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Updates on the Rule Changes for 2020 With Brief Commentary

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Our site leader, Josey Curtis, provided an initial overview of what the 2020 season will look like here. There have been some additional rule changes announced, and I wanted to provide a quick summary in this article of what I believe to be the relevant rule changes in one place and offer some commentary. I am heavily indebted to Jayson Stark of the Athletic, whose twitter account you can find here, for reporting on changes that were left off of the FAQ site from MLB.com, which you can find here. There are a couple of things that I am a tad uncertain about, and any errors here are my own.

SPRING TRAINING

Clubs are supposedly set to report to a second spring training by July 1st, with pitchers and catchers reporting on that date, with full squads reporting on July 3rd. Of the original players the Cards had in “camp,” the club has, through various options, reassignments and releases, knocked that roster down to 48 players, which consists of 28 40-man roster players and 20 NRIs. This number will almost certainly change, as MLB has increased the roster size and has provided for a 20-man taxi squad. Clubs will be permitted to invite their entire 60-man eligible list to this second spring training. In addition, in a wrinkle for this upcoming “second spring” only, clubs will not actually be required to invite all of their 40-man roster players to spring training, but will be required to pay them their salaries if they do not. Spring training for the Cardinals will not occur in the typical Florida or Arizona sites, but in the respective clubs’ home cities. It would stand to reason that spring training will consist only of intrasquad games to limit travel.

OPENING DAY AND SCHEDULE

MLB has sent a proposed 60-game schedule to the union. Although it has not been finalized, it provides for an opening day of July 23rd or July 24th. If I understand the reports correctly, the proposed schedule calls for each club to play 40 out of the 60 games within the division (10 against each club) and the other 20 against the corresponding division in the American League (N.L. Central will play 2 games each against each of the 5 A.L. Central teams). This is designed to accommodate the twin goals of minimizing travel and trying to have the divisional races mean as much as they can. If this format is approved, the Cardinals will play the Brewers, Cubs, Reds and Pirates 10 times each. They will play 6 games against their “natural rival,” the Kansas City Royals, with the rest of the 14 games to be divided between and the Twins, Indians, White Sox and Tigers. That’s games against just 9 total MLB clubs. You can expect a lot of 2-game series under this format.

DESIGNATED HITTER

Although the universal DH was proposed for 2020 and 2021 as part of the negotiations to return to baseball, each side rejected the other side’s deal that included that proviso. The DH, however, is being included this year, apparently as a health and safety measure, under the theory that the pitchers have had significant time off, and it would be an unnecessary injury risk to also have them hit.

ROSTER SIZE

Before the season was to begin, the roster size rule was changed for the first time since 1991 to provide for a 26-man regular season roster with a 13-pitcher limit until September 1st, at which point the roster would increase to a maximum of 28 players with a 14-pitcher limit.

For this season, the opening day rosters will be 30 for the first two weeks, 28 for the next two weeks, and 26 for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. There will be no limit on the number of pitchers a club may have on its roster this season, as I understand it.

Clubs will be required to submit a 60-person eligible list of players that are able to play for the club—the club’s 40-man roster, plus a 20-man taxi squad. Clubs must submit their 60-man eligible lists by Sunday, June 28th at 3:00 EST. There is currently a provision in the CBA that actually prohibits taxi squads, and sets strict limits on the amount of time a club has to add a player to the roster from the time the player reports and provides that the player must return to his minor league club after a certain time if he is not added. This was designed to prevent major league teams not only for having extra men on hand in case of a pinch, but to stop clubs from jerking minor-leaguers around, forcing them to report to the major league squad but giving them neither regular work nor major league money.

Typically, when one thinks of a taxi squad, one envisions a group of minor league players that are not with their minor league clubs, but instead are being instructed to report and work out with the major league clubs, in case those clubs need them on short notice. This version of a taxi squad, will not operate like that, because as I understand it, clubs will only be allowed to carry three taxi squad players on road trips. If they do carry the full allotment of 3 players, at least one of those players must be a catcher. I don’t believe the taxi squad will be permitted to work out and sit in the dugout with the club during home stands.

Since I don’t fully understand the mechanics of the taxi squad, I am reading between the lines here (perhaps incorrectly). But I understand the squad to be relevant in terms of a formalized list of players that will be required to be ready and paid. There is, as of yet, no minor league season. Players on the 40-man roster with split contracts (contracts calling for a different salary in the major and minor leagues) that were optioned to the minor leagues would normally not be required to be paid if there were no minor league games to play. Teams were paying these players a stipend of either $275, $500 or $1,000 per day (depending on the salary called for in those split contracts) for 60 days, beginning on April 3rd. I haven’t seen any definitive answers on this, but I assume that every member listed on this 60-man eligible list that is not on the active major league roster will be required formally to work out and train and, most importantly to be paid. Typically, most minor league players are not paid during spring training, but of course are paid during the season.

