Cubs: Exploring the leading DH candidates on the roster
The introduction of the designated hitter into the National League opens up a lot of possibilities for the Chicago Cubs to shift the lineup around and get some important at-bats for specific players. It will be key that the team chooses the best possible rotation of players to DH so we can maximize our offensive production.
The first choice feels pretty obvious in catcher Willson Contreras. He had a heavy workload last season, playing in 935 2/3 innings, a total good for seventh in MLB amongst catchers, despite missing a month due to a knee injury. With the addition of Yan Gomes in the offseason, it will be very beneficial to let Contreras rest his knees while keeping his bat in the lineup.
In 2021, Contreras put up a 2.1 fWAR and 109 wRC+, a down year by his standards, so, given he returns to marks closer to those he’s undoubtedly eyeing in a walk year, the DH gives the Cubs a lot of flexibility in terms of still getting him at-bats without pushing him to the point of injury.
Another clear issue the team faces is the lack of left-handed hitters in the starting lineup, so the designated hitter allows them to put a lefty in the lineup who may not be as good defensively as their right-handed counterparts. For example, switch-hitter Ian Happ will be a good candidate for the DH when it isn’t Contreras.
Happ underwent elbow surgery in February but is still aiming to be playing on Opening Day. Letting him be the DH while he eases back into normal fielding activities would be helpful to a Cubs team that can’t really afford to lose a left-handed hitter with power like his, especially after the addition of the right-handed Seiya Suzuki from Japan.
Cubs could let some new faces get reps out of the designated hitter spot
We could also utilize the extra spot in the lineup for the newly acquired switch-hitting infielder Jonathan Villar. With Nick Madrigal playing for the first time since his hamstring surgery last June, it could also be a good idea to let him be the DH and put Villar at second base, who posted a slash line of .249/.322/.416 with 18 homers with the Mets last season.
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Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has made it clear the main use of the DH for the team will be to give certain players their needed rest while keeping important hitters in the lineup, rather than the approach of other teams who look for one heavy hitter to be their consistent DH. This approach to the designated hitter can give the Cubs a lot of help down the stretch.