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    NICK CAFARDO I SUNDAY BASEBALL NOTES

    It’s time to make designated hitter universal in baseball

    As bad as it is to watch players such as Chris Davis strike out at alarming rates, pitchers trying to hit is an exercise in futility.
    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press/File
    As bad as it is to watch players such as Chris Davis strike out at alarming rates, pitchers trying to hit is an exercise in futility.

    New commissioner Rob Manfred will hear, and already has heard, plenty of suggestions on how to increase offense, and he has thrown out a few ideas himself.

    And while Manfred probably doesn’t have the backing of the National League, the old standby is always there: make the designated hitter universal.

    As bad as it is to watch a slugger ground out to right field because of a gimmicky defensive shift, and watch players such as Chris Carter, Chris Davis, and Ryan Howard strike out at alarming rates, pitchers trying to hit is an exercise in futility.

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    Jon Lester, for instance, is 0 for 36 with 22 strikeouts in his career. Now he’ll be hitting more often with the Cubs, who by the way had the fourth-highest pitchers’ batting average in 2014 at .160. Should be exciting baseball.

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    In 1973, the American League broke away from the National League on the DH. Now with a balanced schedule and interleague play all season, times have changed.

    Adding designated hitters to NL offenses is one way to increase offense. It’s obviously not the only way, but it would put more real hitters in play.

    There are about 300 pitcher at-bats per NL team per year that are wasted.

    The DH would add a bit of offense to the No. 9 spot in the batting order, and probably the No. 8 spot.

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    The team with the best hitting pitchers in the NL last year was the Dodgers at .163, and the worst was the Brewers at .084.

    Oh sure, there were a few useful sacrifice bunts scattered in there, because moving runners is important, but this isn’t what fans come to the ballpark for.

    The AL hit .253 with a .706 OPS overall last season, while the NL hit .249 with a .694 OPS. Pitchers hit .107 with one home run and 24 RBIs over a 162-game average, while DHs hit .249 with 23 homers and 83 RBIs for a .743 OPS over a 162-game average.

    The average No. 8 batter in the AL hit .248 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs in 2014, while the average No. 8 batter in the NL hit .233 with eight homers and 52 RBIs.

    The No. 8 hitter in the NL faces the challenge of teams pitching around him more knowing the pitcher’s spot is coming up.

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    National League owners are wary of payrolls rising, but except for a few pitchers who make some sort of positive impact at the plate, it’s become kind of a joke.

    Having the NL be in lock step with the AL would mean stronger lineups in general.

    “I think it will happen eventually as offense appeals to the masses,” agent Scott Boras said.

    As for strategy, is a double switch really that intriguing?

    Making the DH universal would likely be more difficult than eliminating defensive shifts. There is a real anti-DH sentiment in NL cities.

    For example, imagine trying to do it in St. Louis?

    One NL owner who actually likes the DH, but wouldn’t dare say it publicly, said there’s more support for the universal DH than people think.

    “Everyone has to deal with their fan base and most National League fan bases are against the DH,” said the owner. “I think at some point we have to do it for the good of the game. We play in the same league really but we have different rules. With offense becoming a big issue, it’s an obvious solution.

    “I know back in the ’70s the American League cities were resistant to the idea until they saw it in action.”

    But Manfred has been around NL owners a lot.

    He told the New York Times, “I can’t see the American League clubs giving it up, and right now, given the composition of our National League owners, I don’t see them buying into it. So I think we’re staying where we are.”

    However, if offense continues to decline, Manfred will step in.

    It may not be in a year, but he’ll monitor it just as he’ll consider a pitch clock after the minor league experiment.

    As for defensive shifts, which have resulted in one of the most boring plays in baseball — the ground out to right field — the discussion, including Manfred possibly exploring getting rid of them, has at least brought out some facts.

    A wonderful research project by Dave Cameron of FanGraphs showed that shifts have little or no impact on offense.

    Aren’t shifts supposed to take away hits, and therefore runs? If you take away their big guy and they take away your big guy, why resort to them?

    Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa likes Manfred’s approach to these issues.

    “I think a leader identifies a problem then looks for a broad range of solutions,” said La Russa. “He’s right to work the process then decide what’s best.”

    Purists in the NL shudder when the DH is brought up, but they would get over it. The AL got over it.

    Once you see a David Ortiz or Nelson Cruz in the middle of your lineup producing big hits and winning games, everyone will get over it.