One might ask the need for the designation of a 20-man taxi squad. The roster size is expanded, any player would have to be added to the 40-man roster to play in a major league game anyway, and players can always work out on their own to be ready. At the end of the day, however, I interpret it as being important, as it will provide a formal process and opportunity for players who would likely be able to get into a game to get some work somewhere. Rick Hummel has reported that the Cardinals are talking about setting up their taxi squad in Springfield, Missouri, which would allow the 40-man roster players not on the active roster—as well as other selected top prospects—to regularly train. Even in a shortened regular season, one can still expect injuries, slumps, players not performing up to the expectations of their clubs, and roster moves. Clubs almost always ended up adding someone to the 40-man roster who was not on it to start the season. In the absence of a minor league regular season, clubs need potential roster replacements to be able to work out somewhere and in some fashion. This provides for that to happen in some sort of organized environment, which will give those players an extra incentive to stay sharp in the absence of minor league games. With no minor league games, this format will allow pitchers to have an opportunity to pitch against live batters and vice versa, even if it is only an intrasquad situation. And I assume that these players will be paid for their efforts and not be required to do so in their infinite benevolence.

The only final potential roster issue to mention is the extra man rule for doubleheaders. Since the 2012 season, clubs have been permitted to add an extra player to the active roster on any day where two games are scheduled, as long as the second game was not scheduled as the result of a game that was postponed or suspended the previous day. The rule even applied where the first game to be played was the completion of a suspended game. At first, this was called the “26th man rule,” and with the increase of the active roster to 26 for this season, was to be known as the “27th man rule.” Since its inception, the rule has only applied to doubleheaders that were played on August 31st or before, the reasoning being that the rosters were expanded on September 1st, which eliminated the need for the rule.

I have seen it reported that the “27th man rule” will be in place all season, but I am not sure if that is literally true. Does that mean that if a doubleheader is played in the first two weeks, we will have a “31st player rule,” or a “29th player rule” for doubleheaders that might take place during the two weeks after that? As I understand the current schedule, the rosters will be down to only 26 players starting the week of Thursday, August 20th or Friday, August 21st. Perhaps the reporting that I have seen was meant to say that the “27th man rule” will be in operation at that time, and remain through the rest of the regular season instead of terminating at some point like it usually does. If I had to guess, I would say that is what will happen, but I am not 100% sure.

INJURED LISTS

MLB went to a 10-day injured list for the 2017 season, reducing it from 15 days, where it had stood since 1991. Believing that that list had been abused for pitchers, MLB changed the rule to call for pitchers and two-way players to have a 15-day list, with the list for position players staying at 10 days. In addition, the normal rule that required players to remain in the minor leagues for at least 10 days upon being optioned (with the exception of injury) was increased to 15 days for pitchers.

It has now been reported that there will simply be a 10-day injured list for everyone in the 2020 season. The old 10-day option rule will apply to both pitchers and position players.

The 60-day injured list will be reduced to a 45-day injured list for this season only. The only player the Cards have on any injured list at the moment is Jordan Hicks, who was placed on the 60-day IL on February 12, 2020 to make room on the 40-man roster for Brad Miller. There will have to be some kind of further agreement on how to handle the 60-day IL. The usual rule is that a player can be placed on the 60-day IL on the first day that pitchers and catchers report for spring training. The 60-day clock does not begin to run, however, until the regular season begins, meaning a player may not be reinstated from that list until the 61st day of the regular season. The 61st day of the 2020 regular season would have been May 25th, although Hicks was expected to be lost until roughly the All-Star Break. The Cards may not be ready to activate Hicks just yet, but in any case, with only a 60-game season over roughly 66 days, there’s no way MLB can fairly enforce the typical rule that players placed on the 60-day IL during spring training spend the full 60-days on that list during this regular season. You can certainly expect a deal to be worked out to credit players like Hicks with “time already served” on the list.

Finally, there will be a special COVID-19 injury list that will have no minimum of maximum length. A Player will be placed on that list upon either a positive test for the virus, if it has been confirmed that the player has been exposed to the virus, or if the player exhibits symptoms that require self-isolation for further testing. If a player does test positive, he will not be permitted to be activated from this special injury list unless he tests negative twice, has had no fever for at least 72 hours, passes a possible cardiac exam and otherwise is deemed to present no risk to others. What will happen if a player tests positive for the virus? Will the whole squad have to be placed on the COVID injury list on the grounds that they must have been exposed?

