MLB to implement 3-batter minimum, eliminate Aug. 31 waiver deadline

By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed to a number of significant rule changes that will go into effect in the next two seasons, according to multiple reports.

Most notably, MLB plans to implement a three-batter minimum for relief pitchers in 2020, in an attempt to limit the number of pitching changes in the game as part of a pace-of-play initiative. The two sides have also agreed to eliminate the August 31 waiver deadline in 2019 and expand rosters to 26 in 2020.

As part of the agreement, MLB has reportedly agreed to table discussions on a pitch clock for the time being, likely until at least 2022, after the current collective bargaining agreement expires. Discussion on a universal DH appears to have cooled off for now after the idea was floated in meetings between the two parties in January.

Baseball is expected to make the official announcement regarding the rule changes on Thursday.

The three-batter minimum, perhaps the most controversial measure expected to be implemented, was not formally agreed to by the union, but ESPN's Jeff Passan says the players do not plan to challenge it.

"Although the union did not formally accede to the three-batter minimum per pitcher that MLB sought, it agreed not to challenge the league's plans to implement it in 2020. MLB had the same ability to put a pitch clock in place this season but tabled it as part of the deal, with the hope that fewer pitching changes -- and shorter inning breaks, which are now down to two minutes for local and national games, per the deal -- will speed up games," Passan wrote.

Oct 26, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora makes a pitching change against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ninth inning in game three of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

With the elimination of the August 31 waiver deadline, all trades will have to be made by July 31, the old non-waiver deadline.

"The idea, first proposed by the union, is to protect the competitive integrity of the 162-game regular season, create more certainty for players and force teams to decide earlier whether they are buyers or sellers," Ken Rosenthal wrote in The Athletic.

"Late-season salary dumps no longer will be possible. Nor will big additions with a month remaining on the schedule," Rosenthal added.

There have been major post-July 31 trades in recent years. The Houston Astros acquired Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers on August 31, 2017, just minutes before the deadline expired. Verlander helped lead the Astros to a World Series title two months later.

The Red Sox pulled off a franchise-altering move in August of 2012, sending Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers, dumping $258 million in salary.

In the new MLB-MLBPA deal, the winner of the Home Run Derby will receive $1 million, as part of a $2.5 million purse to be split among competitors.

Voting for the MLB All-Star Game will now happen on one day, in what the two sides are describing as an "Election Day."

Both the Home Run Derby and All-Star tweaks come in an attempt to generate more buzz about the competitions while also encouraging the game's biggest stars to participate.

The agreement will also limit September call-ups to 28, instead of the current maximum of 40 allowed under the current policy.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub's own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.