Tim Brown of Yahoo! recently reported that MLB has submitted a proposal to the union for the 2021 season. While this was denied by the MLBPA, negotiations are still ongoing to try and bring the DH to the NL in 2021. This may significantly change plans for many of the St. Louis Cardinals and the rest of the NL clubs who were under the impression that the DH would not be implemented until after the upcoming season.
The Cards seem to have bolstered their anemic offense by adding Nolan Arenado in a total heist of a trade, and appear to be finished with their offseason moves (aside from re-signing Yadier Molina, and hopefully Kolten Wong as well). Signing an impact free agent bat like Joc Pederson (recently signed by the Chicago Cubs) no longer appears to be an option, so the Cardinals will most likely have to look internally for their potential DH.
The somewhat obvious DH option would most likely be Matt Carpenter. With Arenado penciled in at third base every day, Carpenter would no longer have to focus so much on his defense, which has always been adequate at best. Carpenter can focus on what he’s paid to do: HIT.
Cardinals fans have become increasingly frustrated with Carpenter’s lack of production after signing a big-money extension that pays him $18.5 million a year. Interesting contract details may also be a contributing factor in Carpenter being an everyday DH. His 2022 salary (also $18.5 million) will automatically vest if he reaches a certain amount of plate appearances over 2020-2021. After 2020, that number sits right below 650 at-bats.
If Carpenter does not reach the required threshold, the final year of his contract becomes a $12 million team option with a $2 million buyout. The front office may be motivated to ask manager Mike Shildt to platoon Carpenter at DH, not only because of potential lefty vs. lefty matchup issues but possibly so that the option doesn’t vest and more money comes off the books in 2022.
What other DH options do the St. Louis Cardinals have?
If Carpenter falters or the team plans to platoon him, the Cardinals seem to have other DH options. Dexter Fowler would be a solid choice with his history of high OBP (career .358) and working pitchers deep into counts, things that the Cardinals have always loved about hitters in general.
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With the potential DH, the team could field an extremely talented defensive outfield of Gold Glover Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and top prospect Dylan Carlson. But why let a switch hitter with a good history of getting on base just sit on the bench? Easy answer: they wouldn’t. Fans should expect to see Dex as a DH quite often, and that isn’t a bad thing at all. Will he suddenly turn into Barry Bonds? Of course not, but that’s never been his game to begin with.
If Dex and Carp can’t get it done, Lane Thomas is an intriguing choice, provided he is not part of the Arenado trade. We won’t know who the exact players involved are until the deal is finalized, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Thomas is in the package after the Rockies non-tendered David Dahl.
Thomas has shown flashes of brilliance in his short time in MLB, but his 2019 season was derailed due to injury. In 2020, a battle with COVID-19 and its lingering effects obviously did not help, and Thomas was sent down to the minors before the season ended. The team simply doesn’t know what he is truly capable of, and may be motivated to give him a lot of playing time during Spring Training.
With the addition of Arenado, Mike Shildt has some great options for the best matchups possible, and the addition of a DH will only help the team’s offense in 2021. Throughout the offseason, President Of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak has consistently talked about maximizing their offensive output through matchups and platooning, so the most likely scenario is that we will see multiple players getting a shot to DH if the new rule is implemented.