MLB rumors: Universal DH, expanded playoffs appear to be dead

Free agent DH Marcell Ozuna. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Free agent DH Marcell Ozuna. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

MLB rumors have the universal DH and expanded playoffs a no-go

Discussions between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association have broken down on the subject of a universal designated hitter rule as well as expanded playoffs for the 2021 season, according to the latest MLB rumors.

Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported Monday that MLB had offered the permanent addition of the DH to the National League in exchange for an agreement on expanding the postseason field, but the union rejected the deal.

With less than a month before spring training is scheduled to begin — something else that is now very much in the air — National League teams have been in a holding pattern assembling rosters for this season not knowing if they were going to have a DH role to fill for 162 games or only a smattering of interleague matchups.

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There may still be time for the sides to reach an agreement on this, but the owners and the players have seldom been very efficient about reaching a consensus.

In 2020, the first time the National League employed a DH full-time, the position compiled a .235 batting average and .728 OPS in a total of 3,724 plate appearances, per Baseball-Reference. Those totals included 149 doubles, 135 home runs, 471 RBI, 366 walks and 956 strikeouts.

Those work out to averages of nine homers and 31 RBI per team across the abbreviated 60-game schedule. Players pinch-hitting in the DH spot hit .208 with a .613 OPS in 115 at-bats with one home run and 16 RBI.

According to Baseball-Reference, only four National League teams had positive Wins Above Replacement totals from the DH spot — the Atlanta Braves (0.8), Los Angeles Dodgers (0.6), San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals (0.1 each).

FanGraphs was a bit more generous, with the Braves leading at 2.0 fWAR, followed by the New York Mets (1.5), Chicago Cubs (1.2), Miami Marlins (1.1), Cincinnati Reds (1.0), San Francisco Giants (1.0), Cardinals (0.9), Milwaukee Brewers (0.4), Padres (0.1) and Pittsburgh Pirates (0.1).

If no agreement on the DH can be reached, it severely limits the marketplace for players such as Marcell Ozuna, who was the NL Silver Slugger winner in the role last season with Atlanta but remains unsigned this winter.

Ozuna hit .338 with a 1.067 OPS while leading the National League with 18 home runs, 56 RBI and 145 total bases. He played 39 games in the DH spot, 19 in left field and two in right field.

It also brings into question at least some of the wisdom of the Washington Nationals signing Kyle Schwarber to a two-year, $18.5 million free-agent contract that includes an $11.5 million mutual option for 2022 with a $3 million buyout.

Schwarber has spent most of his career as a man without a position. He came up as a catcher, but was woeful in his brief stints behind the dish at the major-league level. The Cubs wound up using Schwarber primarily in left field, but per FanGraphs, he has been a minus-12 in terms of defensive runs saved and a minus-24 in runs saved above average as an outfielder in his career.

As for the expanded playoffs, MLB went to 16 teams — eight per league. This was up from the 10 teams that had qualified for the postseason since 2013, a format that has included a single-game Wild-Card Playoff in each league.

Last season, all of the first- and second-place teams qualified, along with the top two third-place clubs. The first-round Wild-Card Series were a best-of-3 format and played entirely at the home field of the higher-seeded team.

The National League played its two Division Series at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, and Minute Maid Park in Houston, while the American League’s were played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Petco Park in San Diego — which also hosted the ALCS.

The NLCS and World Series were held at Globe Life Park. The assumption is that the postseason home field situation will return to normal this season, but that’s far from concrete.

Fans support the universal DH and expanded playoffs — although maybe not 16 teams’ worth of expanded postseason. A popular number being tossed around is 12 teams, but that would require (a) a division champion to play in a winner-takes-all game in the Wild-Card round or (b) two teams would have to get extended time off to decide a best-of-3 Wild-Card series.

Neither of those options is ideal, because extended breaks in October often do not end well (yes, 2007 Colorado Rockies, we’re looking at you).

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The larger picture is with the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire at the end of the 2021 season and contentious issues such as organizations manipulating service time of prospects in order to basically gain an extra year of control far from being resolved, it doesn’t exactly paint a beautiful picture of getting to the 2022 season without another work stoppage.