When the New York Yankees re-signed free agent Anthony Rizzo for two years, $32 million just after the lockout, it made Voit expendable at two positions: first base, where Rizzo will get the lion’s share of the games, and DH, which Giancarlo Stanton owns.
So, Voit was almost immediately flipped to the San Diego Padres for Justin Lange, a minor league pitcher.
The Padres have a left-handed hitting first baseman named Eric Hosmer in the fifth year of an eight-year, $144 million contract. Under the old system when pitchers hit, they wouldn’t have had room for a guy like Voit, but now he’s the regular DH against all kinds of pitching and a righty-hitting platoon at times for Hosmer.
Voit loves the universal DH.
“That’s why I’m here,” he told Sportico at San Diego’s spring training complex the other day in Peoria, Arizona. “It’ll elongate my career.”
That’s the point. The DH created 15 new much higher-paid hitting positions in the NL. The average salary for the DH in the American League was $13.4 million, and the median was $14.3 million.
Compare that to a bottom feeder position player in the NL when the pitcher was still hitting. Last year, the minimum was $575,500 for a first-year player. This year under the newly ratified five-year Basic Agreement, the minimum will be $700,000.
That’s a big leap to the average salary for a DH. Voit, who led the AL in homers with 22 during the 2020 COVID-shortened 60-game season, is well below the minimum for a DH at $5.45 million. With two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, at 31, he’s well above what the Padres would have paid a much younger player.
Voit said he wasn’t enamored with being a bench player. Not in New York. Not anywhere. Last season, he had just come back from a left knee injury when the Yanks made the deadline deal with the Chicago Cubs to obtain Rizzo. After Rizzo came off the COVID list in mid-August, Voit lost his starting job at first base.
“Being a pinch hitter is the hardest job in baseball,” he said. “It’s a grind. It’s tough on guys. I’ve seen it firsthand.”
Bob Melvin, who joined the Padres last offseason as manager after 11 years in the AL heading the Oakland A’s, is well-versed on the use of the DH.
For a time in Oakland, Melvin had Khris Davis in that slot, a good-hitting, poor-fielding outfielder, who in 2018 led the AL with 49 homers playing 139 of 150 games as the DH.
“A couple of years ago I would’ve said I liked the different styles of play,” Melvin said. “But I think it’s kind of cool now that [fans in] the NL get to see the DH.”
Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Phillies spent $179 million combined to sign Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos as free agents. Both are shaky outfielders who can split the role of DH. The right-handed hitting Castellanos signed for five years at $100 million, while Schwarber inked a deal for four years at $79 million and swings from the left side of the plate.
Like Melvin, Phillies manager Joe Girardi has extensive experience in the AL with the DH, managing the Yankees for 10 years. Girardi said he intends to use both players in the outfield and DH.
“That’s up to these guys,” Castellanos said. “But whatever the team needs. I have a Phillies hat on, so whatever. I don’t know how good of a pitcher I’ll be, but whatever they need.”
Castellanos has a $20 million salary this year, and Schwarber is at $19 million, bringing up that DH median.
In addition, Albert Pujols, at 42, agreed to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals for a year at $2.5 million, returning to the town where it all began and to the club for which he hit 445 of his 677 homers. The right-handed hitting Pujols will be able to DH, mostly against lefty pitching.
He hit .294 last year against left-handers for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, but only .180 vs. righties.
None of these above deals and trades would have been possible without the universal DH.
The remainder of the NL West managers say they won’t have a set DH. None of them have managed in the AL. They had the DH to utilize only during interleague games in AL parks, and two years ago when the DH was universal as a health and safety issue during the season curtailed by the coronavirus.
But you can bet their general managers will ultimately pick up hitters. The lockout, which put a hold on trades and player signings for 99 days, restricted roster-building over the offseason.
“We have guys on our roster who are good fits for the DH role,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler.
For example, Kapler can use Darin Ruf from the right side and Brandon Belt, if he’s healthy, from the left as a new era in the NL begins.
Kapler liked the old NL rule, but he’s looking forward to the flexibility the DH allows him. “We’re going to use that role to get players off their feet at times,” he said. “And I’m glad pitchers are not going to be at risk.”