Will MLB rules changes make situational lefties an endangered species?
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MESA, Ariz. — Major League Baseball on Thursday announced a multitude of major changes to how business is conducted and how the game is played, including expanding rosters from 25 to 26 players and eliminating in-season trades after July 31.
The change with the apparent potential to affect the game the most on the field also might be the one that could make an endangered species out of some left-handed pitchers: requiring a reliever to face at least three batters (or otherwise finish the inning).
‘‘It was a little shocking, to be honest, that that’s one of the things they came up with,’’ Cubs left-hander Brian Duensing said. ‘‘I think it’ll take jobs away from some pitchers.
‘‘There’s a lot of lefties out there that their career is coming in and getting lefties out. . . . Some guys make their living by getting a hitter out. Now it might be a little different for them.’’
The three-batter minimum is among the rules to be implemented in 2020. Also among those on the 2020 list are the expanded roster and a limit of 28 players (down from 40) on September rosters.
Among the new rules that will apply immediately are a reduction of mound visits from six to five per game, a $1 million prize for the winner of the All-Star Home Run Derby, changes in All-Star fan voting and a single trade deadline of July 31, which means no more waiver deals in August or September.
‘‘I’m fine with it; we’ll adapt,’’ Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the hard July 31 deadline. ‘‘It’ll change the nature of the trade deadline and the way you think about putting a team together through the fifth and sixth month of the season and into the seventh month.’’
He’s also fine with the tighter roster in September.
‘‘I think that’ll be something everybody can get behind, including sportswriters,’’ Epstein said, alluding to the conga lines of pitching changes 40-man rosters allow. ‘‘A better brand of September baseball is good for everybody.’’
Teams would be allowed to make roster moves as they do at any other time in the season, with the difference being that minor-league seasons end in early September. That likely will lead to de facto taxi squads of players practicing with the team in case they’re needed in the final weeks.
Some of the rules, such as the three-batter minimum, remain subject to further talks and potential alterations, Epstein said.
And that one needs further discussion, as far as Cubs manager Joe Maddon is concerned.
‘‘The other stuff looked good to me,’’ said Maddon, who already had railed against the idea of MLB getting involved in pitching changes. ‘‘I’m standing by that one. Whenever you impact the strategy, I don’t like that. Pace of the game, I’m all about it. Length of the game, I don’t think it really matters. And strategy should be left alone.’’
Team executives were kept in the loop about proposals as MLB prepared for talks with the players’ union about the changes, Epstein said.
‘‘I don’t think this is the end, but it’s a good-faith attempt by all the parties involved to try to improve the nature of the play on the field and sort of nudge it in the direction of more action and a better brand of baseball for the fans, which is the goal,’’ Epstein said.