Big changes coming to baseball? It was the talk of the baseball world Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal got the ball rolling with a big story on proposed rule changes from both the league and the players union, followed up by even more details about those proposals from the New York Post's Joel Sherman and ESPN's Jeff Passan.
All the reads are good, interesting ones, but here are some of the big points. Get ready, baseball purists, you're probably not going to like a lot of these.
The proposals include:
— The designated hitter coming to the National League.
— A rule that every pitcher to enter a game, starter and reliever, must face at least three batters.
— An expansion of active rosters from 25 to 26 with a maximum of 12 pitchers.
— A reduction in expanded September rosters from 40 to 28.
— An extension of the disabled-list stay from 10 games to 15 games.
— One and only trade deadline, which would come before the All-Star break.
— A reduction in mound visits.
— A 20-second pitch clock.
— A penalty for teams that lose at least 90 games in consecutive seasons, one that would drastically reduce their draft standing and strip away international signing money.
— A full year of service time to rookies who under current rules would not earn one but would if they finish in the top three in the voting for certain awards or lead the league in WAR.
That's a lot, and it's important to note before we get too far down the rabbit hole that these are just proposals at the moment. It's also important to note that these are not all proposals from the commissioner's office, nor are they all proposals from the union. They are a mix. It's easy to see who would benefit from each one, with the commissioner focused on speeding the game up and the union focused on bringing an end to "tanking" and getting more high-paying contracts and job security for its players.
The reports indicate that a few of these, including the universal DH, could be implemented as soon as the upcoming season, which would be interesting with teams already far down the road of crafting their rosters and pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in a week.
There's no doubt that many of these changes would be big deals and would change the baseball-playing and baseball-viewing experience. A universal DH would be great news, in this writer's opinion, for NL fans, who would be freed from the punishment of watching an automatic out every ninth batter. Keeping managers away from the mound with the frequency they currently visit it to make pitching changes would be a plus for viewers during games that approach four hours, though it could make the difference in a matchup that could win a team a game. The "one trade deadline" idea sounds like a good one at first blush and would make for a more exciting deadline, with the union supposedly arguing it would help teams focus on roster-building before the start of the season (signing more free agents) and would reduce late-season sell-offs. But who knows whether general managers would feel constrained by that?
The one that really jumps out to me, though — and it seems like a long shot that it would be agreed upon by the owners — is the union's anti-tanking proposal.
We can debate whether there's legitimate "tanking" in baseball, defined as teams purposely trying to lose as many games as possible. It appears to be best described as rebuilding, where a team will sacrifice a few consecutive seasons in order to build a perennial contender from within. It's worked for the Cubs. It's worked for the Houston Astros. It worked, to a lesser degree (though a World Series championship is still pretty darn good), for the Kansas City Royals. It's the state the White Sox are currently in. Are they trying to lose? Absolutely not. Are they doing what they feel they need to do to set themselves up for long-term success? Absolutely. And does that mean knowing that there will be seasons with a large number of losses? Yes.
Call it tanking if you will. Rick Hahn has talked about building a winner while following the current rules, and that's what the White Sox are doing.
But the bottom line, and the problem facing the game, is that with so few playoff spots to be had and no incentive to have just missed the postseason, there's a greater incentive — in the form of high draft picks and freeing up finances for use years in the future — to being a team that loses 100 games than being one that loses 80 but still misses the playoffs. And that means no incentive to hand out big contracts to free agents. That means fewer jobs for members of the union.
That's where the union's proposal comes in, and it is dramatic. They're suggesting that any team that loses at least 90 games in two consecutive seasons be dropped a whopping 15 spots in the draft and stripped of $2 million in international signing money. Three straight 90-loss seasons, and teams would be dropped 20 spots in the draft and stripped of $3 million in international signing money. Those are some huge penalties.
Considering the main positive to suffer through a season with so much losing is to win a high draft pick, this would certainly be a big reason to not lose so many games. But it could easily backfire, as losing teams, the teams who theoretically need the best players the most, could be taken off the top of the draft board and teams that aren't as needy could be placed up there. It's not exactly the rich getting richer, but it's not ideal from a competitive-balance standpoint.
The White Sox likely won't have to worry about these rules being implemented right away — if they're implemented at all — and impacting them while they're rebuilding. If all goes to plan, they'll be done with their 90-loss seasons and into championship-contending mode in the near future. This specific proposal seems a little drastic to receive approval from the owners. But there is a solution to this situation coming, you would imagine, and the White Sox might be one of the final teams to benefit from the current form of rebuilding.
That could actually put them in an enviable position should rules like these take effect in upcoming seasons. They would be the most recent team to go through the rebuilding process and reaping the benefits in the form of high draft picks like Nick Madrigal and whichever player they select with the No. 3 choice in this June's draft. They could find themselves with financial flexibility that other teams don't, something they can currently boast, sure, but it's a difference that can get more dramatic should other teams be forced to spend on players to fill out their rosters, while the White Sox could target that money toward high-impact players while homegrown players fill out the roster.
They might also be one of the final teams to benefit from the current rules on service time. There's no admission from the White Sox that this is the strategy they're taking with top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez, but others, including Jimenez's agents, have accused the team of purposely delaying Jimenez's arrival in the major leagues as to earn an extra season of team control on the end of his rookie contract. They're the same accusations that accompanied Kris Bryant's delayed promotion in the early weeks of the 2015 season. We'll likely see Jimenez not make the Opening Day roster, despite a tremendous 2018 season, and he'll probably make his major league debut in the middle of April. It will prevent him from accruing a full season of major league service time in 2019.
For obvious reasons, the union wants to change that. Their suggestions in this area seem pretty reasonable, as a player would have to earn his full year of service time by being one of the best rookies in the game or one of the best players in the game, period. That, of course, is why the teams want an extra year of control, but it seems fair to reward a player for living up to, if not exceeding the hype.
Who knows how likely the owners would be to accepting that, and with spring training so close, it would seem that any of these more drastic changes wouldn't come down in the next few weeks. So it could be another situation in which the White Sox would benefit before the rules get changed.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.