Pittsburgh Pirates: Designated Hitter Coming Soon?


The Pittsburgh Pirates are less than two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting.  However, there could be a major change coming.

The Pittsburgh Pirates most glaring hole is at shortstop, that is well known at this point in the offseason.  It a position that the team has had all offseason to fill, but they have not really seemed eager to do so.  Part of this is because there are not any easy ways to fill the position.  The free agent class outside of Machado was very mediocre, and there are not exactly a bunch of teams looking to trade their premium shortstop.

However, it is sounding like there could potentially be another hole in the lineup that needs to be filled.  The designated hitter has always been an issue for the Pittsburgh Pirates when traveling to American League stadiums.  This is not just a Pittsburgh Pirates issue, but a National League issue.  National League teams do not think about the designated hitter when constructing their team.  They usually fill the spot with a hot hitter in the minors or a bench player.

This could be changing for National League teams as soon as this season according to multiple reports.  The reports originally came from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, who suggests that there are multiple rule changes suggested by both the MLB Players Association and Major League Baseball.  The biggest potential change was proposed by the Player’s Association.

According to Rosenthal, the MLBPA has suggested a universal designated hitter for the 2019 season.  Rosenthal goes on to explain that the MLBPA has been pushing for a universal designated hitter for years now.  A designated hitter in place for both the American League and National League.  This would be a big change with less than two months before the start of the season.

This was one of many proposed rule changes that came from both sides on ways to improve the game.  The main reason would be to create a better pace of play.  The league believes that the “average” fan gets bored when watching a full baseball game.  So they want to find a way to cut out some of the extended breaks that happen throughout the game, one being all the pitching changes and double switches.  Also, it would give opportunities to veteran players who in their older age might be a liability in the field, thus costing them a position on a team.

Although it is considered strategic and part of the game, it does slow down the game with teams figuring out what is the best move.  The other obvious change will be that adding a DH should help boost offensive output in the National League.  The league believes that “average” fans want to see more action and more runs scored.  As they always say, defense and pitching wins championships, offense sells seats.

How would this affect the Pittsburgh Pirates? Well, the team would have to figure out who their designated hitter would be for the 2019 season.  Luckily, the Pittsburgh Pirates might be in a pretty good spot.  They have several options that could fill into the designated hitter spot.  The first person that comes to mind is Gregory Polanco.

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The Bucs signed Lonnie Chisenhall to fill in for Polanco until he comes back from a torn labrum.  He could potentially come back a few weeks earlier if it was just in a hitting role.  Also, Chisenhall rates as an above average defender while Polanco does not.  While it would be hard to take Polanco’s arm out of the field, a DH spot could allow the Bucs to rest him more and keep him healthier.

In a similar situation could be Francisco Cervelli.  The backstop has had a lot of concussion issues behind the dish, but he consistently is one of the best players at getting on base.  The team could bring in another catcher and allow Cervelli to become a full-time designated hitter.  Meanwhile, it would give Elias Diaz the opportunity to take over as the team’s everyday catcher, something he earned last year.

The last person that could make sense as an everyday DH for the Pittsburgh Pirates could be Colin Moran.  The biggest issue that Moran has is his lack of range at third base.  He hit the ball decently in his rookie season and showed power potential in the minors.  Taking him out of the field and allowing him to focus on his hitting could prove to be a good move for both him and the team. Meanwhile, this would allow Jung Ho Kang to get everyday reps at third base and in the lineup.

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Of course, this is all speculative.  The league would have to approve a change.  With the season less than two months away it does not seem likely that they would make such a big change for the 2019 season.  In a way, it would not be fair to National League teams as many of them may have operated a lot different this offseason.  However, could this instead be implemented as soon as 2020?  It seems likely that the designated hitter will be entering both leagues sooner rather than later.