Forty-seven years after it was introduced to the American League, the designated hitter is coming to the National League this season (presuming, of course, there is a season). The Senior Circuit team that might most benefit from a DH is the Mets, who were way ahead of the curve by stocking up on guys already best suited to serving as the DH. (And for fun, this week, they added Melky Cabrera to a mix that already featured Yoenis Cespedes, J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith, Robinson Cano and Pete Alonso)
But this is nothing new for the Mets, who have employed plenty of position players since 1973 who probably could have been best utilized at DH. In fact, here’s a lineup filled with them!
Rusty Staub: Did you know that the only ex-Mets player to twice appear in at least 100 games and play 100 percent of the time at designated hitter is Staub, who did it with the Tigers in 1977 and 1978? We would have bet the house it was Dave Kingman. Anyway, if the DH existed in the NL since 1973, Staub — whose defensive WAR, per Baseball-Reference.com, was negative-21 — would probably have 3,000 hits and be enshrined in Cooperstown. When Staub signed with the Mets for his second stint with the team in December 1980, he was 36 years old, 453 hits shy of 3,000 and coming off a three-year stretch in which he collected 429 hits. But Staub made just 100 appearances in the field for the Mets over his final five seasons and finished with 2,716 hits.
Joe Torre: It’s easy to forget these days, but the Yankees icon began his New York baseball career with the Mets, for whom he hit .274 with an OPS+ of 106 in 1975-76. Torre was mostly limited to pinch-hitting duties in 1977, when he hit .180 in 50 at-bats before being name player-manager on May 31. He made just two more pinch-hitting appearances before hanging up the spikes for good on June 17. (Torre and Bobby Valentine both pinch-hit for the Mets in that game) Perhaps if he had the DH at his disposal, Torre could have penciled himself into the lineup more often in 1977 and beyond and closed out his Cooperstown candidacy long before he reached the Bronx.
Dave Kingman: With a lifetime defensive WAR of negative-16.7, 442 career homers and an average of .236, the man they called Kong was a born designated hitter. Kingman hit 154 of his homers over two stints with the Mets. Imagine the mashing he could have done if he didn’t have to worry about trying to play first base, third base left field or right field.
Gregg Jefferies: If you’re of a certain age, you remember when Jefferies was going to make a run at Pete Rose’s hit record. But he wasn’t defensively strong enough to remain in the middle infield, and despite his impressive contact skills (he walked 472 times and struck out 348 times in 6,072 plate appearances), the bat wasn’t quite powerful enough for teams to justify putting him at first base (though that’s where he had his best seasons with the Cardinals in 1993-94). Maybe having the DH available in the NL keeps Jefferies from falling through the cracks.
Todd Hundley: Remember those awkward couple months in 1998 when the Mets tried to make it work with Hundley and Mike Piazza on the roster? Maybe it would have worked with the two power-hitting catchers splitting time between the backstop and DH. Then again, given how prideful both men were about catching, probably not. But poor Hundley wouldn’t have been subjected to the great left field experiment.
Bobby Bonilla: Tomorrow marks Bobby Bonilla Day, so we are constitutionally obligated to note the Mets could activate Bonilla as their DH this year since they’re paying him more than a million bucks anyway. Bonilla, who had a defensive WAR of negative-4.3 prior to signing with the Mets in 1992, might have had a better first stint in New York if he was at DH. And if the Mets could have stashed Bonilla at DH, perhaps the playing time is there for Bonilla to quietly ride out his second stint with the team in 1999 instead of making himself such a nuisance the Mets decided it would be better to get him off the team by any means necessary, even if it meant paying him until the year 2035. Only 15 years to go!
Mo Vaughn: To be fair, acquiring Vaughn— a burly 34-year-old first baseman who missed the entire 2001 season due to a torn tendon in his left arm and had three years and $50 million left on his contract — would have been a bad idea even if the DH was at the Mets’ disposal in 2002. But it would have been a slightly less bad idea if the Mets could have stashed him at DH and hoped he could rediscover his Red Sox form without the burden of playing the field. Instead, Vaughn hit .249 with 29 homers in 566 at-bats while posting a defensive WAR of negative-3.1 before suffering a career-ending knee injury in May 2003. At least one of the 29 homers was this monster shot.
Lucas Duda: A less-glowering version of Kingman, Duda dutifully jumped between left field, right field and first base from 2010 through 2013, a span in which he posted a defensive WAR of negative-5.8, before settling in as the starting first baseman in 2014 and 2015, when he hit 57 homers and produced an OPS+ of 133. But even first base was more of a default option than anything for Duda, who could have been slotted at DH while allowing first base to be occupied by…
Daniel Murphy: His defensive WAR of negative-1.8 from 2008 through 2015 is a testament to the doggedness displayed by Murphy, the hitting savant who bounced between first base, third base and left field before becoming the starting second baseman in 2012. But like Duda, first base was the lesser of all defensive evils for Murphy, who should get every chance to prove he was born to DH this year for the Rockies.