In a tangible sign of cooperation between the commissioner’s office and a skeptical players’ association, Major League Baseball and the union announced several rule changes on Thursday that will affect the trading deadline, the All-Star Game, roster size and on-field strategy.
The rules — some of which will not be implemented until 2020 — demonstrate that, after another winter in which many veteran free agents lingered for months on a sluggish open market, the league and the players were willing to modify their current collective bargaining agreement even though it does not expire until after the 2021 season.
“It’s just good to see both sides are working together,” said infielder Matt Duffy, the union representative for the Tampa Bay Rays. “It’s good when you have cooperation on both sides of an industry. I think that creates a healthy atmosphere for the industry and the game to thrive.”
For the players, the changes are largely a prelude to a more complicated renegotiation of the financial aspects of the C.B.A., which the sides have agreed to discuss. But they will result in immediate differences to the sport this season, including a single trading deadline on July 31.
This rule eliminates the archaic and somewhat confusing process of trade waivers, which for years had created a second summer trading period. Players can still be placed and claimed on outright waivers after July 31, according to the new rule, but cannot be traded after that date.
The league also overhauled the selection process for the All-Star Game starters and added a $2.5 million pool of bonus money for the home run derby, including $1 million for the winner. That might not be enough to motivate highly paid stars to take part, but for many young players, $1 million would dwarf their annual salary.
“I just got engaged to be married,” said Pete Alonso, a slugging Mets prospect who would earn the $555,000 minimum if he makes the team. “So that would definitely pay for the wedding costs.”
The All-Star starters (non-pitchers) will be selected in two phases: a primary round and a designated “Election Day.” In the first round, fans will vote for the starters at each position, as they have for many years. Then, on a day in late June or early July, fans will vote again, choosing from the top three vote-getters at each position in the initial round (or top nine for outfielders).
Players will receive bonuses for finishing among the top vote-getters at their position, and the bonus pool for players on the winning team will increase. If the All-Star Game goes to extra innings, each inning beyond the ninth will begin with a runner on second base, with players allowed to re-enter the game as pinch-runners.
Other changes for this season further Commissioner Rob Manfred’s goal of speeding up the pace of play. The average nine-inning gametook three hours last season, down by five minutes from 2017 but still 14 minutes longer than the average game in 2005.
Pace-of-play rules for 2019 will not include a pitch clock, but will include a reduction in mound visits, from six to five, and in the time between innings. Those breaks, which still must be reviewed with broadcast rights-holders, will be reduced to two minutes for all regular-season games, from 2:05 for local telecasts and 2:20 seconds for national telecasts.
The more significant changes will begin in 2020. Rosters will increase by one slot, to 26 players, through the end of August. In September, though, the maximum roster size will be reduced to 28, from 40.
“September games are a little outrageous at times, especially when you get two teams that are really competing for a postseason spot,” Duffy said. “They want to give themselves the best chance to win a game, and if that means bringing in five or six relievers in one inning, they’ve got them down there, why not use them? I think you’re going to see a little more realistic games in September.
“And the reality is,” he added, “to have 80 percent of your season be decided in a certain way and then all of a sudden in the most important games, everything flips completely — that’s a little weird, too.”
Teams will have a limit, still to be determined, on the number of pitchers allowed on the active roster — and all pitchers will have to pitch to a minimum of three batters, or to the end of a half-inning. Yankees reliever Zack Britton said players were conflicted on that rule, which M.L.B. will impose on its own with the union agreeing to not challenge it.
“It changes strategy, for sure,” Britton said. “I think nowadays there’s not as many specialized pitchers that are just righty or just lefty. But obviously, if there are guys out there, it limits their role and job opportunity.”
Then again, Britton said, the addition of a 26th roster spot effectively creates another job for the union.
“Adding one guy to the roster the whole year adds a bunch of players that are going to get to arbitration sooner or hit free agency sooner,” Britton said. “It allows you to give some of your players some days off, especially adding a position player or bench guy.”
Many people in baseball had assumed the 26th man would be part of the last collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect before the 2017 season. For the Kansas City Royals, a team that relies more on speed than other teams, the extra spot would make it easier to put a pinch-runner on the roster.
“For example, we’re going to carry Terrance Gore to start the season, for sure,” General Manager Dayton Moore said last week, referring to a player with one career hit but 32 stolen bases, including the postseason. “Although Terrance has made a lot of strides as somebody who could potentially be utilized as an extra outfielder, you’d feel a lot better about that if there was a 26th man.”
The changes for 2020 also include restrictions on position players pitching, limiting those appearances to extra innings or games in which the pitcher’s team trails (or leads) by at least six runs. The injured list for pitchers will also be returned to 15 days, from 10, as it has been for all players since 2017.