Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached an agreement on new rules for 2019 and 2020. The biggest news here may simply be that the squabbling sides could come to a consensus about anything. But first, the rules.
Here’s what is happening this season:
Subject to discussions with broadcast partners, inning breaks will be reduced from 2:05 to 2:00 in local games and from 2:25 to 2:00 in national games. The commissioner’s office retains the right to further reduce the breaks to 1:55 in local and national games for the 2020 season. Remember when your Little League coach yelled at you to hustle on and off the field? This is that for grown-ups.
The August waiver trade period will be eliminated. The July 31 trade deadline will be the only deadline. Players may still be placed and claimed on outright waivers after July 31, but trades will no longer be permitted after that date. The idea here is to make the offseason more active, as well as create more weight on the July 31 deadline. Think about the Nationals of last year had this rule been in place. Would they have held onto everyone into August, including Bryce Harper?
Fan voting will be conducted in two rounds. The “primary round” which replicates the All-Star voting of old, followed in late June or early July by an “Election Day”. The top three vote-getters at each position in each league during the primaries will be voted on by fans in a prescribed time period to determine the All-Star starters.
And, a wrinkle in the game to help end it: All-Star games that go to extra innings will begin with a runner on second base in each inning (managers can send players previously removed from the game back onto the field for this duty).
The maximum number of mound visits per team will be reduced from six to five per game. This change was touted as a time-saver before its implementation last season. It had little to no effect on the game beyond gobbling up scoreboard space which could be used for something more informative.
Home Run Derby:
Total player prize money for the Derby will be boosted to $2.5 million. The winner will receive $1 million. MLB’s hope is the increased payout will attract bigger stars to the competition. But why would it? Bryce Harper makes $26 million this year. Mike Trout, who has never participated, makes $33 million. Hard to see this moving the needle.
Not happening after experimentation in spring training: The 20-second pitch clock. That’s out for a minimum of the next three years. Max Scherzer rejoices.
Coming in 2020 are more significant changes which will greatly influence managerial strategy and roster building:
Three-batter minimum for pitchers:
Rule 5.10(g) will be amended to require that starting pitchers and relief pitchers must pitch to either a minimum of three batters or to the end of a half-inning, with exceptions for incapacitating injury or illness. The intent is to speed up the game via fewer pitching changes. A likely result is more action because pitchers are not in situations leveraged as much in their favor. That’s good. The rub is more action also takes more time, and most current action includes only the three true outcomes -- walk, strikeout or home run. That’s not great. And, this also raises the possibility of a fake injury to produce a more beneficial pitching matchup. Like certain trips to the injured list, it’s impossible to police. The players’ association did not actually straight agree to this rule, according to ESPN. It instead said it would not challenge it.
Roster numbers game:
Active rosters expand to 26 for the regular season and postseason. They are also capped at 28 -- all teams must carry 28 -- after Sept. 1. The number of pitchers a club can carry on the active roster will be determined by further discussions by a joint committee. Teams must also designate each player as a pitcher, position player or two-way player. A two-way player must pitch at least 20 Major League innings and play at least 20 Major League games within the past two seasons in order to qualify as a two-way player. Players designated as two-players can pitch any time. Position players can only pitch in extra innings or in a game which the team is losing or winning by more than six runs when he enters.
Injured list adjustments:
The minimum placement period for pitchers on the injured list is expected to increase from 10 to 15 days. The minimum minor-league assignment time will also rise from 10 to 15 days. Both sides need to discuss this further before it is officially entered into the agreement. Teams were circumventing the recently created 10-day period by essentially cycling pitchers between the major and minor leagues to have fresh arms on the roster as often as possible.
In the big picture is interesting language: “As part of the agreement, the parties will meet and discuss a renegotiation and extension of the Basic Agreement.” The league and its players spent much of the winter grousing about each other three years ahead of the current CBA’s expiration following the 2021 season. That activity did not bode well. Commissioner Rob Manfred panned MLBPA executive director Tony Clark at a mid-February press conference in West Palm Beach. Players repeatedly expressed their concerns about another dragging offseason period. An agreement here is a sign the two sides can at least talk. But much harder topics are coming up, most notably revenue split and team control over young players.
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