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Game Changers: MLB Owners, Players Agree To Significant Rule Alterations

After spending months conceptualizing with the Major League Baseball Players Association about rule adaptations, Major League Baseball announced Thursday a series of sweeping changes that will impact the game this year and next.

The way rosters are constructed, how relievers are used, the manner in which All-Star teams are assembled and the deadline before which trades can be made will all be different.

None of this would be possible had the rule changes not been ratified by all 30 clubs. And one thing MLB was pushing hard, the pitch clocks, has been tabled until at least 2022, ostensibly to appease the Players, who were not in favor of it. But everything else is now positioned to change the way the game is played and viewed.

Here is a look at what will change beginning this season.

Baseball is in discussions with its broadcast partners to reduce the time of inning breaks on regional telecasts from 2:05 to 2:00 and from 2:25 to 2:00 for national games. The Commissioner’s Office can further reduce the breaks to 1:55 in local and national games before the start of the  2020 season.

The July 31 trade deadline will now be it for transactions. Teams have long utilized the August waiver period to conduct more moves. Even though trades will no longer be allowed, the teams will still be able to put players on and claim them off waivers.

Rob Manfred

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Selection for the All-Star Game will change radically. There will still be what’s called a  “primary round” that aligns with the old way to vote. But now that will be followed in late June or early July by an “Election Day” in which the top three vote-getters at each position in each league will be voted on by fans to determine the All-Star starters.

Why is this important? Well, MLB says it’s a way to jack up how fans use social media. It figures it will help balance the voting if a player performs well in April and May and not afterwards. Having the “election day” format will give fans a chance to evaluate the entirety of a player’s performance before voting for starters.

In addition, there will be All-Star bonus payments given to the top vote-getters who advance beyond the Primary Round. And the cash players on the winning All-Star team will be increased, as well. The rich get richer.

As for the game, if it happens to go to extra innings, they all will begin with a runner on second base.  Players who have already been subbed out will be allowed to re-enter as runners. This change is aimed at speeding up the ending of the game, which no longer determines who has home field in the World Series.

The Home Run Derby will also fill the player’s pockets in a more profound way, an effort to seduce the game’s biggest stars to participate. Have you ever seen Mike Trout participate? Nope. Did Aaron Judge come back to defend his 2017 title? Nope.

Maybe that will change now that the prize money will increase to $2.5 million with the winner getting a check for $1 million, enough to Manny Machado and Bryce Harper to pay their Grub Hub bills.

If you are keeping score, that’s a $2 million increase from last year’s Derby prize pool. Last year, Harper took home only $125,000 for winning. Now the stakes are higher.

Perhaps the most practical change for the 2019 season is limiting mound visits per team from six to five. Really, who wants to see pitching coaches rush to the mound dozens of times a day? This will certainly speed things up and help limit pitching changes. But more on that below.

There are a number of cool changes coming next season. For instance, MLB has decided to alter roster size from Opening Day – until Aug. 31 – from 25 to 26 and 26 to 27 for doubleheaders. This will likely open the door for more bench players. With the DH, many American League team carry 13 pitchers and only three reserves.

Most significantly, the massive September call-ups will be a thing of the past. Teams were allowed to carry as many as 40 players beginning on September 1. That created situations where managers could continuously change pitchers in lefty-righty situations, moves that invariably slowed the pace of games. Now rosters will be limited to 28.

The number of pitchers a club can carry are going to be capped, something that will be decided by the joint committee. Again, this initiative is designed to give managers fewer options with pitching changes, the No. 1 cause of lengthy games.

Clubs will be required to designate each of their players as either pitcher or position player prior to each player’s first day on the active roster. That designation cannot change for the remainder of the season. An example of this is Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Otani, who pitched and played outfielder and DH in 2018.

A player can be designated as a two-way performer only if he accumulates at least 20 Major League innings pitched and at least 20 Major League games started as a position player or designated hitter (with at least three plate appearances in each of those games) in either the current or the prior season. A two-way player will be allowed to come in any time his team is winning or losing by more than six runs when the manager makes the decision.

This is to stop the trend of managers using position players to mop up routs.

Starters and relievers will be required to pitch to either a minimum of three batters or end a half-inning, unless he is injured or falls ill during his appearance. So you won’t see managers shuttling relievers in and out to pitch to one lefty or righty. This is one change the players union is not really happy with, but the commissioner’s office has decided to unilaterally enact it.

Finally, there will be a change to the minimum amount of time a player can spend on the injured list, formerly known as the disabled list or DL.

In 2020, a player will have to spend at least 15 days on the IL. And the minimum assignment period of pitchers who are optioned the minors will increase from 10 to 15 days.