FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s about time that Major League Baseball and the players’ union got serious about rule changes in the game that reflect the increased usage of relief pitchers, benches that include multidimensional utility players, and the wear and tear that players face given the restrictions of the 25-man roster.
Now, this doesn’t mean I like a lot of changes, as you’ve likely gathered from me over the years. But as the union and MLB hold talks over these changes — amid growing resentment on both sides over the slow movement with free agents the past two offseasons — here are the ideas I give a thumbs-up to and those that get a thumbs-down.
1. Universal DH — This is long overdue, but that opinion is coming from an American League perspective. I grew up with no DH in the AL, but after it came along in 1973 (when Orlando Cepeda was Boston’s first DH), I came around to it. It enabled older players who perhaps could no longer play the field as well as they once did to stay in the game. The Red Sox utilized it with Carl Yastrzemski. They also employed Tony Perez, another Hall of Famer, and it was fun to watch those guys.
This proposal would get thumbs up from the union, which wants more job opportunities. DH types are restricted to 15 teams now, but open it up to 30, and teams would be forced to junk their analytic models and hire good hitters who are over 30 years old.
But there’s going to be big-time resistance from traditional National League teams such as the Cardinals who have always felt that a DH in the NL is blasphemy. I remember asking commissioner Rob Manfred at the All-Star Game last season about using the DH in the NL and he said he preferred to keep it as is, as a way for each league to have its own identity. So I’m not sure if Manfred’s position has changed or that the union is pushing hard for this.
Using the DH in the NL would allow more good hitters such as Adam Jones and Evan Gattis and Jose Bautista to stay in the game longer.
2. Increased roster size — This also is long overdue. There’s a proposal to increase the size to 26 while September rosters can expand only to 28. This is better than nothing.
I’ve proposed deactivating three starting pitchers per game while still carrying a full 25-man roster. It seems silly that those starting pitchers are deadwood every game. This would allow you to carry an extra reliever or two and an extra positional player. Otherwise, you’re playing every game with 21 men (with four starting pitchers essentially unavailable).
The owners have always resisted increasing the roster size because of cost, but since they’re the ones who proposed it, evidently they’ve come around. The only time you’re allowed a 26th man now is when you have a doubleheader.
With this proposal, you’re at least acknowledging that a 25-man roster doesn’t work anymore because of the need today to carry 12 and sometimes 13 pitchers. That often leaves you with a very short bench. And teams that carry three catchers are virtually nil, except for the 2018 Red Sox.
I can see this one going through, though perhaps not until 2020.
3. Do something with the trade deadline and free agent signings — Making the Winter Meetings Great Again should be an emphasis in these talks. Give teams a deadline for making deals and signing free agents on the last day of the Winter Meetings. Create a frenzy of trades and signings on baseball’s winter stage, which would help the media who devote many resources to covering the meetings often, with little sizzle.
I like the idea that if you can’t make a deal by the end of the Winter Meetings, you can’t sign or trade anyone until mid-March. Signing or trading for players that late into spring training isn’t ideal for teams trying to allocate their resources and get their rosters together before the start of the season.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the union is trying to get one trading deadline at the All-Star break rather than the non-waiver deadline on July 31 and the Aug. 31 waiver deadline. The union believes this would force teams to make more deals in the offseason.
1. Pitchers required to face a minimum of three batters — I’ll make a trade: I’ll support this proposal if you tell me there are going to be restrictions on shifts. I hate my power-hitting lefty grounding out to right field. What an awful look for baseball. Pay Bryce Harper $300 million so he can do that over and over again? Makes no sense.
And don’t tell me that hitters need to adjust. It’s been 10 years of shifting, and most power-hitting lefties haven’t been able to do it. Ask David Ortiz. The pitchers throw too hard for batters to manipulate the bat and go the other way. Some can do it; most can’t.
Adopting this rule would virtually eliminate the situational lefty reliever who comes in to face a tough hitter and then exits. Using the situational reliever may lengthen the game because of the time it takes to make the pitching change, but we aren’t looking to eliminate jobs.
2. Twenty-second pitch clock — This is baseball. It’s not a sport that should ever have a clock. It’s the one sport that has no time limits. It’s been played this way forever.
Any type of clock isn’t going to dramatically change the pace of play or time of games. And any savings as a result of limiting mound visits are negated by instant replay — another concept I’d love to see go by the wayside.
I miss those great manager/umpire battles that Billy Martin, Earl Weaver, and Sparky Anderson would provide. That was entertainment. It’s been replaced by sitting there for two minutes waiting to see how New York will rule.