MLB should cave on universal DH for good of the game: Sherman

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Teams near unanimously want the designated hitter in the National League this year. The union is totally in favor.

Yet, at this moment, there is no universal DH for 2021.

MLB and the Players Association reached agreement Monday night on health and safety protocols. Adding the DH to the NL for a second straight year was not among them.

MLB has seen the DH as an economic — not health and safety — issue; an element good for player finances that should be bartered to receive an item of value back such as expanded playoffs, for example.

But the union has not budged. It believes that MLB wants the universal DH in 2021 too, so why trade anything, especially an item as valuable as an enlarged postseason, unless it is paid at a rate to do so that MLB does not want to abide?

MLB does not want to relent and just apply the universal DH because: 1) it would be giving away something for nothing. 2) It would be rewarding, in the league’s view, intractable behavior from the union. 3) And at a time when every action must be seen as a precursor to the coming negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement (the current deal expires Dec. 1) neither side wants to commit to any action that could be portrayed as showing weakness or setting precedents.

MLB hardly wants union leadership crowing to its constituency: “See if we hang tight and keep saying, ‘no,’ MLB will eventually cave.”

Got it. Understand it.

Yet, MLB should violate Negotiating 101 anyway because it is right for the game.

The universal DH was part of the health and safety issues in 2020. Nothing changes now. It is arguably even more of a health and safety issue this season.

Ask any team executive their greatest non-COVID fear and it is as universal as the DH currently is not — the health of pitchers. That is always a worry. But never more than when attempting to play 162 games this year after major league teams played 60 last year and minor league teams played not at all. So there is anxiety about protecting arms against that build up.

Few pitchers hit at any level en route to the majors in the best of times. None hit last year in the majors when the DH was universal. As of now, MLB will be returning to rules that include AL pitchers hitting in NL stadiums. I would think some managers will just tell those AL pitchers who bat particularly infrequently to stand there and not swing rather than invite injury risk. At that point, competitive integrity would be an issue too.

Then you have individual stories. As an example, David O’Brien on The Athletic wrote about how Braves ace Mike Soroka might have to be delayed in his return from an Achilles injury if he also has to bat and not just pitch this season. When the Mets acquired Carlos Carrasco, I asked someone who knew him well the biggest concern about this transition. The answer: the cancer survivor having to bat in the NL having hit in one game since July 19, 2017.

The strong expectation is that a universal DH will be part of a new CBA and, thus, in play in 2022. If so, think about how crazy that would be — a universal DH in 2020 and in 2022, but not in 2021 when pitchers are most vulnerable having not hit recently while dealing with an unprecedented rebuild of their arms.

It is why the union should be as proactive in wanting the DH, since it would be in the best interest of half of its constituency — the pitchers — health wise. It also would potentially help some current free agents directly, such as Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion, and also indirectly since the Mets, for example, would probably increase their interest in Jackie Bradley Jr. and Justin Turner if there was a DH to best handle their overall roster.

I would argue that for 2021 that accepting expanded playoffs at this moment — when most offseason money has been spent — would also benefit the players financially since it might motivate a few more clubs to spend to try to get in. It also would provide a wider group of players a chance at big games/greater exposure. I would wager if there were a secret ballot of players and player agents they would agree, especially if the playoff system was rigged to give great advantages to division winners to encourage teams to keep trying (spending) to achieve that.

The sides must get out of the posture that what is good for their side is invariably bad for mine. In 2021, the universal DH and expanded playoffs are positives for both. But if the parties cannot reach an agreement on the postseason, then MLB must be the adult in the room.

Maybe that has been the plan anyway and MLB has just been waiting for a few of the obvious big free-agent types to sign without the advantage of having an NL DH to potentially expand their negotiating strength — and Nelson Cruz and Marcell Ozuna are off the board.

Whatever the strategy, the end result needs to be a universal DH because protecting pitcher health has never been more troubling and, thus, important.

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