MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has never shied away from attempts to modernize the way baseball is played. His concerted effort to speed up the pace of play has been well chronicled, for instance, from experimenting with pitch clocks to limiting the number of mound visits in each game.
On Tuesday, though, we learned of perhaps the most impactful of proposed changes we’ve yet seen under his command. As The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal laid out in detail, the commish and the MLB Players Association are considering several significant alterations to the way rosters are built and games are played, with a three-batter requirement for all pitchers and universal DH being kicked around as rule changes that could be put in place as early as this 2019 season. Rosenthal later discussed these proposed changes on MLB Network, too.
As the bow-tied wonder noted in his article, these were just two of the proposed changes that were listed in dueling proposals - one from the MLBPA, one from the commisioner’s office - that listed a litany of potential changes, from penalties for not winning enough (anti-tanking, in essence), addressing service time manipulation (helloooo, Nick Senzel’s rookie season), and others. From a shock-value perspective, though, eliminating LOOGYs and adding the DH to the National League sure do seem to be the headlines here.
The LOOGY issue is one that I can somewhat embrace, since endles pitching changes do tend to add minutes to each game played, as do the subsequent counter moves by opposing managers to get better matchups at the plate. From the perspective of the Cincinnati Reds, that’s currently a rule change that might carry some immediate significance, since their pending deal with potential LOOGY Zach Duke has been on hold for going on a week now. The other lefties they currently feature on the roster that are in-line for bullpen work - Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, and Brandon Finnegan, primarily - all have histories of starting, though, and so this is not a rule change that suddenly would render a significant portion of the current roster irrelevant for the upcoming season. That’s a good thing.
As for the DH in the National League, well, that’s a much touchier subject. I’ve long been on the side that neither league should sport an option to have a guy hit for 9 innings without having to use a glove, and have spent most of my life against the idea of an NL DH. Of course, that was also a sentiment I picked up during the years when starting pitchers routinely threw 200 innings a year, bullpen usage was significantly lower, and teams more often than not carried as many as 14-15 position players. Getting those bench players involved through strategic managing and active pinch-hitting was an aspect of the game I’ve always enjoyed, and that was largely behind my reasoning to be adverse to the DH. In today’s game, though, when so much more of the roster is used up by burgeoning bullpen arms, that leaves little room for a large bench, and in that context I think I’m much more inclined to embrace the idea of an NL DH. If anything, I do think it’d be nice to see both leagues play by the same rules, since MLB is still intent on interleague play year-round.
(Not to mention that if the Reds were to see this rule take shape as early as the 2019 season, they’d be in a pretty good spot to manage it. There are only two teams in all MLB at the moment that have two position players over the age of 34 who are making more than $20 million in 2019 - the New York Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds, and only one currently gets to use the DH.)
I do also wonder if the consideration of these two large rule changes is a way to circumvent the would-be dumb decision to obliterate shifting on defense. Allowing NL teams to keep a more potent bat in the lineup all game is, in theory, a pro-offense move, as is prohibiting the use of specialized lefties for one left-handed hitter at a time. Considering the initial concept of banning shifts was because it had inhibited left-handed hitting offensively, perhaps these are tandem considerations that make more sense to put in place than arbitrarily trying to tell defensive players where they can and cannot stand. In that context, I’m even more inclined to think the new proposal is more reasonable.
Perhaps this is also a mutual ploy by both parties to ramp up the investment in veteran free agent hitters, who generally carry a bit more name value as DHs than LOOGYs generally do. If there’s one opening on a 25 man roster for, say, Curtis Granderson, Adam Jones, or Carlos Gonzalez, that tends to provide 15 more chances for big names like those to stay in the game, and that does sound more appealing to the average fan than, say, the Dukes or Boone Logans of the baseball world. Not to mention the obvious impact for NL teams that are looking to sign star hitters to long-term contracts and would now have more piece of mind that they can keep their bats in the lineup long after their glovework has begun to decline.
It’s certainly a major set of changes that teams and players will have to consider, but this time around they do seem to have some decent reasoning behind them. On top of that, it appears the Reds might well be in perfect position to adapt to them immediately, should they get put in place in time for 2019. Perhaps these have been rumored for much longer than we, the general public, has known, and that might well be why the free agent market for so many players has been dragging out all winter long.