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Are MLB’s proposed rule changes Rob Manfred's Trojan horse?

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What does the commissioner want from the MLBPA?

Al Yellon

MLB Connissioner Rob Manfred recently sent out some proposed rule changes he'd be willing to swap out for delaying the pitch clock. What's amusing to me is how few of these rule changes have anything to do with the players. Most of the rules are because league executives have become very deft about working around rules.

Let’s go change-by-change. Rob Manfred wants to “install” or “re-install” the following.

The injured list returning to 15 days

The list was 15 days long, until owners voted to move it to 10. Perceiving it more flexible, general managers turned the Disabled List (now Injured List) into a de facto taxi squad. Manfred appears livid that his bosses can’t control their own decision-makers. If Manfred doesn’t like that the executives are working around his rules, fine them. They’re the ones he’s angry with, here. The players aren’t manipulating the injured list. Fine or suspend the deviates who are.

Extend the assignment period to the minor leagues to 15 days

When I started following major league baseball in the late 1960s, teams didn’t have 35 guys in their system ready to play big-league ball. Now, some teams do. Teams have become really good at developing talent. Because decision-makers have spent money, time, and technology on seeing to it that multiple minor league players can fill in at the MLB level, they toggle up and down. It’s, somehow, bad that more players are good.

A single trade deadline of July 31

At some point along the line, last season, I took “late season trades” to be inevitable into the future. Teams with luxury relievers trade them to contenders, and get prospects in return. It’s cool for the player, who likely gets a coin-flip at a division race if he’s pitching well as a free agent. He signs for the best offer, knowing he’ll get dealt if useful.

By pushing to get rid of August trades, Manfred punishes players, again, for executives doing their jobs well. The contenders kept adding relievers in August, and kept shoving non-performers on the DL. Suddenly, as September rolled around, contenders had a legitimate 35 players-plus who were game valid. Instead of punishing the executives who made their teams better, Manfred wants to make another end-run.

28-man roster in September

This wasn’t a problem when I grew up. For whatever reasons, teams didn’t expand rosters with such vulgarity. Perhaps owners allow their executives to call up a bench-full of players because owners now realize winning is more profitable than third place. If the Commissioner really doesn’t want 15-man September bullpens, suspend the general manager for calling up a 15th reliever in September. This isn’t the players’ fault.

Three-batter minimums for relievers

About 25 years ago, teams started to realize that a reliever who threw one or two pitches at high and varied velocities for 20 or so pitches was useful. Eventually, players like these began to replace the “three-inning capable” former starter that threw sinkers and sliders, but maxed out at 89 miles per hour. I remember Warren Brusstar and Chuck Rainey pitching for the Cubs.

The players are only at fault here, because they throw harder out of the bullpen than relievers used to. At some point, teams began to prioritize relievers in the draft. Which led to better relievers in college. Relievers are being selected in the June draft in the fourth round. College leverage relievers used to be high-80s guys who couldn’t get hitters out as starters. Now, entire college bullpens throw 92 plus.

Fewer mound visits

This is largely on the players and managers. It’s better to legislate mound visits than to punish managers for needless trips to the mound to swap out a pitcher in the middle of the eighth inning during a 9-2 game.

Baseball has its problems. Games drag on far longer than had been the case. For many, that’s a problem. The hiccup, again, is that longer games are more desirable for winning, but less desirable for casual watching. Back when, nobody cared if Don Kessinger drew many walks or not. People wanted to escape to a ballgame, and get away from life for a day. Hopefully you won, and maybe you saw a spectacular play.

At some point, those evil executives realized that if they created a team full of patient hitters, they could wear out the opposition’s bullpen. Five relievers weren’t enough anymore. It climbed to six, seven, then eight. While players are probably more willing to watch a good pitch on strike one than they should be, executives aren’t going back.

Ten- or eleven-pitch innings used to be somewhat regular. Decision-makers prioritized players that watched “pitchers strikes”. Games dragged on, because executives realized they were more likely to win a game where the opposition threw 160 pitches, and they threw merely 110. The executives turned MLB games into four-hour excursions. If the players swing too often, they’re possibly out of a job.

Manfred’s MLB is lagging behind basketball and football. I prefer baseball, but the perception is, baseball moves too slowly. Maybe it does. Maybe baseball “back then” was a better television vehicle. Two-hour, seventeen-minute games are largely gone, because few pitchers throw enough strikes to push hitters into swinging at an 0-1 pitch outer-half. This is, in part, due to teams using technology to the point where swinging there is a bad call.

It’s possible to shorten games. Among the problems is, many baseball fans prefer 7-5 games to 2-1 games. Could umpires be forced into making hitters stay in the batter’s box? Possibly. However, as pitchers have been trained, so have hitters. Many hitters like to crowd the plate, and re-adjust their batting gloves each pitch. Elbow pads and sliding gloves. If fans want offense, and executives want to manipulate rosters, baseball will be longer than it used to be. Which is fine, unless your owner isn’t interested in competing. Those owners are rewarded. Manfred has no qualms with that, and that seems a bigger problem than a 10-day injured list.