    Provided they don’t get eaten alive by defensive shifts.

    FOLLOWING THE CROWD

    Brentz has his work cut out to make Sox

    The Red Sox have outfielders Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr., Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, and Allen Craig.

    Meanwhile, Bryce Brentz is also listed on Boston’s 40-man roster. He’s a righthanded hitter with power. In a lot of other situations, entering big league camp could mean hooking on to the 25-man roster. But unless there are trades and/or injuries, Brentz will go back to Pawtucket.

    “I understand it,” he said. “We have exceptional depth and talent in the outfield. I can’t worry about who’s in front of me. The big thing for me is that I stay healthy, and if I stay healthy good things will happen for me. If I have to go back to Pawtucket, I go back to Pawtucket and be the best I can there.”

    Brentz said there have been no conversations with his agent about the Sox perhaps moving him in a deal. Brentz wants to remain with the Red Sox. He understands he messed up two years ago when he accidentally shot himself in the leg while cleaning a handgun, ruining his chance to participate in major league camp for the first time. Then injuries to his meniscus and hamstrings last season set him back.

    Brentz was called up at the end of September and hit .308 in 26 at-bats, but most times the Sox had an injury to an outfielder, Brentz was injured himself and couldn’t take the call-up.

    “We all want to be in the majors, starting out there and producing,” Brentz said. “My dreams are the same as they’ve always been. I want to play in the big leagues and I feel with hard work I can get there.”

    Brentz, who has been predominantly a right fielder, will likely be a left fielder in the majors. He has the arm of a right fielder but probably not the legs to cover all that ground.

    When Brentz was called up in September, outfield coach Arnie Beyeler had Brentz “out there learning the Wall. I took about a hundred balls a day off the Wall. All kinds of angles and caroms out there, but that’s where they want me to play.”

    After playing in the Arizona Fall League and in winter ball for a couple of years, Brentz this offseason finally had a chance to take a breather and get his body right again.

    “I feel as strong as I ever have because of it,” he said. “I’ve had a normal offseason, recuperated from everything and anxious to get going in spring training.”

    Brentz hit 30 homers in 2011, followed by 17, 19, and 12 the last three injury-filled seasons. He’s got power. And that’s why at age 26 the Red Sox have held on to him, just as they held on to Will Middlebrooks as long as they could.

    Apropos of nothing

    1. Have you noticed the number of arbitration cases that could go to hearings? As of Friday, there were approximately 35 cases still pending. For a long time, cases had very little chance of making it to hearings. But teams now seem more willing to argue for their salary numbers, while the salary numbers filed by players have risen. One example is Brandon Belt, the Giants first baseman who played in 61 games with 235 plate appearances last season. He’s asking for $4.5 million. The Giants have come in at $3 million, with the midway point $3.75 million. But the midway point would still give Belt an $875,000 raise from 2014. Teams such as the Blue Jays, Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Indians, Marlins, Pirates, Rays, and White Sox employ a “file and go” approach, meaning they’ll take it to a hearing after initial attempts to settle fall through and both sides have filed numbers. The Red Sox may have a hearing with newly acquired Wade Miley.

    2. Alex Cora is high on Rusney Castillo after he managed him in Criollos de Caguas, Puerto Rico. Cora told Maureen Mullen of the Daily Item of Lynn, “He’s very fundamentally sound. He catches the ball clean, good release, and he keeps the ball down, nothing compared to Yasiel [Puig, the Dodgers outfielder, also from Cuba, who played in Puerto Rico last year]. He understands base runners, when to go for it, when to hit the cutoff man, when to take a chance. He has a pretty good idea. I think he’ll be OK in left, center, or right. That’s something for John [Farrell], but we really liked him in center field.”

    3. Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $30 million incentive package is trying to be spun as a separate part of A-Rod’s overall deal by the Yankees. But Rodriguez’s lawyers will argue that it’s actually an addendum to the larger contract. Sports attorneys and agents don’t believe the Yankees will be able to escape the $6 million they may have to pay when Rodriguez reaches the first milestone spelled out in the deal — 660 home runs. He’s six short. The Yankees will fight it, though.

    4. Just don’t see the Rays on the same level (both at 86) of wins as the Red Sox in the latest PECOTA projection by Baseball Prospectus. Nor do I see the Orioles at 78 wins.

