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MLB takes steps to fix relief pitcher gluttony

By Dan Holmes    March 14, 2019

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Union have come to agreement on several rules changes designed to speed up the game and inject action.

Some changes, including a sweeping alteration of the trade deadline, will be implemented for the 2019 season. Other changes that impact roster sizes, bullpen sizes, and pitcher usage will come to the game in 2020.

Gone is the August 31st trade deadline, the so-called “late season deadline.” Baseball will now have one trade deadline, July 31st. Players will no longer have to clear waivers to be traded. The change is sure to concentrate trade activity to the month of July. It also mollifies critics of the August 31 deadline, which they said was an unfair last-second injection of talent to contending teams.

For the 2019 season MLB and the Union announced significant changes to the the way players are selected for the All-Star Game, while also increasing the money paid to players and the participants in the Home Run Derby.

More significant changes are in place for the 2020 season. Active roster sizes will increase from 25 to 26, and teams will be allowed to carry 27 active players for doubleheaders. The addition of one more player is seemingly designed to add bench depth, because a rule will also be put in place in 2020 to limit the number of pitchers on the roster. No number has been announced yet, but considering the added 26th man, if pitching staffs are limited to 13 or 12, that will add one or two more position players. Baseball has been wanting to add more pinch-hitters to inject offense and action into the game.

As part of the pitcher limits, MLB will require teams to classify each member of their roster as either a pitcher or a position player. A position player may only pitch in extreme circumstances, such as a blowout or an extra-inning game. Some players may earn “two-way player” status, a rule clearly designed with Anaheim’s Shohei Ohtani in mind.

Also in 2020, starting pitchers and relievers will be required to face a minimum of three batters OR in the case of relievers, finish the inning they enter. This rule change is significant, and designed to limit the number of one-batter relief appearances and string of pitching changes that have become common place.

In 2019 teams will lose one mound visit, going from six to five. A recent rules change that limited mound visits has not impacted the game negatively and been received well by players and fans.

Fans will also notice that in 2020 teams will only be allowed to carry 28 players after September 1st until the end of the regular season. For years, teams have been able to play anyone on their 40-man roster after September 1st. This move was made, it seems, to preserve the integrity of the pennant race and further limit excessive pitching changes.

Other rules changes will lengthen the amount of time a pitcher must stay on the injured list by five days. In recent years teams have used the injured list to shuttle pitchers back and forth while not impacting their rosters.

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About the Author

Dan Holmes is an author and baseball historian. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. He once defeated George Brett in Texas Hold Em poker and faced Phil Niekro's knuckleball. He has two daughters and he writes regularly about baseball and many other topics.

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