This past week, several rules changes proposed by the MLB Players Association came to light. They covered topics ranging from the designated hitter to tanking, and many of the proposed changes would shake the very core of what we’ve come to know the game of baseball to be. This article will break down the most significant proposed changes and their significance to the Brewers. Here we go:
1. Forcing Pitchers to Face at Least Three Batters
This is a rule that is aimed partly at improving pace of play while also attempting to restore the value of the starting pitcher, in my opinion. Forcing a reliever to face three batters would limit a manager’s ability to have a quick hook on a starting pitcher for a situational matchup, and also would restrict a manager from using a reliever for the first batter of the game as a matchup tactic.
The Brewers’ utilization of relievers would certainly be altered if this rule change were implemented. For example, Craig Counsell used Dan Jennings as an “opener” this season, where he would face the lefty batters that led off the game and then was removed. This would eliminate that strategic option. Counsell also loves to play the matchup game with his relievers, and was not shy about inserting a new reliever just for one batter if the left/right splits suggested he do it.
2. The DH Being Installed in the NL
This rule would see the designated hitter become a league-wide policy, rather than just existing in the American League. As the Commissioner’s Office wants more offense to hopefully drive more fan interest (debatable), adding the DH to the NL would be an easy way to attempt that. It also would eliminate the injury risk that pitchers currently face while batting and running the bases.
This would have the largest immediate impact on the Brewers, as it would completely change the way they would have to construct their roster. The Brewers likely would need to find a starting caliber DH, as I don’t think they would feel comfortable assigning that role to anyone on their current roster. This would involve either a free agent signing or a trade, and could make older free agents more appealing to the Brewers if they knew that they had the fallback option of playing them at DH if their skills in the field deteriorated down the stretch. In terms of in-game strategy, it definitely would change the way the Brewers would pitch to hitters, as there no longer would be the option of intentionally walking a batter to face the pitcher.
3. Expansion of Rosters to 26 Players and Limiting September Rosters to 28
Currently, MLB teams are afforded 25 players on their active roster. This has led to a lot of manipulation using the disabled list and minor-league options over the past couple of years, as teams would send down a relief pitcher after a long outing so that they would have a fresh arm in the bullpen. There have also been complaints previously about rosters expanding to 40 in September, with some saying that it creates a playing environment that differs too much from the rest of the season.
The Brewers would be greatly affected by this. They were one team that religiously exchanged relievers between their Triple-A club and the major leagues due to usage, so this would likely eliminate some of the need for that. In addition, the Brewers’ September surge to first place largely was bolstered by their ability to have the majority of their 40-man roster on the bench. It gave them the opportunity to give Corey Knebel another chance after his demotion to the minors, and he became arguably their most dominant reliever down the stretch. It also allowed them to creatively deploy their bullpen, which they took advantage of greatly. By the time the Brewers got to the playoffs, it seemed difficult to imagine the team being whittled down to just 25 players, as you could see the clear function of each one’s place on the roster. Were this rule in place in 2018, the Brewers may not have become division champions.
4. Having a Single Trade Deadline
Currently, MLB has two trade deadlines: the July 31st non-waiver deadline, and the August 31st waiver deadline. With this current set-up, July 31st acts as the deadline for teams to decide whether they want to go the extra mile to make themselves “contenders” for that year to bolster the roster. Teams are also allowed to make trades after July 31st, but the player involved must go through waivers.
With this proposed rule change, the MLB is trying mainly to force teams to win early in the season to establish themselves, while also preventing them from selling off talent later in the season if they fall out of contention.
This would mainly affect the Brewers in trying to acquire talent during contending years. If fewer teams can gauge whether they are in contention, fewer assets may be available on the trade market. It also would prevent them from committing to a rebuild late in a season if they are not in contention. David Stearns would certainly feel the heat from this one.
5. Punishing Tanking Teams with Draft Penalties
At the moment, the MLB has no way to penalize a team for tanking. In fact, tanking is viewed by executives around the league as a mere byproduct of a rebuilding process, where a team will tear down their MLB roster to acquire young, minor league assets that can return them to contention in the coming years. While this may be an effective way to become competitive, it hurts those team’s on-field product drastically.
To attempt to rectify this situation, the union suggests that any team who loses 90+ games in consecutive years would fall 15 places from their allotted draft slot. A team picking 5th would drop all the way to 20th, which would greatly hurt their chances of acquiring an elite-level prospect. This is meant to incentivize teams not only to try during the regular season, but also to make changes necessary in the off-season to ensure they do not have a disastrous season. From the union’s side, this is likely a response to free agents receiving below-market pay days even when many losing teams could use their services. For the Brewers, this does not look to be an issue at the moment, but could turn into one if they attempt another rebuild at some point in the future.
While none of these rule changes are set in stone, and almost certainly aren’t on the table for 2019, they all clearly point to a couple main objectives MLB is trying to accomplish. First, they want to make the league more uniformly competitive. By establishing an earlier trade deadline and punishing teams in the draft for consecutive poor seasons, they will attempt to force teams to make more decisions that will impact the team’s success in the short term. Second, they want to continue to improve the on-field product in the eyes of the fan. Adding the DH would add more offense, which MLB thinks would drive fan interest (although I do not agree). In addition, forcing pitchers to face three batters would improve pace of play.
Who knows what will ultimately become of these talks, but it sounds like meaningful change will be coming to baseball in the near future.