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MLB’s Likely Going To Have Some Rule Changes In 2017

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Are you ready for some potentially major changes in the way the game is played?

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

All of us, I think, are focused on the Cubs and their upcoming postseason play, and the hope that this, at last, will be the year that they can bring the World Series title home to Chicago.

While all this is going on, Major League Baseball moguls are discussing possible changes to rules, the way the game is played, and other things that could make baseball in 2017 and beyond quite different than the way it is now. As you know, the MLB/MLBPA collective-bargaining agreement expires December 1 and some of these things could be part of the negotiations.

So I thought that while we wait for tonight’s Cubs game against the Reds, I’d present some of these ideas to you. Having said that, these aren’t my ideas nor are they necessarily things I’d favor. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com recently wrote an article detailing some of these potential changes. It’s an Insider article so many of you won’t be able to read it, and yes, consider the source. But Bowden writes:

I have chatted with several GMs and execs the past few weeks, and most of them have told me they're resigned to the fact that the game must change and improve to generate more interest for the next generation. That means all aspects of the game, including pace of play and shorter commercial breaks. Although they don't agree with all the ideas being floated, those I talked with are supportive of commissioner Rob Manfred, and many are open to the changes that could take place this offseason.

There are 10 potential changes listed in Bowden’s article. Not all of them are things that would be part of a labor negotiation and some of them are "down-the-road" ideas (notably, expansion, which Manfred has said in the past is likely coming, though not in the immediate future).

Here are the 10 things mentioned by Bowden:

  1. September roster expansion
  2. A pitch clock and hitters staying in the box
  3. Pitching change limitations
  4. Trips to the mound
  5. Intentional walks
  6. Cut down between-inning dead time, but find new ways to advertise
  7. Improve instant replay
  8. DH or no DH
  9. Expansion
  10. Seven-inning games

(Note: the final item in this list is Bowden’s idea alone and he writes that he realizes it has "zero chance" of ever being implemented, and I’d never want to see it.)

A few details on each of the points above:

For September roster expansion, Bowden proposes to have the same roster size for the entire season — but make it a minimum of 25 and maximum of 30, for flexibility throughout the season. I could get behind this.

Pitch clocks have been used in the minor leagues and the Arizona Fall League. Bowden suggests this one is very likely coming.

Regarding pitching change limitations:

The league's lefty specialists better learn to get right-handed hitters out because it looks like there's enough support among clubs to implement a new rule requiring pitchers to finish an inning or face a minimum of three batters unless injured. Naturally, that could lead to "fake" injuries popping up, especially during playoff races, which is an issue that will have to be dealt with. Here's an idea: If a relief pitcher leaves a game due to injury, he must sit out a minimum number (two or three) of additional games.

Similarly, a rule change regarding trips to the mound might require a manager to make a pitching change on one visit, rather than the current two.

You likely remember hearing about a proposal to signal "intentional walk" and a hitter would simply take his base, rather than wait for four pitches thrown outside the zone. I wrote here back in May why this is a bad idea -- the intent is apparently to increase the pace of games, but how long does it take to throw four pitches outside the zone? 30 seconds? Another pitcher, the NationalsA.J. Cole, threw a wild pitch during an intentional pass a couple of weeks ago. It’s part of the game that shouldn’t be removed, in my opinion.

Bowden suggests "in-game ads, patches on hats, jerseys or pants, or creative advertising that somehow flashes on the playing field without affecting the game" might be a way to keep revenue coming in if "dead time" such as "the number of warm-up pitches a pitcher gets and/or eliminating throwing the ball around after a throw-down to second" are cut. I’d think the advertising Bowden mentions might be coming anyway, and cutting out the things he notes aren’t really going to help the pace of the game that much. It’s the constant stepping out by hitters, in my view, that slows the game down. The pitch clock mentioned above could help that.

Regarding replay review, Bowden suggests assigning a review umpire to each game (he doesn’t say whether that would be on-site or in the review center) to help speed reviews. To me, the best way to fix review would be to put a time limit on it. If you can’t figure it out during the length of an inning break (about two and a half minutes), then it’s "call stands."

Here’s what Bowden writes about the DH:

According to my sources, at least three-quarters of MLB teams think there should be one rule across both leagues, but teams are split on which rule they prefer. Although a majority of managers seem to like the game without the DH, the union is in favor of keeping the rule.

You know how I feel about this and I won’t belabor it. Most likely, it’s going to wind up as status quo.

Finally, expansion is going to come, though I’d guess it could be five to 10 years away. 16-team leagues are much easier for scheduling purposes; you’d no longer need year-round interleague play and September games would be almost entirely within your division.

There's one thing I think Bowden has left out. He writes that many of these things are being considered because MLB moguls want to "generate more interest for the next generation." The biggest thing they could do, in my opinion, to accomplish that is to stop unleashing the lawyers every time someone posts a GIF or video of a ballgame. The "next generation" wants to consume the sport on TV and mobile devices without all the arcane restrictions MLB now has. Want to engage younger people? Let them do that!

Now it’s your turn. I’ve posted a poll here so you can vote on the ONE thing you’d change (out of Bowden’s 10) if you could.