If MLB decides not to keep the designated hitter in the National League for 2021, the Brewers may have harder decisions to make on two of their players.
The Milwaukee Brewers head into the 2020-2021 offseason looking to improve one of the less potent offenses in team history. But before they do so, the team will likely want to know what MLB’s plan is for one of the new rules that was introduced for the 2020 season.
The league took the shortened 2020 campaign as an opportunity to implement, to the dismay of baseball traditionalists, the long-rumored universal DH. For a team like Milwaukee, it allowed an opportunity to not just get another decent bat in the lineup, but also try to let some of the many slumping batters start to get on a hot streak.
While the rule was only officially implemented for the 2020 season, many fans and writers had the feeling that the universal DH was likely here to stay. Not so fast, though, says Lavelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune.
Like other positions across the starting lineup, manager Craig Counsell gave a number of different Brewers players starts at the designated hitter position – 10 to be exact. However, there are two players, specifically, who would greatly benefit from the DH position continuing in the NL going forward.
Daniel Vogelbach and Ryan Braun made the most and second most starts at designated hitter, respectively, for the Brewers in 2020. For different reasons, their future with the team could be tied to whether or not MLB keeps the universal DH for the 2021 season.
With no designated hitter in the NL, tough decisions would need to be made by the Brewers on whether to bring back Ryan Braun and/or Daniel Vogelbach.
Both Braun and Vogelbach would benefit greatly by the presence of the universal DH going forward. However, of the two, Braun’s potential return to the Brewers hinges much more on whether the rule stays in place for 2021.
Braun has seen his playing time decrease in recent years as injuries have taken a toll on his body and his 2020 season was no different. The Brewer great played in just 39 of Milwaukee’s 60 games last season due to a variety of injuries and was also lifted early from game one of the Wild Card series with a back issue.
Braun has a $15MM contract option for 2021 that will surely be declined by the Brewers, who would then have to pay a $4MM buyout. Milwaukee would then have to ask themselves, if Braun couldn’t even play two-thirds of the season with the universal DH, would he be able to provide enough value without it to even justify signing him to a more inexpensive contract?
Vogelbach, on the other hand, comes at a much more affordable price tag for the Brewers. Qualifying as a Super-2 player this offseason, he is projected for a payday of $1.4MM to $1.9MM in his first year of arbitration, according to recently released projections.
Acquired midseason after his second DFA of 2020, Vogelbach was a revelation for the Brewers, slashing .328/.418/.569 in 19 games with the club. That was after slashing a forgettable .088/.246/.211 with the Mariners and Blue Jays earlier in the season.
As a designated hitter, Vogelbach is probably an easy call when it comes to whether or not to tender him a contract this offseason. But as a below average defensive first baseman with no minor league options remaining, the decision on whether to tender a contract to the big lefty has to at least give the team a little bit of pause.
First base is a position that the Brewers need to focus on upgrading for next season. If there is any worry that Vogelbach could regress back to previous levels of production, and provide poor defense on top of it, Milwaukee could at least consider moving on in favor of a more reliable first baseman.
The Brewers surely won’t be the only NL team with decisions like these to make this offseason. It’ll be up to the league and players union to make a decision on whether the universal DH makes it to 2021 so teams can plan their offseason moves accordingly.