Rule Changes MLB May Need To Institute In 2020
Even with the KBO playing practice games, it’s too early to know when or even if MLB is going to return in 2020. In the event baseball does return, it appears we’re going to get a limited season, and if that happens, baseball needs to make some changes.
The biggest reason for the changes is the pitching. The pitchers were ramping it up for the start of the season. Now, they’re effectively shut down and will have to ramp it back up when baseball can return. This is just asking for injuries.
After what will be an abbreviated second Spring Training, pitchers are very likely not going to be able to go full tilt to start the season. Not even the Jacob deGroms and Max Scherzers of the world. This means, MLB teams will be hitting their bullpens early and often.
Even during the best of times, teams feel like they never have enough arms in the pen. In 2020, that’ll definitely feel like the case. That goes double when you consider the new three batter minimum and the absolute cap of 13 pitchers. If you are going to keep those rules in place, and push some relievers early at the outset, you run the risk of them getting injured as well.
Honestly, baseball cannot have a situation where every team effectively becomes the Tampa Bay Rays. You can’t have 30 teams with just two starters going at least five with the rest of the team mixing and matching to figure out how to get through the other three games. It’s very likely back-end starters and relievers will not be up to the task, and that is before you consider the presence of an extra inning game which could decimate an entire bullpen.
With that in mind, at a minimum, baseball needs to immediately go to expanded rosters. Under the 2020 rules, that is only 28 players in September. If all three were pitchers, that might be enough. It might not. Perhaps to start the year, it can be bumped up to at least 30 or maybe 35 and then tier it down as the season progresses. By doing that, you are ensuring less wear and tear on arms which may lead to fewer pitcher injuries.
If baseball wants to stick with 25 or 28 man rosters, they need to find ways to make it work in light of pitcher workloads. Maybe, instead of expanding rosters, MLB could limit teams to just 25 players for one game while creating a taxi squad of three to four players who can be activated or deactivated at any time. Maybe more than that.
Again, there is going to be a strain on pitching, starters and relievers alike. The goal here is to keep pitchers healthy as baseball does not want there to be ramifications for the 2020 season spilling into 2021 and 2022. Overall, baseball wants its best players on the field.
To prevent abuses, there could be a rule where there must be five pitchers designated as starters who must always be active, and there can be provisions put in place to designate a pitcher a starter (akin to the two-way player rule). If need be, there can also be provisions on how long a reliever must be “active” once removed from the taxi squad.
The institution of a taxi squad could have an added benefit. Right now, MLB and the MLBPA are trying to figure out issues related to compensation and service time. By instituting a taxi squad, there will be an avenue to give some extra players more service time and compensation. That could go a long ways towards positively resolving those issues before baseball is ready to return.
Now, baseball has said they want to play a full 162 game slate. At some point, that may not be possible. When the red line is for when teams cannot play 162 games is up for debate, both publicly and as part of the MLB/MLBPA discussions.
In any event, it is clear baseball will want to play as many games as possible, and that may require doubleheaders to be played. There are other reasons to play doubleheaders for teams as well.
First and foremost, it may behoove teams to stay in one place for longer as airline and rail travel gets sorted out after this coronavirus outbreak. Obviously, there are going to be many logistical issues there. Perhaps by having doubleheaders, you eliminate some of those logistical issues.
The bigger point, as baseball may be concerned, is the possibility of more revenue. Doubleheaders means more commercial time. If you can do a day/night multiple admission, that means two gates. Of course, that assumes fans can go to games at all, and being honest, that may be too many people in a ballpark in one day. Still, if it’s possible, you know baseball will find that revenue stream.
Really, baseball wants to play as many games as possible, and in the end, that may just require doubleheaders. What can be done in terms of admission and the like is still up for debate. To that end, the need for doubleheaders, or even shoehorning in as many games as possible over a few calendar months, only serves to highlight the need for expanded rosters and taxi squads to help prevent pitcher injuries.
Altered Postseason Format
It is going to be difficult to justify playing games into late November or early December. That may only be possible with Northeast teams playing at neutral sites in Miami or San Diego. Assuming fans can attend games, it is going to be difficult to tell Mets fans they need to go to San Diego to watch their team try to win their first World Series since 1986.
If you’re baseball, that isn’t going to work, and they are going to need to figure something else out.
One thing they could do is a greatly expanded postseason. If anything, this could be a beta test of the new postseason format Rob Manfred wanted to try anyway. They could have fewer regular season games while selling their TV partners of a greatly expanded postseason. That could help them overcome some of the financial issues they may face.
They could also condense the postseason somehow, but honestly, no one anywhere is going to go for that.
In the end, more postseason games and fewer regular season games may be the trade-off baseball, the players, and TV partners may wind up agreeing to in an effort to generate ratings and increased revenues. We may also see some series, like the NLDS, played in one park due to travel restrictions and the like. Who knows?
The who knows part of this is the driving force. No one knows when or if games can be played. No one knows what if anything players are able to do to stay in game shape. No one knows if fans can attend games or the restrictions on travel when games can return.
The key for baseball getting through this COVID19 crisis is to be flexible and responsive to the challenges which have arisen and may still arise. Honestly, that is not something which has ever been baseball’s strength, especially not under Rob Manfred.
In the end, we can only hope games will be played and that we get to see as many games as we can as soon as they can possibly be played.