It seems inevitable at this point that there will be a universal DH in MLB for the 2022 season. In fact, it seems like one of the few major points that MLB and MLBPA actually do agree on during these CBA negotiations. Back in October, Allison touched on the in-house options that the Nationals could turn to at DH for the upcoming season. In addition to the five in-house options she touched on, the Nats could turn to a recent minor-league signing, or they could look at the remaining free agents who are available.
With all of this being said, the DH is going to be very beneficial for almost every team in MLB. Specifically for the Nats as they’ll now have the ability to get Juan Soto off of his feet for a game or two a week but still keep his bat in the lineup. Keeping that in mind, and also keeping in mind that the Nats could potentially use Riley Adams and Yadiel Hernandez (as Allison touched on) at DH a game or two a week, the Nats might just be searching for someone to DH 3-4 games a week. For that reason, they might be looking for someone who also has the ability to play in the field. As much as I’d love to add Nelson Cruz’s bat to the lineup, it’s just not happening, so below are a couple of players who fit the mold of what the Nats might be looking for:
I’ll start with the two main reasons this is unlikely to happen: 1) McCutchen will likely be looking to join a contender and 2) the Nats will likely be unwilling to pay his asking price. Having gotten that out of the way, he’d be an absolutely great addition. He’s still getting on base at a solid clip and showed he still has some pop in his bat after hitting 27 home runs last year for the Phillies. McCutchen’s defense on the other hand has bottomed out. He was in the 12th percentile last year in OAA. He can certainly still play the outfield, but at this point in his career, he’s probably better suited as a DH/4th outfielder. He’d be a great mentor to Victor Robles and Lane Thomas, and potentially a great trade chip at the trade deadline. There are a lot worse options out there than having Andrew McCutchen in your lineup 4-5 times a week.
This one has Mike Rizzo written all over it if you ask me. Davis hit 48 home runs as recently as 2018. He’s a poor man’s Adam Dunn. I say poor man’s Adam Dunn because while he has Dunn’s power, he doesn’t have Dunn’s eye. Dunn was able to take his walks, while Davis is not. Davis slugged .549 in 2018 and only had an .874 OPS because of just a .326 OBP. Davis, like Dunn, isn’t a very good fielder, but he can play left field in a pinch. He’s coming off of two sub-par seasons where he posted a .632 OPS in 2020 and then .635 OPS in 2021, which means he’d likely come pretty cheap. The power potential is there though, and as far as cheap options that could pay-off, Davis fits the bill.
Speaking of power, Vogelbach is another free agent who can absolutely mash the ball. Vogelbach is probably a bit more valuable than Davis because he takes his walks and can get on base. Vogelbach’s primary position is first base though, which the Nats seem set at with Josh Bell and either Ryan Zimmerman or Riley Adams backing him up. Should Zimmerman decide not to come back, adding Vogelbach probably makes a bit more sense since there would be some additional playing time for him at first base. Vogelbach is another bat with 30+ home run potential, which was on full display in Seattle in 2019. He’s coming off a season with Milwaukee where his power numbers dipped a bit. In 2021, his HR% was at a career low 3.5%, which is down from his career average of 4.5%. On a positive note, he walked in a career high 16.7% of his at bats last year, so he was still getting on base at a fairly good clip. Adding power and a guy who can get on base to your lineup is never a bad thing.
This is an interesting one mainly because the Nats have already signed Castillo to a minor-league contract. Castillo, who’s now 34 years old, was once a top prospect in the Red Sox organization after signing a 7-year $72.5 million contract. Castillo is a bit different from the other players listed here because he’s actually a solid defender, so the question is whether or not he can hit. He only has 337 major league plate appearances under his belt, but he posted just a .679 OPS in those plate appearances. In 2019, his final year in the Red Sox organization, he posted a .769 OPS with 17 home runs in AAA. Prior to that, he posted a .857 OPS in 2017 and a .776 OPS in 2018. He doesn’t have the “prototypical” DH bat, but I think he’s worth mentioning because he’s already in the organization, and he can provide some value on the defensive end as well.
There are fairly cheap options out there for the Nats to pursue if they decide to look externally for a DH. The DH should really make clubs (including the Nats) think long and hard about adding a big time bat to their lineup. It doesn’t sound like the Nats will go this route this offseason, but adding a Kyle Schwarber or Carlos Correa carries a bit less risk with the DH in play since you don’t have to worry about how they’ll age in the field going forward. The age of the universal DH is about to officially be upon us, now it’ll be interesting to see how the Nats decide to fill it.