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Could the National League adopt the DH this season?

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Probably not, but a new report says that the union has proposed the change

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

A report from Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic last night revealed that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have been discussing rules changes and that one of the rules proposed by the MLBPA has been that the National League adopt the designated hitter rule this season. (The Athletic subscription required, but you can read a summary of the piece here as well as a different take here.) Also, Jeff Passan has more details on what has been proposed. (free to everyone)

According to Rosenthal, MLB has proposed several rules changes designed to speed up the pace of the game. Most radical, MLB would require pitchers to face at least three batters before being relieved from the game. MLB also wants to adopt previously-proposed rules regarding a pitch clock and further limit the number of mound visits from six a game down to just three by 2020. They also want to adopt the minor league “runner on second” rule starting in the 11th inning for Spring Training games and the All-Star Game. (And the reason why those games can’t just end in ties escapes me. Spring Training games do currently and I have not seen any real fan outcry about this. No MLB team puts “winning a Spring Training game” as a goal. Spring Training exists for players to get their work in, not win titles.)

MLB’s other proposal would cut the maximum September roster size from 40 down to 28, although it would add a 26th man regular season rosters throughout the entire year. MLB also wants to return to the 15-day disabled list.

The Players Association countered this proposal with suggestions to limit the manipulation of service time and to punish teams with poor records over more than one season by having them drop back several spots in the draft. In addition, the union asked that the NL adopt the DH for the 2019 season.

Right now, these are all just proposals, although MLB does have the right under the current collective bargaining agreement to implement the rules changes regarding the pitch clock and reducing mound visits unilaterally. But the two rules that are going to get the most attention is the limits on relievers and the DH in the National League.

The designated hitter has been in play in the American League since 1973. Since then, fans have generally either loved it or hated it. Usually, AL fans like it and NL fans dislike it. Although Rosenthal quotes commissioner Rob Manfred as saying that the union has been asking for the DH in the NL for decades, the union has never really made a strong plea for it before, at least not publicly. The players, for their part, are a lot like the fans. Many love the DH but a lot of pitchers really like hitting as well. Many pitchers also prefer to pitch to a pitcher in the ninth spot rather than having to face a real batter there as well.

Here at BCB, we have diverse opinions of the DH as well. I’ve been open that I’m against the National League adopting the DH because I love it when a pitcher gets a big hit, especially a home run. The NL adopting the DH would rob fans of great moments in baseball history like this one where Bartolo Colon went deep for the first time. But I’m not going to have a tantrum and threaten a boycott (as I’ve seen some on social media do) if the NL does adopt the DH. I’ve watched American League baseball over the years and it’s still baseball. I’ll adapt.

Rosenthal notes in his piece that MLB seeks to limit the use of “openers,” where a relief pitcher starts the game and faces only one or two batters before exiting for a new pitcher. However, Rosenthal notes that the actual impact of such a rule on that is debatable. What it would do is limit the ability of managers to gain the platoon advantage by making a pitching change.

It seems to me, however, that any rule limiting pitching changes is premature. Unlike the DH, which has been tested for 45 years at this point, no one knows what the real impact of limiting pitching changes is. The normal procedure would be to try this rule out in the minor leagues first (as they did with the pitch clock) and MLB needs to do that long before adopting such a radical new rule.

It’s very unlikely that the NL will adopt the DH for the 2019 season like the MLBPA has proposed. For one, it doesn’t seem fair to not give teams more time to prepare their rosters for such a change. (Although Passan reports that the union would be open to it only being used in just all interleague games for 2019 and then universal in 2020.) The same goes for the rule about pitching changes. Things like a pitch clock are much more likely for 2019, since MLB can institute one unilaterally and since it has operated successfully in the minor leagues for four years now.

But as Rosenthal also notes, the positive sign about all this is that MLB and the Players Association are at least communicating. Previous attempts by the commissioner’s office to institute rules changes have been met with stone silence by the union, who are upset about a lot of things in the game right now including the weak free agent market over the past two seasons. The two sides may not agree on any rules change at the moment, but at least both sides have made their positions clear and now can go about the work of compromise. It seems foolish to rush any of these rules into play for the 2019 season (except maybe the pitch clock, which has been on the table for a while now) but it seems almost certain now that the game of baseball will have some new rules changes sometime shortly thereafter.


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