The designated hitter rule has been exclusive to the American League since 1973, but it could soon be on its way to the National League if rumored MLB rule changes come through.
According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are currently discussing numerous changes that could be implemented the current collective bargaining agreement. The discussions have included changes such as implementing a three-batter minimum for pitchers, a single trade deadline that would occur prior to the All-Star break, and a universal designated hitter.
Within the aforementioned article, ESPN sources inform Passan that “one of the union’s counter-proposals was the adoption of the designated hitter in the National League. The rule could be eased in, with inter-league games featuring DHs on both sides in 2019, and all teams using it in 2020.” As elite talent such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado still remain on the free agent market with only eight days left until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, positive communication between the MLB and the MLB Players Association on rule changes is significant.
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Even though introducing a universal DH is a controversial subject within the fan base of the MLB, it could potentially improve future free agent markets for position players as 15 new jobs would be available. If this type of change had occurred prior to the start of the current free agent period, it could have created additional landing spots for other remaining free agents such as Carlos Gonzalez, Adam Jones, Matt Holliday, and Mike Moustakas. It could have also potentially created a larger market for already signed players such as Nelson Cruz, Andrew McCutchen, Mark Reynolds, and Curtis Granderson.
A change in the DH rule could have also impacted the way AL teams operated this off-season as well. For example, the New York Yankees may have been able to move Jacoby Ellsbury to an NL team in order to free up available payroll space for Machado and the Seattle Mariners may have been able to avoid including Edwin Diaz in order to unload Robinson Cano. Despite the large amount of money owed to Ellsbury and Cano, both players may have had additional suitors if they were able to split time between their normal positions and a newly created DH spot for half of the league.
Regardless of the numerous possibilities, implementing a universal DH before the start of the upcoming season for inter-league games would be a significant, unexpected change to the modern rules. If teams find out during spring training that the DH rule will be universal for all teams ahead of the 2020 regular season, we may quickly see many NL teams make trades or signings to prepare for the added position.