The latest effort from Major League Baseball to get some semblance of a 2020 season underway features yet another proposed realignment. This time, though, it doesn’t require total isolation in Arizona, a split between Arizona and Florida, or even having Texas wound into the loop.
Instead, it’s a geographic realignment proposal, one that would see teams play in their home stadiums - sans fans, at least for the time being - albeit with significantly curtailed travel. In other words, there would be three new 10 team divisions, with a mix of current American League and National League teams thrust together into new East, West, and Central divisions.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports had the details:
The Reds, of course, would remain in the Central here, as would the entirety of the current NL Central aside from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who get lumped into the East. The Atlanta Braves would play the inverse of the Pirates in this scenario, jumping from the AL East into the new giganto Central, while all five current AL Central clubs would round out the Reds new division.
Obviously, swapping the rebuilding Pirates for the loaded Braves would toughen the Reds path to success, as would adding the potent Minnesota Twins and perennially difficult Cleveland club. And while breaking down the individual merits of each club is a relevant topic, the point that I’m most interested in pondering revolves around a completely different topic...
What the heck happens to the DH?
Would division games still operate under the current interleague rules, where current AL clubs host games with DH-filled lineups while games in NL parks have pitchers hit? Or is the blending of both leagues on short notice going to open the door for universal DH play for the first time in history?
Obviously, current AL and NL clubs built their current rosters under the presumption that they would be playing under the classic rules that have governed since the early 70’s, and that means that most AL teams generally have one more potent bat rostered than their NL counterparts. It’s hard to envision that both groups would then be lumped into one division playing for the same title while operating under completely different rules, especially since one set seemingly gives half the division a rather distinct advantage.
Yes, forcing current AL clubs to play without their DH half the time while in NL parks is a handcuff meant to help mitigate that, but it’s also hard to envision those AL clubs who spent big on their everyday DHs to sign off on simply not playing them in half their games. In other words, this might well end up giving us all-DH baseball whether we like it or not.
The merits of the DH are also an argument we can slug out at a later date, since that, too, is not what has my brain’s attention at the moment. Rather, I’m thinking purely about how the 2020 Reds could be impacted by the advent of a DH in this modification/realignment, and I think they’re perhaps the single most suited current NL club to make that transition the most seamless.
The current Reds - even though they’ve never yet played this year - had already loaded up on offensive talent as if they were going to have a DH for most of their games, honestly. The OF glut of Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama, Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, Aristides Aquino, and Phil Ervin already built-in the idea that there were too many legitimately potent MLB-caliber bats than there were lineup spots on every given day, and that doesn’t even get to the concept of Mike Moustakas sliding over from 3B to play a position (2B) that’s largely foreign to him. In other words, this Reds club is stacked to the gills with bats, many of whom even profile more as bat-only, no-glove guys when push comes to shove, and that’s ripe for the advent of the DH in this scenario.
Even if an all-time DH rule isn’t implemented, a 100 game season with 5 of the 9 proposed division opponents of the Reds being current AL clubs means that they’ll be on the road with DH rules in place a quarter of the time, even if only the current interleague rules stay in place. And while the other clubs that would be forced to adapt from their NL-centric roster structure certainly have players they can make-do with in that scenario, I’m not sure there’s a club better equipped to thrive from it than the Reds in the Central, and that might even be true for all current NL clubs heading to any of the three divisions.