MLB announces multiple rule changes for 2019, 2020 seasons, including single trade deadline, expanded rosters and more

A single July 31 trade deadline plus an All-Star Game Election Day will be implemented in 2019 while roster expansion will happen in 2020 as part of a significant agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, MLB confirmed in a statement about multiple rule changes Thursday. ESPN's Jeff Passan first reported the changes Wednesday night.

MLB and the MLBPA have spent this past winter negotiating over rule changes while labor relations grew tense after a second consecutive slow free agent market.

Here are the changes that will go into effect for the 2019 season:

  • Inning Breaks: Subject to discussions with broadcast partners, inning breaks will be reduced from 2:05 to 2:00 in local games, and from 2:25 to 2:00 in national games.  (The Office of the Commissioner retains the right to reduce the inning breaks to 1:55 in local and national games for the 2020 season.)
  • Mound Visits: The maximum number of mound visits per team will be reduced from six to five.
  • Trade Deadline: The trade deadline will remain July 31st; however, trade waivers will be eliminated.  Players may be placed and claimed on outright waivers after July 31st, but players may not be traded after that date.
  • Joint Committee: MLB and the MLBPA will form a joint committee to study other potential changes.
  • All-Star Game:
    • All-Star Game fan voting will be conducted in two rounds.  During the "Primary Round," each Club will nominate one player per eligible position (three outfielders), who will be voted on by fans.  In late June or early July, an "Election Day" will be held in which the top three vote-getters at each position in each League during the Primary Round (including the top nine outfielders) will be voted on by fans during a prescribed time period to determine the All-Star Game starters.  Further details on the new fan voting format will be announced in April.
    • All-Star bonus payments will be given to the top three vote-getters at each position in each League during the Primary Round (top six for outfielders).  Additionally, the prize money awarded to players on the winning All-Star team will be increased beginning with the 2019 All-Star Game.
    • Both Clubs will start the 10th inning of the All-Star Game, and each subsequent inning, with a runner on second base (re-entry substitutions allowed for runners).
    • Home Run Derby: Total player prize money for the Home Run Derby will be increased to $2.5 million.  The winner of the Home Run Derby will receive $1 million.

The single July 31 trade deadline means there will likely be a lot more action. The MLBPA is hopeful that the single deadline will also incentivize teams to be more aggressive in the offseason knowing that trades in August are no longer an option. The All-Star Game Election Day will be a chance for MLB to market its players. Fans will vote online for All-Star starters, and the top three vote-getters will take part in a one-day election. (More details on the two-step voting process here.)

Here are the changes for 2020:

  • Active Roster Provisions:
    • The active roster limit from Opening Day through August 31st and in Postseason games will increase from 25 to 26, and the minimum number of active players will increase from 24 to 25.  The current Major League Rules allowing for a 26th player for doubleheaders will be amended to allow for a 27th player.
    • Elimination of 40-man active roster limit in September.  From September 1st through the end of the championship season, all Clubs must carry 28 players on the active roster.
    • The number of pitchers a Club may carry on the active roster will be capped at a number determined by the joint committee.  Clubs must designate each of its players as either a pitcher or a position player prior to each player's first day on the active roster for a given season.  That designation will remain in effect for the player, and cannot change, for the remainder of the championship season and Postseason.  No player on the active roster other than those designated as pitchers by the Club may appear in a championship season or Postseason game as a pitcher except in the following scenarios:
      • Players designated as a "Two-Way Player."  A player qualifies as a "Two-Way Player" only if he accrues at least 20 Major League innings pitched and at least 20 Major League games started as a position player or designated hitter (with at least three plate appearances in each of those games) in either the current championship season or the prior championship season;
      • Following the ninth inning of an extra-inning game; or
      • In any game in which his team is losing or winning by more than six runs when the player enters as a pitcher.
  • Minimum Number of Batters for Pitchers: The Office of the Commissioner will implement an amended Official Baseball Rule 5.10(g) requiring that starting pitchers and relief pitchers must pitch to either a minimum of three batters or the end of a half-inning (with exceptions for incapacitating injury or illness).  The Players Association has agreed that it will not grieve or otherwise challenge the Office of the Commissioner's implementation of the amended Rule 5.10(g).   
  • Injured List and Option Period for Pitchers: Subject to input from the joint committee, the minimum placement period for pitchers on the Injured List shall increase from 10 days to 15 days, and the minimum assignment period of pitchers who are optionally assigned to the minors will increase from 10 days to 15 days. 

Passan added in his report that MLB and the MLBPA will begin discussing labor issues soon that will focus on "the game's most fundamental economic tenets." MLB's current collective bargaining agreement with the MLBPA expires on Dec. 1, 2021.

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