances of the Red Sox re-signing his potential replacement, Kyle Schwarber.
Why’s this? For the same reason the players association supports the universal DH, it gives Schwarber more options. The most obvious example of this being that prior to its implementation, a lot of National League teams who had one less spot to fill in their lineup just didn’t have room for Schwarber on their team. Now with the elimination of the pitcher’s spot in the lineup and the creation of the DH, there will be an opening for Schwarber in most National League lineups.
Another factor is that Schwarber is not a good fielder. At Least not anymore. You may be tricked by Schwarber’s career UZR rating of 9.5 into thinking that he’s a good defender. However, that number is mostly boosted by an outlier season in 2018 where he had a 9.8 UZR rating. In the three major league seasons since then, Schwarber has posted UZR ratings of -0.9, -0.8, and -3.4 respectively.
These aren’t terrible numbers but it’s important to remember that American League and National League outfields are not the same. Most NL ballparks are bigger, meaning the outfields are deeper and more spacious. A 2014 study found that 7 of the 8 most spacious outfields in baseball were in NL ballparks with the one AL ballpark being Kauffman Stadium.
As a result, most NL teams will tend to target more athletic players who can cover a lot of ground to man the outfield corners. So an NL team without the DH would be less likely to make a multi-year commitment to a player like Schwarber, who just posted a -3.4 UZR at the age of 28 and whose UZR has been trending downwards in recent years.
Whereas an AL team such as the Red Sox would be more likely to play Schwarber in the outfield knowing that half of his games are going to be played at Fenway park in front of the very shallow green monster and most road games will be played in much more manageable hitter-friendly ballparks.
If the universal DH is implemented it would change everything for Schwarber. NL teams would be much more likely to hand out that multi-year deal to him knowing that he can play most of his games at the DH position. Would he still get reps in the outfield every now and then? Of course, J.D. Martinez still does from time to time for the Red Sox, but it would be so little that his lack of defensive prowess would not become a potential season-altering liability for an NL team.
So far the Red Sox main competition in re-signing Schwarber has been the Philadelphia Phillies. Ironically a National League team. The implementation of the universal DH would likely increase the Phillies interest in Schwarber as it would quell any concerns they may have about his defense. This could lead to other NL teams getting in on the Schwarber sweepstakes as well.
This would be bad for the Sox as it would drive up the price to bring Schwarber back. The Red Sox under the leadership of Chaim Bloom have been very cautious with their money and might be hesitant of getting into a bidding war over Schwarber. They might decide at that point to walk away.
This could lead to disastrous results for the team, as their next best option, Seiya Suzuki, could very well decide that he would like to play exclusively on the west coast, eliminating the Red Sox from the sweepstakes for his services entirely. Meaning that if Chaim Bloom was unable to swing a last second trade before Opening Day, the Red Sox would start the season with Jackie Bradley Jr, who hit for a horrendous .497 OPS last season, as one of their starting outfielders.
If this nightmare scenario actually occurred then it could be strongly argued that MLB’s implementation of the universal DH could be the reason that the Red Sox do not make a return to the postseason next season.