Like it or not, baseball fans, the universal DH is here.
Major League Baseball's lockout ended Thursday with the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement, a deal that includes implementing a full-time DH to the National League.
While it may take some getting used to, adding the DH to NL play has been long expected. Which immediately raises the question: How will the Cubs use it?
They've already shown us.
We got a taste of the universal DH in 2020, when MLB implemented it, along with other temporary rule changes, for the 60-game COVID season.
The Cubs were able to get Willson Contreras off his feet without taking his bat out of the lineup. Victor Caratini picked up a chunk of starts at catcher that season on days Contreras was the DH.
Last season was a different story.
Not only was there no universal DH, but the Cubs had a revolving door at backup catcher. Contreras picked up a heavy workload, ranking seventh in baseball in innings caught despite missing a month with a knee injury, and his offensive production dipped.
“I think he's an elite offensive player,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said of Contreras after last season. “But it's hard to be an elite offensive player when your legs are gone.”
The Cubs addressed that issue before the lockout, landing Yan Gomes — the top free agent catcher available — on a two-year deal.
The Gomes signing raised some speculation around a potential Contreras trade. Contreras is set to be a free agent after this season and could be moved if he and the Cubs don't reach an extension.
But the Gomes addition was also made with the universal DH in mind. He's a proven starter and can take some of the burden off Contreras behind the plate.
Keeping Contreras fresh should help him maintain his offensive production. And there's now an avenue for the Cubs to manage his workload and keep his bat in the lineup on his days off from catching.
Contreras already expressed his openness to the DH, calling it "awesome" at the end of last season.
“Obviously I’m a guy that wants to play every single day, but I also understand that my body needs rest,” he said the final weekend of the season. “Catching nine innings every single day — night and then day games — is not easy.”
Outside of Contreras, other Cubs DH candidates could include Clint Frazier, Ian Happ and Nick Madrigal, certainly the former two with the Cubs' crowded outfield picture.
Madrigal is coming off a serious hamstring injury that required season-ending surgery. If the Cubs want to give his legs a rest, he can DH, while David Bote, Nico Hoerner — who could be an everyday player at multiple positions in 2022 — or someone else plays second base.
There's certainly no shortage of DH options for the Cubs. But they already have a blueprint for how they can use the extra spot in the lineup.