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MLB proposes three-batter minimum; MLBPA proposes NL DH in 2019

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Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have sent proposals to each other focusing on ways to improve the game, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports. MLB’s biggest suggestion would create a three-batter minimum for pitchers in an effort to reduce the amount of pitching changes made by managers, oftentimes grinding the game to a halt — particularly if it’s a mid-inning substitution.

Among the union’s suggestions is a universal designated hitter beginning this year. According to Rosenthal, citing commissioner Rob Manfred, the union has been trying to get the DH in the National League for more than three decades. The American League adopted the DH rule in 1973.

The union also suggested lowering a team’s draft position if it fails to reach a certain number of wins across multiple seasons. That would address the issue of tanking which has plagued baseball for close to a decade.

Per Rosenthal, if the union and MLB don’t reach an agreement, Manfred still has the power to unilaterally implement three rules changes he proposed last year: a 20-second pitch clock, reducing mound visits from six to five, and placing a runner on second base to start extra innings beyond the 10th inning in spring training games and the All-Star Game. In the current proposal MLB sent to the MLBPA, the league seeks to reduce mound visits from six to four in 2019 and then down to three in 2020. The league also seeks, for the 2020 season, to expand to a 26-man roster while reducing expanded rosters in September from 40 to 28.

These ideas are certainly interesting, to say the least. I’m not sure I buy any of them as they are presented. Implementing a universal DH rule with less than two months before the start of the regular season seems unfair to NL teams that don’t have the right roster construction and wouldn’t have enough time to properly address it. That being said, a universal DH would help boost offense, which has been lagging for most of this decade.

Creating a three-batter minimum would reduce scenarios like the one Rosenthal mentions in his article — Brewers manager Craig Counsell using lefty Wade Miley for one batter before replacing him with right-hander Brandon Woodruff in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers — but it would limit managerial strategy, which is one of the aspects of baseball that, at least in this writer’s humble opinion, make it interesting. Perhaps a better alternative would be to create a discrete limit on the amount of pitchers a team can carry on its active roster. If we make that number, say, 12 on a 26-man roster, then teams still have the flexibility to make their pitching changes when they want to, but they would have to consider a faster depletion of resources.

Speaking of the 26-man rosters: great idea. One more active roster spot creates at minimum 30 more major league jobs across the league, which is terrific in and of itself. The added space may make teams more willing to sign less-versatile players, as we’ve seen a dearth of interest in power-hitting first-base types in recent years in favor of more versatile, defensively-capable players.

Shrinking the September rosters from 40 to 28 would hurt prospects and so-called “AAAA” players — players who aren’t quite good enough to make a regular 25-man roster, but are more than good enough to handle Triple-A competition. September call-ups accrue service time just like any other player and since there would be 360 fewer spots available, at least 360 players would have slower progress towards arbitration and free agency. On the other hand, September is a critical month of the season for obvious reasons, and it is often marred when teams that are dead in the water don’t try to win since they have the opportunity to give their younger, less experienced players major league at-bats and innings. Teams in the hunt for a playoff spot that just happened to get lucky and play fourth- and fifth-place teams in September get what are essentially free wins against these teams. Teams that aren’t so lucky may miss out on a playoff spot through no fault of their own.

The best idea of the bunch is the penalty for teams failing to hit a certain win threshold over multiple seasons. It is unclear if the suggestion is that a team must hit at least X wins once in a span of Y years, or an aggregate total of Z wins over Y years. Either way, incentivizing teams to be at least somewhat competitive is a good thing. It will reduce teams shamelessly tanking and it very likely would also prevent teams from shamelessly manipulating the service time of their top prospects. Ah, who are we kidding? Teams are going to game players’ service time until there’s an explicit rule changing it.

If 2020 season is cancelled, which players would be hurt the most?

Miguel Cabrera
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Last week, I went over a few teams that stood to be hurt most if there were to be no 2020 season as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Today, we will look at some players who may be adversely effected by a lost year.

