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MLB, MLBPA introduce sweeping rule changes

The long list of on-field and off-field rule changes, negotiated midway through a CBA, will shake up the sport.

MLB: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum-Press Conference Photo by Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

MLB announced sweeping rule changes on Thursday morning — some that will be implemented in 2019 and some that will go into effect next year — bringing credence to the rumors about these changes that had dated back to last month. Many of these rules will drastically change the way baseball has operated for decades, and at least one fundamentally changes the game:

The minor changes in 2019 include:

  • Inning breaks that will be reduced by five seconds for local broadcasts and 25 seconds for national telecasts, making the between-inning break a uniform 20 seconds, with the commissioner’s office having the option to reduce them again to 1:55 in 2020. This seems like an easy solution that should’ve been implemented years ago, even though it’s a bit of a bait-and-switch for the league’s national broadcasters, who are already in the middle of long-term deals and will have a tougher time selling advertising.
  • Mound visits will be reduced from six to five, further pushing the limits of the pace-of-play rule that was instituted last year.
  • There will be only one trade deadline on July 31, rather than having the non-waiver trade deadline and teams being able to acquire players who wouldn’t be eligible for the playoffs in September. Our Anthony Spaulding detailed this change Wednesday.
  • There will now be an “election day” on which the competitors for the starting spots in the All-Star Game will be narrowed down to three and fans will have a one-day voting frenzy. The league is hoping, perhaps foolishly, that this will motivate players to show their personalities more while trying to get themselves and their teammates elected. Election day finalists will each earn bonuses, while the prize money for the Home Run Derby will be increased to a total of $2.5 million, with $1 million for the winner. And in extra innings of the All-Star Game, teams will start each inning beginning with the 10th with a runner on base — a rule change that would be abhorrent under normal circumstances but is harmless enough for a meaningless exhibition game.

And the changes for 2020, which are more significant:

  • In the most sweeping change — one that completely changes the way the sport has always been played — pitchers will be required to throw to at least three batters before they can be placed. This feels like a poorly-orchestrated reaction to Game 5 of the 2018 NLCS, when Wade Miley started for the Brewers but pitched to just one batter so the Brewers could gain a platoon advantage over the Dodgers’ righty-heavy lineup. Combined with the universal DH rule that seems bound to reach the majors in the not-too-distant future, this rule essentially has the potential to make the manager a total non-factor in games. It’s also bound to shake up the talent pool, as several types of relievers who have inhabited the game for years — but admittedly already been phased out to an extent in recent years — will be forced out of the majors. In addition to eliminating LOOGYs — “lefty one-out guys” who come in to face one lefty hitter and then leave — this change could very well end the careers of right-handed sidearmers such as Cory Gearrin and Joe Smith.
  • Rosters will expand from a 25- to 26-player maximum from the beginning of the season through September 1, while September call-ups in their traditional form will be eliminated. Teams will be required to maintain a 28-man roster from September 1 through the end of the season. There will be a limit on pitchers — it’s widely believed that it’ll be 13 up until September 1, though the specific number has yet to be announced.
  • There will be limits on position players pitching in games — essentially the same ones that already existed as unwritten rules. Position players may now pitch in extra innings or games where their team is winning or losing by six runs (not that they were really pitching outside of those scenarios to begin with). There’s an exception for Shohei Ohtani, and any other players that may follow his lead in future seasons (Kaleb Cowart and Michael Lorenzen are among those currently trying). If a player throws at least 20 innings and starts 20 games as a position player or DH (getting at least three plate appearances in each of those games) in the current or previous season, they’ll qualify as a two-way player and thus will be able to evade both the roster limit on pitchers and the position-player pitching rules.
  • Due to teams gaming the system in recent years as they attempt to shuffle through as many pitchers as possible, pitchers who are either placed on the injured list or optioned to the minors will both not be allowed to be brought back for 15 days. This seems like a common-sense solution, as pitchers were being treated like chess pieces in teams’ quest to have as much available inventory as possible.