The designated hitter or utility player, as it is called in many leagues, is a standard and long-accepted part of fantasy baseball. In fact, Tout Wars is taking it to a new level this coming season. The fifth outfielder has been converted into what could be deployed as a second UT, the swing player. (It can instead be used as a 10th pitcher. More details here.)
So why is MLB still sitting firmly on the fence regarding the standardization of a rule first implemented as a trial in 1973?
Memo to Bud Selig: “Resolve the designated hitter impasse, once and for all!”
As if it is needed, I recently read about yet another reason for Major League Baseball to get off its weak-kneed stance of four decades and standardize the use of the designated hitter across the game. Deploy it consistently or dump it!
A recent New York Post article explained to impatient Yankees fans why more American League clubs than the “superpowers” from New York and Boston can suddenly afford to make the splashy free agent signings that were once perceived to be their exclusive territory.
As we saw this winter with the high profile move of Albert Pujols and the signing of Yu Darvish, new sources of television revenue opened up the spending floodgates in Anaheim and Arlington. Of course, the deep pockets of Detroit pizza magnate Mike Ilitch helped, too.
Another key AL-advantage in the acquisition of hitting talent is the exclusive availability of the designated hitter.
“AL teams more easily can gamble long term on corner players such as Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder because they have the DH to fall back on as the players age,” noted the Post. “The only two contracts in excess of $150 million ever given to NL players are for athletic, middle-of-the-diamond stars Matt Kemp and Troy Tulowitzki."
“Because of the DH, it is apparent NL clubs cannot sign top offensive players beyond 5-6 years,” an NL GM told the paper.
Pujols reaffirmed this himself when meeting with the media upon reporting to his new spring training camp in Arizona. The first baseman admitted the availability of the DH later in his career was a factor in his 20-year commitment to the Angels, which includes a decade-long personal services contract after his playing days are done.
Now, I understand that this is relatively insignificant to those who specialize in mixed leagues, but some NL-only players like me are upset about seeing the annual drain of talent from the NL to the American League. Goodbye, Pujols and Fielder!
Personally, as a fan of baseball in all forms, my contempt for the DH has long been long-standing. I believe it takes away from the strategy and execution of the game. However, I realize that my opinion is irrelevant and frankly, there is nothing new to say about this 40-year-old argument. Most importantly, this genie is never going back into the bottle.
I can rationalize it this way. It would be far better for all 30 teams to use the designated hitter than continuing to have roughly half the teams using the designated hitter and half not.
This will change to exactly half the teams in 2013. The problem will be exacerbated when Houston moves to the American League. Each club will be required to play 30 interleague games each season, which in turn will put increased pressure on rosters developed for the other type of play.
For the fantasy player, whether in AL, NL or mixed formats, this will lead to additional headaches in roster management. Instead of today’s schedule, in which several brief periods of interleague play are clearly defined, the 2013 docket will mandate interleague play on every single day of the season when all teams are active. That means projecting at-bats will become a far more complex process each week.
For the welfare of everyone concerned, MLB needs to make a decision on the future of the designated hitter one way or another. Since we all know where it is going, let’s just get it over with and get there. Please.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. He finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and weekly in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.