Milestones

Players chasing milestones, especially those towards the end of their careers, would be stymied by a lost season. Tigers DH and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is the first one that comes to mind. He is 23 home runs short of joining the 500 home run club. Though he hasn’t hit more than 16 in a year since 2016, he would likely have at least hit a few this year and would have had an easier time getting there in 2021. He turns 37 years old in 10 days. Cabrera may be under contract through 2023, but it is not clear that his age and his health would allow him to play regularly such that he would be able to reach 500 home runs if the 2020 season were to be cancelled. (Cabrera is also 185 hits shy of 3,000 for his career.)

Mike Trout has 285 home runs for his career. It’s almost a given that he would get to 300 and beyond in 2020. He is currently one of only 13 players with at least 250 home runs through his age-27 season. The only players with more: Álex Rodríguez (345), Jimmie Foxx (302), Eddie Mathews (299), and Ken Griffey Jr. (294). Trout likely would have also reached 1,000 runs for his career, as he is currently at 903. Losing a full season could really make a difference where he winds up on the all-time leaderboards at the end of his career.

Veteran catcher Yadier Molina will be a free agent at season’s end, though he and the Cardinals have expressed interest in a contract extension. He turns 38 this summer and is 37 hits shy of 2,000 for his career. Even if this season never happens, Molina will likely join the 2,000 hit club in 2021 whether or not he signs a multi-year extension. Molina is also 84 RBI shy of 1,000 and 21 doubles shy of 400.

Free Agents

Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts and Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto headline the free agent class heading into the 2021 season. Even if there eventually is a 2020 season, or something resembling it, teams are losing money across the board and that will result in stinginess in the free agent market. Make no mistake, Betts and Realmuto, as well as Trevor Bauer, Marcus Semien, and Marcus Stroman will still get paid handsomely, but they likely won’t get as much as they would following a typical year. The players that really stand to get hurt are the mid-tier free agents, whose cost won’t match their relative upside — players like James McCann, Howie Kendrick, Yuli Gurriel, DJ LeMahieu, Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Turner, Michael Grantley, Marcell Ozuna, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jay Bruce, and Josh Reddick.

2020-21 Draftees and International Free Agents

At the end of March, MLB and the MLB Players Association reached an agreement on a deal covering issues including service time, pay during the pandemic, and the amateur draft. In exchange for players on active rosters getting credit for a full year of service time whether or not there is a 2020 season, the league got the right to shorten the 2020 draft to five rounds and the 2021 draft to 20 rounds. The league also gained the right to delay the start of the 2020 and 2021-22 international signing periods.

The MLBPA effectively sold out what will be their future union members. A shortened draft this year and/or next year would mean that players who would otherwise have been drafted this year will go undrafted and thus will either become unsigned free agents or return to the draft next year as part of a crowded pool of players. Likewise, pushing back the international signing period will add more players to the market at the same time. This, obviously, benefits ownership as a surplus of labor diminishes those laborers’ leverage.

Bounce-back Candidates

Players coming off of injuries or otherwise down years in 2019 were hoping to use 2020 to bounce back, reestablishing themselves in the league. Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani didn’t pitch at all last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was hopeful to rejoin the starting rotation at some point in the first half of a normal 2020 season. We learned yesterday that Ohtani is expected to throw off a mound “soon.” If a 2020 season does happen, it likely wouldn’t begin for another couple of months at minimum, which should afford him enough time to get into pitching shape.

Ohtani’s teammate and perennial Gold Glove Award candidate Andrelton Simmons played in only 103 games last season due to an ankle injury. He mustered a meager .673 OPS as well, compiling just 1.9 WAR, his lowest total in any season since debuting in 2012. In 2017, he peaked at 7.8 WAR and put up 6.3 the following season. Simmons will become a free agent after the 2020 season, so he most certainly needed a healthy and productive 2020 to maximize his leverage on the market.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, now 36 years old, is coming off of the worst offensive season of his career. He hit .261/.357/.411 with 15 home runs and 47 RBI in 608 plate appearances, continuing a downward trend. He registered a 167 adjusted OPS as recently as 2017, but that declined to 126 in ’18 and 98 last year. The Reds, back to being competitive, were definitely banking on a bounce-back year from Votto. (Votto, by the way, is also 56 RBI short of the 1,000 milestone for his career.)