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Owners and union discussing potential rule changes

A lot of things being talked about, from DHs to mound visits, though it’s likely few changes will be implemented immediately.

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Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Reports today from ESPN’s Jeff Passan that owners and the MLB Players Association are talking about changes to the game. According to Passan, the topics under discussion included the following:

  • A three-batter minimum for pitchers
  • A universal designated hitter
  • A single trade deadline before the All-Star break
  • A 20-second pitch clock
  • The expansion of rosters to 26 men, with a 12-pitcher maximum
  • Draft advantages for winning teams and penalties for losing teams
  • A study to lower the mound
  • A rule that would allow two-sport amateurs to sign major league contracts
  • Ken Rosenthal of The Atlantic also reports a reduction in the number of mound visits has been proposed.

It’s important to realize these are just subjects for discussion. Per Passan, “The likelihood of a handful of these proposals being ratified, let alone all of them, is unlikely, according to sources.” But together, they would represent a radical revamp of the game, likely unprecedented in our lifetime. I’ve noticed discussion of the topics across various threads around the site, so figured there would be enough interest in a general post to discuss them all. Here’s a quick summary of the impact each proposal could have.

Three-batter minimum for pitchers

Andrew Chafin looks concerned. That’s because no batter in the majors faced one or two batters more often than Chafin’s 35 times, with Oliver Perez (33) the next most. Speaking as a left-hander, this is a terribly discriminatory move: every one of the top 10 on that list was a southpaw, and 21 of the top 22. The sole exception was Steve Cishek, who had 21 short outings. Of course, given Chafin’s first-batter issues, maybe having to face multiple hitters could actually be a help?

Universal designated hitter

This is The Big One as far as fans are concerned, though it was a union suggestion. NL owners would have to approve the idea by a simple majority (though abstentions, effectively, count as “No”). It seems highly doubtful there’s enough momentum for it this year, especially in 2019: given teams have pitchers and catchers reporting next week. But, hey: we would have a ready-made candidate in Yasmany Tomas! Personally though, I’m with Babe Ruth: “The pitcher who can’t get in there in the pinch and win his own game with a healthy wallop, isn’t more than half earning his salary in my way of thinking.”

Single trade deadline

Currently, there is a non-waiver trade deadline on July 31. After that, players have to go through waivers before they can be dealt, and that runs for another month, until the end of August. According to Passan, “An earlier trade deadline could force teams to emphasize the first half, which might force them to focus more in the offseason on acquiring players via free agency.” I’m not sure it would make an enormous amount of difference, myself.

20-second pitch clock

This is something the Commissioner can now impose, having given the union formal notice last year. [He could also impose a runner on second-base in extra innings, albeit only for spring training and the All-Star Game] Would he want to do so? It’s the kind of thing which could be a point of negotiation, with the union demanding a concession in exchange for its agreement, though the idea may be toned down to exclude, for example, when there are runners on base. I’d not be averse to this idea, because the current rules are all but ignored as far as enforcement goes.

Expansion of rosters to 26 men, 12-pitcher maximum

Various suggestions are being floated with regard to roster size. Adding an extra spot - and also ensuring it’s not used for another relief pitcher - might go hand in hand with the DH idea. It’s obviously something the union would favor, adding another 30 major-league jobs. The owners, who’d have to pay for the extra player, are likely less impressed. There’s also a potential limitation on September rosters: rather than it being “anyone you want on the 40-man roster,” teams would be limited to 28 players in total.

Draft advantages for winning teams and penalties for losing teams

The aim is to address and penalize “tanking”, rather than rewarding it with the best draft picks. The Nationals and Astros both took advantage of the current situation. Rosenthal says, “A lowering of a team’s draft position for failing to reach a specified win total in a certain number of seasons is believed to be part of the union’s plan.” Passan adds, “Low-revenue teams that succeed -- whether by finishing above .500 or making the playoffs -- would be given greater draft positions or bonus pools.”

Lowering the mound

This one is likely a little further off, with Commissioner Manfred looking to study the potential impact of lowering the mound, the aim being to implement it in 2020. The impact could be drastic. When the height of the mound was decreased from 15 inches to 10 after the 1968 season, runs per game the following year jumped by 19%, from 6.84 to 8.14 (although they also shrunk the strike zone. so it wasn’t all the mound). Though offense is nowhere near as hamstrung now. In 1968, the collective OPS was 89 points below this year, at .639. For context: Cliff Pennington’s career OPS is nine points better.

Two-sport amateurs to sign major league contracts

Another fairly “meh” suggestion, coming on the heels of the Athletics basically blowing their first-round pick on a player who decided to do football in college instead. The idea is to encourage such players to go the baseball route, by re-opening the possibility of offering a major-league contract. That’s something which went away after the last CBA, with teams being more regimented with regard to what they could offer their draft picks.

Reduction in the mound visits

Currently set to six per game, the proposal reduces that number by two this season, and then another one in 2020, so only three would be permitted. Presumably more, to some degree, would still be allowed in extra innings. I’d be curious to know in how many games teams use up their current quota. In early 2018, the average number of visits was 3.78 per game, so it suggests that going from six to four would not have too much of an impact. It certainly counts as entirely dead time, so I’m down for trimming this as far as possible.

But what do you reckon, about these changes or other ones e.g. increasing the DL stay back from 10 to 15 days, adjusting service time by giving bonuses for “performance, playoff appearances or awards”? Does the game need fixing? If so, are these changes the solution?