What to make of MLB's sudden new rule changes

Rob Bradford
March 14, 2019 - 6:52 am

You wanted change, you got at least a little change.

According to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and ESPN's Jeff Passan Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players' Association have agreed upon two fairly significant adjustments, neither of which impact the actual game itself.

The most immediate alteration will be the elimination of the waiver trade deadline, now leaving MLB with just one deadline, that coming on July 31. That will kick off this season. The other change is an expansion of rosters to 26 players (with a maximum of 13 pitchers), also shrinking expanded September rosters from 40 players to 28 (with a 14-pitcher maximum). This won't take effect until 2020.

Part of the union's motivation for limiting MLB to one trade deadline is a hope teams might prioritize building their teams in the offseason more with the understanding there won't be a safety net waiting in the final two months of the regular season.

It certainly will make July more interesting with clubs knowing that their best feet better be placed forward heading into August. Suffer a significant injury in August and the only place teams will be able to turn is their own organizations.

With the Red Sox, Dave Dombrowski hasn't been very active in the August trade market, making two trades. The first came when he sent outfielder Alejandro De Aza to the Giants for minor-league pitcher Luis Ysla in 2015. And then he went out and got a potential postseason base-stealing threat in Rajai Davis in 2017.

During the Red Sox' 2013 World Series run they made two August deals, getting pinch-runner Quintin Berry and veteran infielder John McDonald.

As for the roster expansion, it's a move that may diminish the need for utility players, and amp up the specialization of relief pitching, while also bringing some sanity back to September baseball. 

Passan also reports that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to open discussions on how to address current labor issues despite the CBA not set to expire until after the 2021 season. The frustration regarding how the business of baseball is unfolding is reaching an all-time high with the players, as was articulated by J.D. Martinez when recently talking to WEEI.com.

"We just gotta go to the drawing board," he said. "The players' association comes, sits down with the CBA, and we gotta figure out how we're going to counter it. The game has to change. We have to incentivize to win, not to lose.

"Losing is incentivized now. You have 80 percent of the teams trying to lose. We were at a point where we were getting paid well and everything was fair. We saw where the product was going, everything was moving forward. Then we're like, 'OK, we're not going to push the envelope fighting for money. Let's fight for an extra bus.' Again, I was a lot younger than I am now. I wasn't aware of those things. When you get older, you go through arbitration, you start seeing it affect you directly, and you get a lot more involved. This has definitely been eye-opening to everyone. Not just myself, but all of the players. There obviously have to be some changes.

"There's nothing we can do now. It's going to be like this for the next three years. But it's what they wanted. We've got to make sure we have our ducks aligned for 2021. I think the public knows. (Commissioner Rob) Manfred and that side is going to have lots of things to think about on their end, and the players' association will have a lot of things to think about on our end."

It always seemed odd that once September rolled around and the pennant races heated up the rules basically changed, with the lesser teams running out a wave of untested and unproven minor-leaguers against the top rosters.

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