Rule changes set for this season and next
One trade deadline, fewer mound visits in ’19
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – In a tangible sign of cooperation between the commissioner’s office and a skeptical players’ association, MLB and the union announced several rule changes Thursday that will affect the trading deadline, the AllStar Game, roster size and on-field strategy.
The rules – some of which will not be implemented until 2020 – demonstrate that, after another winter in which many veteran free agents lingered for months on a sluggish open market, the league and the players were willing to modify their current collective bargaining agreement even though it does not expire until after the 2021 season.
“It’s just good to see both sides are working together,” said infielder Matt Duffy, union representative for the Tampa Bay Rays. “It’s good when you have cooperation on both sides of an industry. I think that creates a healthy atmosphere for the industry and the game to thrive.”
For the players, the changes are largely a prelude to a more complicated renegotiation of the financial aspects of the CBA, which the sides have agreed to discuss. But they will result in immediate differences to the sport this season, including a single trading deadline July 31.
This rule eliminates the archaic and somewhat confusing process of trade waivers, which for years had created a second summer trading period. Players can still be placed and claimed on outright waivers after July 31, according to the new rule, but cannot be traded after that date.
The league also overhauled the selection process for the All-Star Game starters and added a $2.5 million pool of bonus money for the home run derby, including $1 million for the winner. That might not be enough to motivate highly paid stars to take part, but for many young players, $1 million would dwarf their annual salary.
“I just got engaged to be married,” said Pete Alonso, a slugging Mets prospect who would earn the $555,000 minimum if he makes the team. “So that would definitely pay for the wedding costs.”
The All-Star starters (non-pitchers) will be selected in two phases: a primary round and a designated “Election Day.” In the first round, fans will vote for the starters at each position, as they have for many years. Then, on a day in late June or early July, fans will vote again, choosing from the top three vote-getters at each position in the initial round (or top nine for outfielders).
Players will receive bonuses for finishing among the top vote-getters at their position, and the bonus pool for players on the winning team will increase. If the All-Star Game goes to extra innings, each inning beyond the ninth will begin with a runner on second base, with players allowed to re-enter the game as pinch-runners.
Other changes for this season further Commissioner Rob Manfred’s goal of speeding up the pace of play. The average nine-inning game took three hours last season, down by five minutes from 2017 but still 14 minutes longer than the average game in 2005.
Pace-of-play rules for 2019 will not include a pitch clock, but will include a reduction in mound visits, from six to five, and in the time between innings. Those breaks, which still must be reviewed with broadcast rightsholders, will be reduced to two minutes for all regular-season games, from 2:05 for local telecasts and 2:20 for national telecasts.
The more significant changes will begin in 2020. Rosters will increase by one slot, to 26 players, through the end of August. In September, though, the maximum roster size will be reduced to 28, from 40.
Teams will have a limit, still to be determined, on the number of pitchers allowed on the active roster – and all pitchers will have to pitch to a minimum of three batters, or to the end of a half-inning.