The current Collective Bargaining Agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association doesn’t expire until after the 2021 championship season, but the two sides are discussing rule changes that could go into effect as early as this year. On Friday, the union countered a league proposal made on January 14th. According to sources, the two offers covered a wide-ranging list of possible changes, including the following:
A universal designated hitter
A three-batter minimum for pitchers
A single trade deadline before the All-Star break
A 20-second pitch clock
Roster expansion to 26 men, with a 12-pitcher maximum
Reducing September rosters from 40 to 28 (13 active pitchers max)
Draft advantages for winning teams and penalties for losing teams
A rule allowing two-sport amateurs to sign major league contracts
Reduction in mound visits
Return to 15-day minimum for the injured list
Increasing the minimum amount of time an optioned player spends in the minors from 10 to 15 days
All-Star Game changes that would put a runner at second if the game is tied after the 10th inning
In addition, a proposal on the table calls for the formation of a committee to study the possibilities of lowering the mound, moving it back, and changing the strike zone. This committee would report its findings by the end of the year, with recommended changes possibly going into effect in 2020.
Let’s take a look at the proposed changes that could go into effect this season, with a focus on the ones that might benefit the Yankees.
Universal designated hitter
The union has wanted this for decades, but National League owners have resisted primarily due to the belief that implementing a universal DH would increase payroll costs. That’s become somewhat of an empty argument, though, since the highly-paid DH-only slugger has gone virtually extinct. In the era of 12 and 13-man pitching staffs, teams simply don’t have a roster spot available. Clubs instead choose to use the DH spot in the batting order to give a half-day off to a regular or to get some at-bats to one of the few bench players they have.
Every team in baseball stands to benefit once the universal DH is implemented, but no team in recent memory has suffered more than the Yankees because of the archaic requirement that pitchers hit in NL parks. In 2008, the Yankees saw their playoff hopes dashed, and along with it a 13-year postseason streak, when ace Chien-Ming Wang injured his foot running the bases. The young starter effectively saw his promising career come to an end because of this foolish rule, and the loss haunted the Yankees for years to come. Although they managed to win the World Series the following year with a three-man postseason rotation, they were eliminated earlier in the playoffs in subsequent campaigns primarily due to insufficient starting pitching.
The Bombers and their fans were reminded of this grim event last year when Masahiro Tanaka injured both hamstrings running the bases at Citi Field. The universal designated hitter can’t be implemented soon enough for the Yankees and their fans.
Changes to the draft
The amateur draft was concocted in the 1960s as a response to the Yankees’ constant winning. The advent of the draft meant that losing teams would be rewarded for failure. Perennial doormats could stockpile high draft picks, while persistent contenders never got one. This led to tanking and never-ending rebuild cycles.
Naturally, the MLBPA wants all of its members heading to spring training feeling like they have a chance to win. (You’d think that MLB would want every fan to feel that way as well.) So the union has proposed changes to the draft system that grants advantages for winning teams and penalties for losing squads. Obviously, any change that rolls back penalties on teams that win should benefit the Yankees.
Pace of play
Many of the rule-change proposals involve the ongoing efforts to increase pace of play, since MLB executives have determined this is necessary to attract new fans. A reduction in mound visits to five this year and four in 2020 is under consideration, as is the long-overdue implementation of the 20-second pitch clock.
The most interesting pace-of-play proposal, however, is the one setting a three-batter minimum for pitchers. This proposed rule change is specifically aimed at managers who bring relievers in to face just one batter, requiring multiple pitching changes to get through a single inning. Implementation of this new rule will cause the extinction of the LOOGY.
Thankfully, the Yankees don’t have this type of manager. The club tends to both develop and acquire relievers who can go one inning or more. The fact that this rule change will not adversely affect the Bombers is a good thing, considering the bullpen is arguably their greatest strength.
I honestly don’t like any of the proposed roster-management changes, and hope that none of them get implemented. Setting a single trade deadline before the All-Star break means that if a contending team loses a player to injury after that point, then they can’t go outside the organization for a replacement. It also means that teams must decide at mid-season whether they are buyers, sellers, or neither. It seems to me that this could push more teams into the latter category and subsequently reduce trade-deadline chatter and deals.
Increasing the minimum amount of time an optioned player spends in the minors from 10 to 15 days, while simultaneously expanding the active rosters from 25 to 26 men is puzzling. Why not reduce the minimum amount of time an optioned player must spend on the farm to four or five days, and just leave the roster size as is? That way, teams can more freely utilize their 40-man rosters, without altering the size of the active roster which has remained unchanged for most of the last 100-plus years.
Reducing the active roster from 40 men in September is long overdue, but the current proposal would set it at 29, with the manager required to submit a list of 28 players who are available to play before each game. This is an effort by the union to get more players service time. I still don’t think a team should have more than 25 players available to play in any game, except doubleheaders, whether it’s September or not.
Finally, returning to a 15-day minimum for a player to be placed on the injured list (formerly known as the disabled list), is under consideration. This is what it used to be until 2017, when the minimum stay on the list was set at 10 days. Since player safety and health is a priority — as it should be — why not reduce it to five days? That way, a manager isn’t tempted to play someone who is banged up. He can instead be replaced on the active roster for a short amount of time while he heals.
What do you think about baseball’s proposed rule changes? Let us know in the comments section below.