One of the least contentious issues in the new CBA, it turns out, was the universal DH. That's right, it's coming to the NL -- and this time, for keeps.
It was expected but is now official with the end of the lockout Thursday. And so you're probably wondering what it means for Fantasy Baseball -- or more specifically, which hitters most benefit.
First and foremost, note that we've been here before, just two years ago during the pandemic-shortened 2020, when the universal DH was introduced primarily as a safety measure. The moon didn't crash into the sun. There were no shocking revelations. It was still baseball, and it was ... fine.
Secondly, recognize that every hitter benefits from the universal DH. More than going to any one player, the increase in at-bats will likely be spread throughout every team's roster. Dedicated DHs have become increasingly rare in the AL and figure to be even less common in the league where they don't already have a foothold. So if you want to make the case for some player other than the ones I've named here -- say, Daulton Varsho for the Diamondbacks or Gavin Lux for the Dodgers -- hey, I hear you. Again, it benefits everyone.
Finally, understand that the lockout interrupted the offseason before it was anywhere close to completion. Many NL teams will probably bring in a more new suitable DH once it's official official. Shoot, the quintessential DH, Nelson Cruz, remains unsigned.
This column is intended to be more the first word than the final one, more a gentle nudge to satisfy your curiosity than an invitation to overhaul your rankings. I wouldn't say I'm overhauling mine.
Seth Beer DH
ARI Arizona • #28 • Age: 27
The Diamondbacks seemed reluctant to turn over first base duties to Beer last September, letting him linger in the minors until an AL series when they could use him as a DH. And in the five games he played before dislocating his shoulder, he delivered, going 4 for 9 with a home run and a double. The injury may delay his start to the season, but there are no more excuses otherwise.
ATL Atlanta • #20 • Age: 33
The Braves seemed prepared to bring him back even before this news, but he's such a liability defensively that everyday at-bats may not have been a certainty, particularly if they were looking to re-sign either of their postseason heroes, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario. Now, there's room for everybody in that hypothetical scenario, and it's worth noting that Ozuna was the No. 1 outfielder in Fantasy while playing primarily DH for the Braves in 2020.
STL St. Louis • #40 • Age: 31
The offensive-minded catchers are perhaps the most obvious beneficiaries of the DH spot, which should help keep them fresh over the course of the season while still allowing them to hit. I don't see Contreras playing 161 games like Salvador Perez did last year, but a career high is likely. The Cubs already prepared for the possibility by signing Yan Gomes to serve as a high-profile backup.
Nick Senzel 3B
CIN Cincinnati • #15 • Age: 28
It's true that Mike Moustakas no longer has a place in the Reds infield, so it's possible the DH duties fall to him. But with the 33-year-old looking washed up last year, it also presents Senzel with an opportunity, perhaps his final one, to make good on his potential. The key for him is staying healthy, and he'll have a better chance of doing so as a DH than a center fielder.
Connor Joe RF
PIT Pittsburgh • #2 • Age: 31
There was already reason to believe the Rockies would make Joe a regular part of their lineup this year, but he had just settled in as their leadoff hitter last year -- reaching base at a .379 clip, much as he did in the minors -- when he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. Had he done enough as a 28-year-old rookie to put to rest their past infatuations with Raimel Tapia and Sam Hilliard? It's a moot point now.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #16 • Age: 28
If you think the Cubs are motivated to keep Willson Contreras in the lineup, consider the Dodgers with Smith. He's better, first of all, and their hitter crop isn't as deep as last year with Corey Seager gone and Max Muncy on the fritz. Yes, Gavin Lux will also see some time there and maybe Justin Turner if prospects Michael Busch and Miguel Vargas get involved, but Smith will likely play enough to set career highs across the board.
Lewin Diaz 1B
BAL Baltimore • #28 • Age: 27
The Marlins had a dilemma with one plodder, Jesus Aguilar, coming off a resurgent season and another, Lewin Diaz, looking to break in, but a DH spot allows for two true first basemen. They may lean on newly signed Joey Wendle's versatility to cycle a few players through that spot, but Diaz at least has a chance now to stick. He homered five times for the big club in a span of 18 games last September.
MIL Milwaukee • #15 • Age: 29
Keston Hiura deserves an honorable mention here. He's always been without a defensive home, so DHing would give him more leash whenever he gets his next opportunity. Taylor may be the more immediate beneficiary, though. He already looked to play a fair amount in relief of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, but now there's a spot to claim for himself if he capitalizes on those chances, opening the door to a 20/10 or perhaps even 25/15 outcome.
WAS Washington • #22 • Age: 28
Co-existing with Pete Alonso meant moving to the outfield, and it never took for Smith. That door closed with the offseason additions of Starling Marte and Mark Canha, but now a new ones opens. It was actually Alonso who saw more time at DH in 2020, and Smith thrived as a part-time first baseman with a near-1.000 OPS. Did the new ball bring him down last year? Will Robinson Cano interfere with these plans? We'll see.
DET Detroit • #8 • Age: 27
Maybe J.T. Realmuto is just as much of a winner as Willson Contreras and Will Smith, but he already has such a playing time advantage over the average catcher that I'm not sure there's room for more. Vierling is kind of interesting, combining premium exit velocities with elite speed. He had 13 homers and 12 steals in 364 at-bats between the majors and minors last year, and the Phillies outfield was already looking pretty scanty.
Oneil Cruz SS
PIT Pittsburgh • #15 • Age: 25
Hear me out on this one. Yes, the top prospect is already penciled in at shortstop, and there's no legitimate competition for him there. But one of the concerns for him coming up through the minors was how he could possibly stay at shortstop at 6-feet-7. Well, now there's an easy fallback if the glove doesn't measure up. (I'll admit I'm reaching, but there are so few hitters on the Pirates who are even remotely interesting.)
SD San Diego • #12 • Age: 25
The Padres were already planning to carry three catchers, but none of them Campusano, the twice-promoted 23-year-old who's underdeveloped defensively but freakishly strong and abnormally composed at the plate, having just hit .331 with 11 homers and a 1.063 OPS in his final 40 games at Triple-A last year. I'm not saying he'll be there on opening day, but the DH spot was made for scenarios much like this one.
Darin Ruf DH
MIL Milwaukee • #25 • Age: 37
Gabe Kapler likes to mix things up as much as any manager, so he seems among the least likely to have a dedicated DH. But a big-bodied, slow-moving 35-year-old like Ruf seems ready-made for the role. It helps that he held his own against righties, slashing .262/.361/.463 compared to .283/.414/.593 against lefties. Overall, he homered 16 times in just 262 at-bats, generating a .904 OPS, so I'm thinking he should play as often as possible.
STL St. Louis • #21 • Age: 26
Prospect Juan Yepez, who's otherwise blocked by Paul Goldschmidt, is sure to generate some interest as well, but Nootbaar has already reached the majors, made a reasonably good impression with five homers in 109 at-bats, and would have the advantage in any sort of platoon situation as a left-handed hitter. They've both hit well in the minors but are B-grade prospects overall. The Cardinals will likely give each chances until one pulls ahead.
Lane Thomas RF
WAS Washington • #28 • Age: 28
For all the sleeper hype Lane Thomas is getting as a late-round power/speed threat (if only modest amounts of both), it's worth noting he was pretty dreadful against right-handed pitchers last year, batting .178 with a .612. If anything will upend his chances of leading off every day, it's that, but the Nationals are less likely to resort to a platoon when their lineup is stretched another spot.