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MLB Labor Negotiations: 162-Game Schedule Likely Remains

We’re just nine days away from the expiration of the MLB/MLBPA collective-bargaining agreement, but no one seems to think there’s going to be any sort of labor stoppage. If the sides don’t agree to all the terms by December 1, it seems likely that they’ll just let the current terms govern the game until they can come to a deal.

Over the weekend in the New York Times, Tyler Kepner wrote about the current negotiations and seems to think that there will be a new deal soon and it will be pretty similar to the current one:

People familiar with the latest talks, who were not authorized to speak publicly about ongoing negotiations, believe that a new C.B.A. will mostly include tweaks to the current system. [Commissioner Rob] Manfred hinted at that during a news conference in October.

“Over the last three negotiations, we have found a framework that has served the sport very well in terms of promoting competitive balance, promoting financial stability, allowing our players to continue to earn higher and higher salaries,” he said. “And within that framework, there’s a lot of ways to turn the dials to produce adjustments and change that need to be made. And I think that framework will prove to be durable over time.”

On-field issues — such as replay, sliding rules and so on — are adjusted periodically, not just during C.B.A. talks. But some differences should show up soon. The 162-game schedule will not change, although instead of taking 183 days to finish, the season may now fit it into a 187-day window. Active rosters are likely to increase to 26 players, from 25, as first reported by Fox’s Ken Rosenthal, and September rosters will most likely be capped at 28 or 29.

No doubt, everyone in the game is making big dollars these days, so there isn’t any real reason to blow things up with a work stoppage.

What I wanted to focus on here are the things mentioned in the last paragraph of that quote, specifically the schedule and roster size. These were significant issues for players, who felt, rightfully so in many cases, that the current schedule and roster size were causing player fatigue. That, in turn, would not allow the players to put out maximum effort late in seasons when they were simply run down by travel schedules, minor injuries, and similar things.

Personally, I’m glad they are maintaining the 162-game schedule. In 2017, MLB will have used that schedule for 57 seasons (56 in the National League). That means baseball’s been operating with that many games for just as long as they had the 154-game schedule (1904-60 in the A.L., 1904-61 in the N.L.). 154 made sense when you had eight-team leagues: 22 games vs. each of seven other teams. 162 made sense after the expansion to 10: 18 games vs. each of nine others, and it even worked for the six-team divisions after 1969, when you played 18 games vs. everyone in your own division (90 games) and 12 vs. everyone in the other division (72 games).

Now? There’s no real magic to 162, or 154, with interleague play and unbalanced schedules. If they wanted to change they could have picked any even number in between those two and had it right, but it makes more sense just to stick with the number they’ve got, especially since current owners weren’t likely happy about the idea about giving up revenue from home dates, nor were TV networks likely excited about losing ad revenue from lost TV dates.

If you were creating baseball from scratch right now, you probably wouldn’t play more than about 140 games, given the travel demands and the high level of performance expected from players. But with 162 games now pushing six decades of history, we’re probably stuck with it.

One note: if the “187-day window” instead of 183 is chosen, that either means a slightly longer (and earlier-starting) regular season or later postseason, the latter of which already goes into November. It might mean lopping off the last few days of spring training to get more off days into the early regular season, which I think players would like, not to mention fans in cold-weather cities. More off days would also make it easier to reschedule rainouts.

The additional roster spot will help, with one caveat. If you just let teams do as they please with that, guess what? You’re going to get an extra relief pitcher 99 percent of the time, and that means more pitching changes, more platoon advantages that work some of the time, and slower pace-of-game, which is exactly what Manfred says he doesn’t want. I don’t want to see nine- or 10-man bullpens on a regular basis, either.

So here’s my proposal to eliminate that. Once you legislate a 26-man roster, require teams to submit their first 25, same as now. After those players are set, the 26th man would be mandated to be a position player. That way, you’d give every team some bench flexibility.

The proposal to limit September rosters to 28 or 29 is a good one, too. The September call-up originated from two long-ago ideas: first, as a reward for good play in the minor leagues all year, and second, so the big club could get a look at players they hadn’t seen much all summer.

The first reason has some validity. The second no longer does, not with scouts everywhere and video available of many minor leagues.

Rosters bloating to 34 or 35 players simply makes for longer and longer games in September, with some relief appearances approaching the point of absurdity. Check out this September 2015 Giants game against the Padres in which Bruce Bochy used nine relievers in three innings after Jake Peavy had shut out San Diego on 88 pitches over the first six innings. Ridiculous, and the Giants lost the game, too. Following that game, Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly posted this plea to the commissioner to stop this sort of madness, and I have to agree with him:

If you’re going to allow expanded, 40-man rosters to continue in September, potentially changing the way managers manage at a time when games are at their most heightened, then here’s the tweak that baseball needs to make: force managers to choose a maximum of 25 active players for each game and submit the list along with the lineup card to umpires prior to the first pitch. Heck, make it 26 or 27 players. Go wild and add a 28th.

Either way, this is what you’d avoid:

–Padres send up lefty Dickerson to pinch hit.

–Giants bring in lefty Lopez.

–Padres counter with righty Upton Jr.

–Giants order intentional walk.

–Giants bring in Michael Broadway.

The Giants’ nine relievers faced a total of 19 batters. Five of them faced just one batter, and that includes Lopez’s intentional walk. That’s an average of 2.11 batters per relief pitcher before Bochy ambled to the mound yet again and ambled back, and someone else ran all the way across the field, and the in-game entertainment crew started playing Lionel Ritchie music videos on the scoreboard because they’d used up everything else.

I’ve got to agree with Baggarly’s position here. Again, you’d have to enforce some kind of rule to prevent teams from simply deactivating the starting pitchers who aren’t going that day in order to prevent the kind of shenanigans described above.

But all of these things will help players be less fatigued. One of the things Joe Maddon did throughout 2016 was give regulars rest from time to time so they’d be sharper in October. That worked pretty well, I’d say.

MLB is usually slow to address issues like this. Under Rob Manfred, they’ve picked up the pace, a little, so to speak. It’s good to see. Hopefully we see these kinds of roster tweaks in place for 2017.