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Dodgers would benefit from a universal designated hitter in 2021, but it is uncertain

Dodgers' Justin Turner bats in Game 5 of the World Series.
The Dodgers’ Justin Turner bats in Game 5 of the World Series in Arlington, Texas.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The winter meetings, Major League Baseball’s final major event on the calendar, kicked off Monday in videoconference rooms across the country. Going virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic will curb the usual contrived hype surrounding them, but several questions will be addressed by the meetings’ end Thursday.

One possibility is finally deciding whether games played in National League ballparks will include the designated hitter. Owners and the players’ union are scheduled to meet this week and the universal DH is expected to be discussed. MLB, however, reportedly sent a memo to clubs last week suggesting the DH will not be universal.

MLB and the union agreed to universally implement the DH for the pandemic-shortened, 60-game season. Both sides were worried about pitchers sustaining injuries trying to hit after a short summer camp. The deal didn’t extend beyond this year, but that could change.

Both sides prefer the universal DH. Owners are in favor of it to keep pitchers healthy. The union wants it because it would force 15 additional teams to add another quality batter to their lineups, which seemingly would create jobs that pay better than the last reliever or position player on a roster.

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Longtime dominant closer Kenley Jansen faltered again in the playoffs, and the Dodgers know they must find alternatives on the free-agent or trade markets.

So what’s the holdup? The owners don’t want to give up the bargaining chip without something in return. In this case, owners have floated an expanded playoff format in exchange for the universal DH, according to people with knowledge of the situation. A bigger postseason format would promise more money for the league as questions linger about revenue sources.

The Dodgers are among the teams with a vested interest in knowing the answer as soon as possible. Their decisions on whether to re-sign third baseman Justin Turner and outfielder Joc Pederson will be, to some degree, affected by the outcome.

Turner’s fate is less connected to the decision. He would return as the Dodgers’ third baseman if he re-signs. Having the DH as an option, however, would help keep the 36-year-old Turner off his feet while still making an impact offensively. Turner made 11 starts as the Dodgers’ designated hitter this year.

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The chances of Pederson returning could entirely hinge on the DH returning. The Dodgers are loaded in the outfield. Pederson has been limited to starting in left field against right-handed pitchers in recent years. They could use the money instead on plugging another hole — maybe a reliever or whoever replaces Turner if he signs elsewhere.

Regardless, the Dodgers are better prepared to fill the DH hole than just about any other team in the NL thanks to their depth. Besides Turner and Pederson, they cycled Mookie Betts, Edwin Ríos, AJ Pollock, Chris Taylor, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Will Smith through the spot this year.

They used it as a chance to give players a breather rather than limiting the role to one player. The result was the best offense in the majors and a World Series championship. Whether they’ll have the DH to help power the offense again remains to be seen.


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