In what has turned into a dreaded tradition this time of year, the Commissioner’s Office of Major League Baseball has announced several new rule changes that will go into effect this season. But before I get into those, I would like to address two rules that were discussed quite a bit this offseason but were not ultimately enacted into law. First, there will be no banning of shifts in 2019. I, for one, am glad that the shift will be around for the foreseeable future. I believe it is important for hitters to learn all the fundamentals of hitting, like being able to take the ball the other way or lay down a bunt to beat the shift. Banning the shift would lead to future hitters who are single-dimensional and less versatile. It would also lead to more hits and runs, slowing down the game that the commissioner is trying to speed up and taking a certain level of strategy out of the equation. The other rule that we will not be seeing in 2019, but will go into effect in 2020, is a required minimum of three batters that a reliever must face per appearance. Baseball traditionalists are surely rolling over in their graves at this one, and I can’t say that I blame them. This rule will take power out of the hands of managers and force left-handed specialists to learn how to get righties out as well. Opposing managers will be tasked with how to utilize pinch hitters since traditional matchups may not be an option all of the sudden.
What will be in place this summer are a single July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, an All-Star election day, and a Home Run Derby with a $1 million bonus awaiting the winner (now we really can’t let Bryce Harper win again). The union hopes that one mid-season deadline, instead of two, will cause teams to be more aggressive in the offseason knowing that August deals will no longer be an option. After the offseason we just had, I am all for this new system of trading to encourage pro-activeness on the part of GMs. As for the new system of All-Star voting, I kind of like the idea of a one-day runoff between the top three online vote-getters. Encouraging social media campaigning could be a fun way for fans to interact with players on Election Day. And throwing money into the equation for the Home Run Derby is okay, I guess, but I still think they should focus on raising as much money as possible for people in need in the host city. In my opinion, the contestants have always taken the Derby seriously, and the show has always been entertaining, even without monetary incentive. So, once again, the money could be going to charity. But the rule that is likely to have the biggest impact on the game, from this newest agreement, comes in 2020 with regular season rosters expanding from 25 to 26 players and September rosters shrinking from 40 players all the way down to 28. The league has proposed that 13 out of 26 roster spots from Opening Day until September may be reserved for pitchers, and 14 out of the 28 in September can be used for pitchers. The dramatic decrease in September rosters makes the three-batter minimum rule that much more important because teams won’t be able to carry nearly as many pitchers in September as before. On the other hand, the addition of one regular season roster spot is important to prevent injuries in the long term. Finally, I believe the National League needs to finally adopt the DH, but that is a topic of discussion for another day.