In mid-January, MLB suggested a number of changes to the game, highly unusual with three seasons still remaining on a CBA. And then without missing a beat, the MLB Players Association responded and brought up some ideas of its own on how to better the game and its working conditions. These dueling exchanges of ideas were made public by a bevy of the game's best writers: ESPN's Jeff Passan, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and then even more detail was unveiled by The Athletic's Jayson Stark.
It was curious for both sides to exchange such broad-stroke ideas that would fundamentally change the action on the field and the economics within the game. But it's also a very positive occurrence that the two sides -- which are seen as heading toward a battle when the CBA expires in December 2021 -- started the long process to chip away at some of this big stuff.
So, let's take an initial look at the major ideas that are being put on the table to chew on:
Three-Batter Minimum For Pitchers
Of the initial ideas laid out in Passan's ESPN piece, this is the most significant change to the game. If implemented, this might not render the left-handed relief specialist extinct, but it certainly is a bold gambit at trying to hurry up the pace of play.
But the real goal here is to take a swing at getting more offense in a game that has become more and more stagnant. There were more strikeouts than hits in 2018, the first time that has happened in the history of the game.
With relief pitchers pitching more innings every year, this, if done in conjunction with some of the other suggested changes, might help add more offense back into the game by forcing relievers into some unfavorable matchups.
Universal Designated Hitter
In all of baseball, the National League is now the only entity I know of that calls upon the pitcher to bat. Supposedly, MLB has wanted to open discussions immediately on this and implement the rule this season. That has made it a non-starter for now. But this very well could be put into place by 2020 or 2021 without waiting for the CBA to expire.
This is again an attempt by management to breathe life into offense in baseball. The offense provided by pitchers who bat is almost non-existent. Adding a DH to the mix for the 15 teams that normally bat the pitcher, ironically, will not speed up the pace of play at all. In fact, this will do just the opposite.
But the real hidden meaning here is the offer by MLB management of adding 15 more highly paid players to the game. Keep this in mind when we tackle the proposal to add a 26th player to all 30 teams.
Expansion Of Rosters To 26 Players (12-Pitcher Maximum)
MLB owners and leadership aren't dumb; they realize the players have to regain some footing within this next CBA. Watching the lackluster results of free agents during the past two offseasons, the MLBPA is seething and hell-bent on making up economic ground the players have apparently lost.
MLB teams have moved more and more into the use of analytics, and that has shed light on how horrible some of the long-term contracts have been and the role a player's age plays in those contracts. Adding one more spot to the roster would add 30 low-paying jobs to the industry and will be seen as a win, especially when coupled with another 15 new, more highly paid DH jobs.
Twenty-Second Pitch Clock
This seems to be MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's driven attempt to make the game more crisply played. This very well may happen, but it's insanity to think this will help much without pushing for electronically called balls and strikes. Now that would speed up the game like nothing else being talked about.
Study To Lower The Mound
The height of the mound hasn't changed since after the 1968 season when Denny McClain won 31 games and Bob Gibson had a season-long ERA of 1.12. This, again, is another attempt to add offense, and the idea has now morphed into a second discussion about moving the pitcher's mound back by 3-6 inches in an attempt to neutralize pitchers, almost all of whom are hitting 95-plus mph with their fastballs.
I heard catcher Stephen Vogt discuss this on a radio show, and he wasn't biting on either aspect of this proposed change. He said he'd have to really understand a lot more about what both of these proposals might do to pitchers' health and well-being. He also made the point that this would task high schools and colleges with changing their mounds because you simply couldn't have different heights and distances across the sport.
These five ideas and the suggestions about a single trade deadline before the All-Star break, allowing two-sport stars to sign major league contracts and implementing draft advantages for winning teams and penalties for losing teams are simply chips being put on the table at this point.
As we get closer to the end of this CBA, I believe the MLBPA will push for three major changes: raising the minimum salary for players, bumping up pay increases for second- and third-year players and, most importantly, reducing the number of years before a player can become a free agent from six to four. I suspect owners will try to hold the line at six years but could eventually compromise with the players at five.
If the free-agent market has been slowed not by collusion but by every team's analytics department reaching similar conclusions, then players must be allowed to earn more money on the way up since their age is going to be used against them at the back end of their careers.
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Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 251: February 2019