POSITION PLAYERS PITCHING

A new rule change was supposed to bar position players from being brought in to pitch unless (a) the game was either in extra innings; or (b) if the player’s club is either ahead by 7 runs or more or behind by 7 runs or more. That rule will not be in force this year. The new “position player designation” will not be in place this year, despite the fact that almost no team would have had to worry about it. Only Shohei Ohtani of the Angels would have qualified, and even that was because for this year only, teams would have been allowed to look back to the 2018 season to meet the requirements.

THREE-BATTER MINIMUM

A rule change was enacted for this season going forward that required either a starting or relief pitcher to pitch to at least 3 batters or retire the opposing side (meaning end the half-inning), whichever comes first, UNLESS the pitcher entering the game sustains an injury or illness which in the judgment of the umpire crew chief, incapacitates him from further play. The rule was supposed to take effect in Spring Training starting on March 12th to allow clubs an opportunity to get used to it. As it turned out, the Cardinals only played one spring training game under the operation of the rule.

The three-batter minimum will be in force for this season and the playoffs, and we assume, going forward.

NEW RULE FOR EXTRA INNINGS

For this season only, MLB has decided to adopt the minor league rule for extra innings. Every half-inning after the 9th inning will start with a runner on second base. That runner will be the player that made the last out in the prior half-inning. A club will be permitted to insert a pinch runner for that player (please not Jack Flaherty). If that runner ends up scoring, the pitcher will not be charged with an earned run, but rather the runner will be treated as having reached on an imaginary error. This rule WILL NOT be in effect during the playoffs.

TRADE DEADLINE

You may remember that last season, trade assignment waivers were eliminated and that the trade deadline of July 31st was a firm one. That meant that after 4:00 EST on that date, no trades were permitted of players that had signed a major league contract or players that had been outrighted to the minor leagues after signing a major league contract for that season.

That will still be true for this year, except the trade deadline has been extended to August 31st.

SUSPENDED GAMES

Contrary to popular belief, most regular season games that were required to be stopped early because of weather were not suspended. A game is an official regulation game under Official Rule 7.01(c) if (1) 5 innings or more have been completed; or (2) if the home team has scored more runs its four “half-innings” than the visiting team scored in its five “half-innings”; or (3) the home team ties the score in the bottom of the 5th inning.

If a regular season game was called before it became a regulation game under the rules above, it would typically declared a “No Game,” none of the statistics would count, and it would be made up only if the playoffs would be impacted by the game being played or not. If it was made up, the game would be started from scratch.

In addition, if a regular season game got to the point where it was an official game and it was called early, the game would typically not be suspended. The game would rather end early and all the statistics would count. Although it doesn’t happen very often, many were confused by this rule last year where rain resulted in the Cardinals losing an August 21st home game to the Brewers in 8 innings.

The only time the Rules permit a non-regulation regular season game to be treated as a suspended game to be continued is for (1) either a curfew imposed by law or some sort of time limit imposed by MLB; (2) darkness when some sort of state or local law prevents the lights from being turned on; or (3) some sort of light failure or serious mechanical malfunction in the home park. Basically it never happens.

If a game has advanced to the point of it being a regulation game, the game is treated as a suspended game upon being called only if (1) the score is tied; or (2) the game is called due to weather AND the visiting team has just scored one or more runs to take the lead AND the home team has not retaken the lead.

This season, however, games that are called before they reach “regulation game” status will be treated as suspended games instead of being replayed from scratch.

POSTSEASON FORMAT AND ELIGIBILITY

Although expanded playoff proposals had been exchanged, the playoff format for 2020 will remain the same as it has been since 2012: 5 clubs per league (3 division winners and 2 wild cards)

The postseason eligibility rules were last changed for the 2014 season. Anyone on the 40-man roster or 60-day injured list (if he had already spent 60 days on the list) or military list as of 11:59 EST on August 31st was automatically eligible for the postseason. In addition, a player “in the organization” (in the sense that they were on a minor league reserve list, injured list or military list) as of that date and time was also eligible to replace an automatically eligible player in the playoffs, as long as they were added to the 40-man before the series started.

The only change for this season is that the automatic post-season eligibility list will be established as of 11:59 EST on September 15th and a player must be “in the organization” by September 15th to be eligible to replace an injured player.

CONCLUSION

The transaction freeze that has been in place since late March will be lifted on Friday, June 26th at Noon EST. I will keep you up to date on all the roster machinations and rules right here at VEB. In addition, given the heightened importance of divisional match-ups this season, I will offer a weekly feature on the roster moves of the other N.L. Central clubs to compare how they will navigate this quagmire.