Look who’s talking.

No, that isn’t a reference to Maxwell Joseph Breen, the youngest subscriber ever to Extra Innings. (Congrats, Tara and Matt!) We meant Major League Baseball and the Players Association.

The former made an initial return-to-play proposal to the latter this week and negotiations are upcoming. The thorniest issues: Health/safety protocols and player pay -- hopefully in that order. Within the next two weeks, we will have a better idea of what a 2020 season could look like, from the length of the schedule and division alignments to expanded playoffs and testing measures for players and staff.

Ultimately, though, the owners and players can control only the terms of a season. COVID-19 and the path that it takes will have the final say over whether baseball is really able to return.

You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Thursday while the Phillies season is delayed. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber. Thank you for reading.

— Scott Lauber (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Phillies top prospect Alec Bohm could get a head start on his big-league career if baseball returns with a universal designated hitter.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Phillies top prospect Alec Bohm could get a head start on his big-league career if baseball returns with a universal designated hitter.

Change to DH rule could usher in Alec Bohm era

Five months ago, as he charted a course for the offseason, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak predicted that top prospect Alec Bohm “will impact our major-league club at some point” in 2020.

Klentak just didn’t figure it would happen like this.

One aspect of MLB’s plan to salvage half of the 2020 season involves the use of a universal designated hitter. It’s a rule change that likely was coming in 2022 after the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement. But implementing it now would force some National League teams to scramble for a solution.

The Phillies seem to have options. Jay Bruce, an everyday player throughout his career but pegged as a reserve outfielder this season, could get consistent at-bats. Leftfielder Andrew McCutchen could use the DH spot to rest his surgically repaired knee. When he doesn’t catch, J.T. Realmuto could be the DH.

And then there’s Bohm. The 23-year-old third baseman would’ve opened the season at triple-A Lehigh Valley. But with expanded big-league rosters and the possibility that minor-league seasons will be called off, it makes sense for the Phillies to carry him as a power bat off the bench or even a right-handed-hitting DH.

Under normal circumstances, the Phillies likely wouldn’t have called up Bohm until at least the third week of the season in order to retain six years of control over him. If the same rules apply in a shortened season, would they wait 20 games to add him to the roster? MLB presumably will outline service-time provisions in its proposal for a 2020 season, and you can bet Bohm’s new agent, Scott Boras, will be paying close attention.

The biggest doubts about Bohm center around his defense at third base. But after slugging .518 and hitting 21 homers in the minors last season, there’s little question he’s ready to face big-league pitching, according to U.S. national team coach Scott Brosius, who worked with Bohm in an Olympics qualifying tournament last fall.

“I think his power is there,” Brosius, a teammate of Phillies manager Joe Girardi with the New York Yankees in the late ’90s, said in March. “He’s athletic at the plate. He has power to all fields. Offensively he’s getting close.”

Close enough, perhaps, to provide a boost to the Phillies offense in a truncated season in which every game would be magnified.

The rundown

Everyone involved with baseball wants some semblance of a season, but the stakes are higher for some people. I’m looking at you, J.T. Realmuto, and Didi Gregorius, and Jake Arrieta.

Health has come before wealth, at least so far, in the MLB-union talks. I asked Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chairman of Penn’s medical ethics department, about starting a season in a COVID-19 world.

If MLB can begin the season, the games will look a little different. Get used to it, Bob Brookover writes.

MLB will cap the June draft at five rounds from the usual 40 this year, so there won’t be any late-round steals such as Ryne Sandberg in 1978 and Darren Daulton in 1980. But the changes to the draft might not be limited to only 2020, as Brooky writes.

Some good news: John Middleton told Phillies full-time employees that their jobs are safe through at least October. Also, Middleton’s daughter and son donated a combined $350,000 to the PHL COVID-19 Fund, as Marc Narducci writes.

From our 1980 Phillies Unsung Heroes series: Matt Breen details how Del Unser turned a nonroster invite to spring training in 1979 into two enormous hits in the ’80 postseason.

Have you been staying up late (or waking up early) to watch KBO games on ESPN? I spoke to ex-Phillies pitcher Ben Lively and others about what MLB can learn from baseball’s return in South Korea.

Important dates

Today: Happy 27th birthday, Phillies outfielder Roman Quinn.

May 16, (2008): Jayson Werth tied franchise record with eight RBI in a game vs. Toronto.

May 17, (1979): Phillies outlast Cubs, 23-22, in 10 innings at Wrigley Field.

May 30: Happy 30th birthday, Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler.

Imagine what the Phillies' lineup might've looked like if Ryan Howard, left, and Jim Thome could've played together.
Ron Cortes
Imagine what the Phillies' lineup might've looked like if Ryan Howard, left, and Jim Thome could've played together.

Stat of the day

Over the years, the Phillies have used a designated hitter in 201 regular-season interleague games, producing a .236/.311/.403 slash line and 32 homers from the position.

Their most frequent DH: Ryan Howard (29 games, 119 at-bats).

Their most productive DH: Jim Thome (nine homers, 22 RBI).

Just in case you hadn’t thought recently about what the Phillies’ lineup would’ve looked like with Howard and Thome in it together.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: If the season does start, do you think teams will have 6-man rotations to begin the season depending on how limited spring training is gonna be?

--@DanielB49713903, via Twitter

Answer: Hey, Dan. Thanks for the question and for reading. I think you’re going to see a lot of things. Six-man rotations. 10-man bullpens. Openers. Starters coming in after other starters. Multiple closers. You name it, teams will try it as a way of managing the workloads of pitchers who won’t be as stretched out as usual.

Last we heard from Joe Girardi, a few days after the postponement of spring training, he said he wouldn’t use a four-man rotation in the event of a shortened season because expanded rosters would enable teams to carry extra pitchers. I don’t know if you’ll see the Phillies go to a six-man rotation, but I have no doubt they will make full use of the 15 or 16 pitchers they will be able to carry for each game.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Phillies will have enough pitching. Even when it appeared the season would start as planned, I was skeptical of their depth in either the rotation or the bullpen. That depth would be tested more than ever under these conditions.