    Updates on nine

    1. Andruw Jones, OF/DH, free agent — After two seasons with Rakuten in Japan, where he hit 26 home runs with 94 RBIs (.845 OPS) and 24 homers with 71 RBIs (.820 OPS), with OBPs of .391 and .394, Jones will be returning to major league baseball. Agent Scott Boras claims there are at least two teams interested in Jones as a DH and/or righthanded platoon player. A 10-time Gold Glove outfielder, Jones would return with 434 homers and 1,289 RBIs.

    2. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks — Wilson is planning on going to Rangers spring training after the Super Bowl to do what he did last season, take batting practice and ground balls and hang out in his Rangers uniform. Wilson said, “I love baseball, so any opportunity I would have to hang out with the guys and take some swings, I’ll take.” The Rangers selected Wilson from the Colorado Rockies in the Triple A phase of the Rule 5 draft in December 2013.

    3. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Rangers — There’s been a lot of angst among Red Sox fans after Ranaudo was dealt for lefthander Robbie Ross, but given the Sox’ young pitching depth, Ranaudo’s lack of exceptional stuff sealed the deal. What Rangers general manager Jon Daniels loves most about the deal is that he is getting a young pitcher who will give him great value in terms of innings. Ranaudo has been a consistent winner, but does he project as a top-of-the-rotation starter? Right now, no.

    4. Alexi Ogando, RHP, Red Sox — If healthy, Ogando, who was signed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the chance to earn another $1.5 million in incentives, could be a huge seventh-inning pickup for the bullpen. Ogando has had some arm and elbow issues the past two seasons and was likely affected by his bullpen-to-starter shift. But he has nasty stuff that plays well late in games.

    5. Rafael Soriano, RHP, free agent — Given his success in the AL East, Soriano makes sense for the Blue Jays and Red Sox. Now 35, Soriano, who tired at the end of season with the Nationals, has allowed a .158 batting average and .531 OPS at Rogers Centre. In 33 games vs. the Blue Jays, he has a 2.18 ERA. His other AL East numbers: 3-1, 3.92, 7 saves vs. Baltimore; 1-1, 2.35, 11 saves vs. Boston; and 0-1, 3.12, 8 saves vs. Tampa Bay. He has 42, 43, and 32 saves over the last three years with the Yankees and Nationals.

    6. Ryan Hanigan, C, Red Sox — The Red Sox have been vague about the breakdown of games between Hanigan and rookie Christian Vazquez. Could it be that it’s an open competition? Remember last season when A.J. Pierzynski came in and was told he would be in the 100-game range? Clearly, he was the starter. But while we all think Vazquez is the guy, don’t forget the Red Sox had been trying to obtain Hanigan for a few years. He’s a great game caller and pitchers love him. He frames pitches about as well as any catcher in the game, and until two years ago when injuries set in the Andover native was a very reliable .270 hitter.

    7. Marco Scutaro, 2B, free agent — March is the next bench mark for Scutaro, 39, as to whether he can realistically restart his career after serious back surgery. The Giants released him, but the gutsy infielder, who was red-hot during the Giants’ 2012 title run, loves baseball and is doing everything he can to get back. He is being paid $6.67 million for the 2015 season by the Giants.

    8. James Shields, RHP, free agent — Radio silence on Shields, which has been the case most of the winter. Disbelief that he’s not signed continues to be the theme. “It’s hard to project a team would go five years,” according to a National League GM. A Shields signing for four years would certainly make sense for teams with protected first-round draft picks, such as the Red Sox, Rangers, Astros, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Twins, and White Sox.

    9. Drake Britton, LHP, Red Sox — Getting designated for assignment is probably a big break for Britton, who seemed buried in the Sox organization. Britton has a chance to emerge as a decent reliever. The Red Sox should be able to make a deal for him. He was expendable after the team acquired Ross.

    Extra innings

    From the Bill Chuck files — “The late Bill Monbouquette not only pitched for the Red Sox but also for the Tigers, Yankees, and Giants. He was a teammate of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Al Kaline, Dick Williams, Eddie Mathews, Whitey Ford, Bobby Cox, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and Gaylord Perry.” . . . Also, “Bud Norris is now tied with Tony Armas Jr. for the most wins in a career without a complete game and at least 100 starts (each with 53). Current pitchers also on this list are Wade Miley (38 wins in 102 starts) and Travis Wood (34 wins in 124 starts).” . . . Happy birthday, Tim Naehring (48).

    Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.