Opening Day of the 2019 MLB season is less than two months away, but there remains a chance that dramatic rule changes could be implemented before the regular season begins.

MLB rule changes proposal
A three-batter minimum for all pitchers could limit the effectiveness of lefty specialists like Scott Alexander of the Los Angeles Dodgers. (Image: Harry How/Getty)

According to multiple media reports, both Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have submitted proposals that could change the sport by increasing the pace of play and giving teams more incentive to field competitive rosters.

MLB Proposes Three-Batter Minimum for Pitchers

According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, MLB officials made a Jan. 14 proposal to the players’ union that included a number of pace of play suggestions. In response, the Players Association sent its own proposal back to the league on Friday, addressing concerns about the manipulation of service-time and the competitive integrity of the sport.

Of all the proposals that are on the table, the most striking would be a requirement that pitchers must either finish an inning or pitch to a minimum of three batters before being taken out of a game.

Such a change would limit the ability for managers to repeatedly play matchups in the late innings, in particular limiting the effectiveness of left-handed specialists who typically come in to face one or two lefties and are then taken out of the game. It could also impact the use of “openers,” a new trend in baseball last year in which a short reliever was used to begin a game before the traditional starter was brought in.

The number of times this rule would come into play may be relatively low. According to Rosenthal’s report, there were only five games in which starting pitchers went fewer than three batters during the 2018 regular season, and only 14.1 percent of all relief appearances lasted less than three batters. Nonetheless, limiting pitcher substitutions could shorten games on average, and might even help reverse the rising strikeout totals in baseball over the past decade.

Players Association Open to Universal DH

On the other side of the equation, the MLB Players Association’s proposal included the adoption of a universal designated hitter. This would mean that National League games would also feature the DH, something that has been a part of American League baseball since 1973.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has previously said that momentum was building towards implementing the DH throughout baseball, though he has also said that it would be a difficult decision to eliminate non-DH baseball entirely at the MLB level.

The dueling sets of proposals also featured a number of other potential changes that the league could consider.

MLB officials again proposed implementing a 20-second pitch clock to speed up the pace of play, something Manfred has the right to do unilaterally – though many players have come out against the idea, which may have stayed his hand so far. One compromise that has been floated would be to only use the clock when there were no runners on base.

Trade Deadline, Roster Size on the Table

Other proposals could impact competitive balance, roster construction, and other structural issues in the game. The union suggested moving the trade deadline to before the All-Star break, which would force teams to focus more on the early part of the season – and hopefully encourage them to spend in free agency during the offseason as a result. Players have also suggested draft penalties for teams who consistently finish with poor records year after year.

Meanwhile, the league has offered to increase roster sizes to 26 players per team – with a maximum of 12 pitchers – as a way to give the union something in exchange for the MLB proposals. The league would also limit September roster expansion to just 28 players; currently, major league teams can roster up to 40 men during the final month of the regular season.

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