Nats shouldn't overlook importance of DH position

Whenever a discussion has come up this winter about the Nationals’ biggest needs, the focus understandably has been on several specific positions in the field: Third base, left field, first base, No. 5 starter.

There’s another position that hasn’t garnered much attention, though, and it probably should be a bigger part of the discussion: Designated hitter.

This, of course, wasn’t something the Nationals – or any other National League club – ever had to think about prior to 2022. When the DH officially was added to the NL last spring upon agreement of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, Mike Rizzo quickly signed one of the most accomplished sluggers to ever hold that position in Nelson Cruz.

It didn’t exactly go as anyone hoped. Cruz never found any consistent success at the plate, and in the end looked very much like a 42-year-old whose best days had passed.

The Nats suffered as a result. Their DHs collectively finished with a .226 batting average, 13 homers, 78 RBIs, a .298 on-base percentage and a .620 OPS that ranked last in the NL. It’s not the only reason the offense struggled last season, but it was a big reason.

After Cruz’s dismal performance, it was fair to question whether the Nationals would again attempt to find one regular DH to hold down that spot in the order every day, or whether they might instead spread the at-bats around to multiple players, using the DH more as an opportunity to give a regular position player the occasional semi-day off.

“We definitely would like to have one (regular DH),” manager Davey Martinez said when asked about it at last month’s Winter Meetings. “But I think we have enough moving parts. If we had to platoon two guys, we could do it. It would be nice to have a big bat in our lineup.”

So, where do things currently stand in that regard? Well, last week’s signing of Dominic Smith to a one-year, $2 million deal brought some clarity to the situation. Smith, by all indications, is going to primarily play first base, though he could DH some days instead.

That leaves Joey Meneses, previously assumed to be the Nationals’ starting first baseman, either to play left field or serve as the primary DH. Given his lack of superior outfield skills, it seems to make more sense to let him focus on hitting. That would, however, leave the team to still pursue a starting left fielder, given their lack of experienced in-house options there (Alex Call, Stone Garrett).

The Nats certainly hope Meneses can build off his breakthrough August and September and become a consistent force in their lineup. Even if the 30-year-old can’t duplicate his out-of-nowhere .930 OPS as a rookie, anything over .750 would be a significant boost to his team.

A team that received a .750 OPS out of its DHs last season, for what it’s worth, would’ve ranked fifth in the NL. An .800 OPS would’ve ranked fourth. An .850 OPS would’ve led the league.

Not everyone in the baseball world embraced the addition of the DH to the NL. The Nationals thought they were when they signed Cruz. Instead, they wound up lagging behind every other team in the league, and paid the price for it.

They can’t afford to do that again in 2023.

How much could MLB's new schedule help Nats this y...
Healthy again, Gore ready to show what Nats got in...
 

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/