Major League Baseball and the MLBPA remain far apart on core economic issues concerning the league’s next collective bargaining agreement. Their negotiations have progressed at a sluggish pace, raising serious doubts about the 2022 regular season starting on March 31 as originally scheduled. Earlier this week, however, commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed an important piece of news: the finished deal will include a universal designated hitter. All of a sudden, a major problem facing the Marlins has gone away.
Miami entered the lockout hoping for this outcome, as we can tell by their early offseason moves. The club acquired Avisaíl García via free agency on a hefty $53 million deal. According to Craig Mish of SportsGrid, the Marlins envision him as their everyday right fielder (with the capability of filling in at CF).
Under traditional National League rules, that would have left Jesús Aguilar and Garrett Cooper in an awkward timeshare for playing time at first base. In all likelihood, the Marlins would’ve felt the pressure to trade one of them despite lacking the leverage to get much in return.
This rule change comes at a convenient time. While some other National League clubs now have to spend additional money to fill that extra spot for 2022 and beyond, the Marlins are all set with their internal options.
During the shortened 2020 season—the only other time that the Marlins were allowed to use the designated hitter on a daily basis—Don Mattingly found success by rotating Aguilar and Cooper between first base and DH. They combined for 18 doubles, 14 home runs, 54 runs batted in, and 1.2 offensive wins above replacement in 349 plate appearances.
Instead of a rotation, Mattingly may want to simplify things for this coming season with Aguilar in the field and Cooper focusing entirely on hitting. After all, Cooper is coming off the more serious injury (torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery), one that happened when he was receiving a throw at first.
Even if they were to sleep through the rest of the offseason, the Marlins can have a pretty interesting Opening Day lineup:
- Outfield: García in right, Jesús Sánchez in left, and Bryan De La Cruz as the leading candidate for center
- Infield: Brian Anderson or Joey Wendle at third, Miguel Rojas at shortstop, Jazz Chisholm Jr. at second base, and Aguilar at first base
Jacob Stallings (catcher) and Cooper (designated hitter) complete the puzzle.
But it’s okay to set your expectations higher. The Marlins should be active again once the MLB transaction freeze is lifted. They were reportedly going after additional veteran hitters in November—particularly outfielders—capable of giving them even more run production potential.
As I wrote about recently, Cooper needs to take advantage of this opportunity to establish himself in the big leagues once and for all. If he simply stays healthy, there will be a role for him.
Beyond that, the universal DH will give the Marlins a chance to partially rest other position players without losing their bats. Also, it will minimize the risks for their young starting pitchers who no longer have to hit for themselves.