Major League Baseball is always looking for new ways to try and improve the game, and several new rule changes will be implemented for next season. Chief among them are the addition of an extra player on the roster, a limit to the amount of pitchers a team can carry, and the institution of the three-batter minimum for pitchers. Each of these rules will affect the Yankees’ roster construction this offseason, and could shape how the club rolls out on Opening Day.
First up, the classic 25-man roster has been amended for this upcoming season to expand to 26 players. In recent years, rosters shifted from the usual 13 position players and 12 pitchers to the trendier 13-man pitching staff. This created little roster flexibility on the bench, especially when injuries struck. As the advent of “bullpen games” has made it crucial to carry 13 pitchers, MLB has adjusted the roster size to allow for an extra bench player.
It’s key to note that teams will only be allowed to carry 13 pitchers on the roster, so any potential loopholes of a 14-man pitching staff and 12-man bench cannot be exploited. Teams will have to carry at least 13 position players, which actually suits the Yankees well.
The Yankees will have an extra spot on their bench, and they can go a few different ways. This makes it easier for a team to carry a position player more limited in versatility, such as Mike Ford. Before, carrying two first basemen on a three-man bench was almost impossible. Now, there’s an opening for an extra bench bat, which could help a guy like Ford, or an infielder like Miguel Andujar, who will have to fight for playing time at third base and designated hitter.
Under the old system, the Yankees would have had to choose between Clint Frazier, Ford or Andujar for one or two spots, but now there might be room for all three of them. Of course, Swiss Army knives like Tyler Wade still have value, but now the Yankees will have room for whoever they deem the best bench bat for any given series. This could lead to more use of the Scranton Shuttle for batters, as opposed to just pitchers.
The 13-pitcher maximum on the roster shouldn’t do anything but enforce the status quo in New York, as the Yankees have generally carried 13 hurlers for a while now. However, if there was ever a team to try and sneak one more on the roster, it would have been the Yankees. Instead, they’ll likely continue to employ the Scranton Shuttle for the final two bullpen spots, as they have for much of the past five years.
The most interesting rule change for this year might be the institution of the three-batter minimum for pitchers. Now, a relief pitcher coming into a game must face at least three batters before he can be removed from a game (barring injury). The old rule was that pitchers only had to face one batter, which led to the heyday of “LOOGYs,” or “Lefty One-Out Guys” who were pure specialists. Moving forward, a pitcher will only be allowed to be taken out of the game if he has faced less than three batters if it’s the end of an inning or if an injury occurs.
Now, managers will have to strategically decide when to utilize their relievers if they’re playing the matchup game. If the Yankees wanted to bring in CC Sabathia just to face Yordan Alvarez, like they did in the 2019 playoffs, he’d have to face two more batters before being removed. Given that the Yankees wouldn’t want Sabathia to face two more Astros, it’s possible this substitution would never have happened under the current rules. This should encourage managers to stack their best hitters together to discourage pitching changes.
While the new rules for the 2020 MLB season seem mostly minor, they will have ripple effects for the Yankees this offseason. They will have to construct their roster ever so slightly different this winter, focusing on an extra bench bat and continuing to value versatile relievers as opposed specialists. It may take some time to get used to, but these new rules can benefit the Yankees in the long run if they adjust properly.