MLB commissioner Rob Manfred seems intent on the National League not using the designated hitter in 2021. While the statement gives ownership more leverage in CBA negotiations, it complicates things for teams like the SF Giants.
According to LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minnesota Star Tribune, there are currently no plans for the National League to use the designated hitter in 2021. Instead, per Neal’s report, rules would revert to what they were before the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, making the DH an AL-only position. Neal notes that the MLB players union (MLBPA) and the league could expand the DH to both leagues through collective bargaining.
Of course, with the current CBA between MLB and the MLBPA set to expire after the 2021 season, commissioner Rob Manfred gains leverage in negotiations by removing the DH. Since the position allows 10 players to start for both teams (rather than 9 when the pitcher hits), players have more opportunities to accrue statistics that generally aid them in arbitration and free agency; now Manfred can offer to make the DH permanent in exchange for a separate concession from the union.
However, negotiations this offseason will already heavily favor ownership. Coming off the COVID-shortened 2020 season, teams will use the massive decrease in revenues to justify asking major concessions of players. On the flip side, players with guaranteed contracts received less than 40% of their scheduled salaries, and most others had far few opportunities to earn big-league paychecks. Furthermore, the world’s superrich, a group nearly all MLB owners are a part of, has generally financially benefitted from the pandemic.
While both sides suffered losses in baseball this year, players have had less time to build savings, less ability to have outside investments, and are under more stress to concede to opposition demands. Allowing the DH to expand to both leagues without requiring the players to sacrifice their position would have done very little to change that. Granted, Manfred has never done anything that could risk costing owners any money.
For NL teams like the SF Giants, the impending uncertainty around the DH’s future complicates their offseason plans. Without a DH in 2021, it’s almost impossible to envision the Giants fielding a roster with Buster Posey, Joey Bart, Brandon Belt, Wilmer Flores, and Darin Ruf. Given both Ruf and Flores’ struggles defensively, it’s unlikely both can fit on a roster without the designated hitter.
Manfred’s role as commissioner is technically to represent ownership interests; however, his unwillingness to concede anything to players remains a huge problem. Decisions like this only further distrust between the parties and make a work stoppage that could cancel games in future seasons even more likely.
For teams like the SF Giants, Rob Manfred’s unabashed pursuit of ownership power generally benefits ownership financially. It had led to players receiving a smaller share of revenues with stricter caps on draft and international free-agent spending. This time though, his refusal to concede the DH to both leagues will put the team’s front-office in a tricky situation this offseason that might lead them to let go of Flores and/or Ruf.