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.