As all 30 MLB teams gear up for spring training—with multiple star players still unsigned—the MLB and MLPA have reportedly discussed potential rule changes for 2019 or 2020. Multiple reports say the rule changes include a universal designated hitter and a three-batter minimum, with ESPN’s Jeff Passan laying them all out. Baseball is a sport that typically doesn’t take rule changes lightly, so there’s a chance none of these get passed, but I’m ranking the rule changes on a scale of OK to just plain stupid.
Makes sense: A rule that would allow two-sport amateurs to sign major league contracts
If Heisman Trophy quarterback Kyler Murray shuns the Athletics in favor of the NFL, it would not be a good look for Major League Baseball. The MLB should want the best athletes possible to play their sport, and that might mean allowing two-sport stars like Murray to sign major-league contracts that are not subject to the draft pool salaries that teams must stay under to avoid getting penalized. One issue is that this could open the floodgates, with baseball stars making false threats of playing other sports while trying to squeeze a major-league contract out of teams; but the rule would probably require the player to actually play multiple sports in college to qualify.
Worth exploring: A single trade deadline before the All-Star break
Once you understand the rules, it’s really not that confusing for the MLB to have two trade deadlines: a July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and an August 31 waiver trade deadline. The latter deadline allows players that clear waivers—teams can put guys on waivers but then pull them back—to be traded. The MLBPA reportedly wants to have just one trade deadline, and they want to move it all the way up to before the All-Star break. The thought is this would make teams want to push harder to contend early in seasons without the cushion of waiting to make a deal late in July or August, which could lead to helping fix the issue of players not getting paid during free agency. Also, a trade deadline just before the All-Star break would give guys that are traded more time to adjust to their new homes before jumping into game action.
Players would be in favor: The expansion of rosters to 26 men, with a 12-pitcher maximum
Expanding the rosters from 25 players to 26 players would equate to 30 extra major-league spots, which will lead to more players getting more service time toward eventually becoming eligible for free agency. 25 just feels like a better number than 26, but the extra spot could help for super-long extra-inning games, in particular.
Not a terrible idea: A study to lower the mound
A decrease in mound height would apparently not happen until the 2020 season, but Major League Baseball wants to study it. Pitchers probably feel everything is slanted against them today, as most of them would not want a lower mound—though both sides would have to adjust if a switch is eventually made. Overall, it shouldn’t hurt anything to study a lower mound.
Vague, but probably not a good idea: Draft advantages for winning teams and penalties for losing teams
This discussed rule change sounds like it’s designed to help small-market teams that compete by giving them a draft boost for winning a certain number of games. There isn’t a tanking problem in the MLB, so this rule seems unnecessary.
Pitchers would not be happy: A 20-second pitch clock
Mostly everyone is in favor of shortening the length of baseball games, but a 20-second pitch clock would certainly anger pitchers, who would have their control over pace of play taken away. There’s no way it should be implemented while runners are on base, but even putting pitchers on a clock with no runners on base doesn’t seem fair. Adding a clock to baseball feels un-American.
Don’t mess with tradition: A universal designated hitter
Eventually, the DH will be added to all of baseball, but many traditionalists don’t ever want to see it happen. Much of the strategy is taken out of the game if the pitcher doesn’t bat, which takes a lot of the fun out of things for fans of the National League style of play.
No: A three-batter minimum for pitchers
I think analytics has gone too far with the constant pitching changes, but I think it’s an awful idea to make a pitcher have to face three batters (unless they finish an inning or are injured). Managers should be able to manage the game without having Major League Baseball put constraints on how they must deploy their roster. This rule would take away some epic head-to-head matchups between batter and pitcher, and it’d actually go against the analytics many teams have come to embrace over the years while also going against traditionalists that simply think it’s a stupid idea. Mostly everyone can agree this should not happen.