MLB Rule Changes: The times they are a-changin’

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 26: Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona #17 challenges a call with home plate umpire Jim Joyce during the second inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers on April 26, 2015 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - APRIL 26: Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona #17 challenges a call with home plate umpire Jim Joyce during the second inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers on April 26, 2015 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /
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Ian Happ (center) can play several infield and outfield positions.. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Ian Happ (center) can play several infield and outfield positions.. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

MLB Rule Changes: The times they are a-changin’

Roster sizes

One of the new MLB rule changes allows teams to carry 26 players in 2020, one more than has been allowable (up until Sept. 1) for decades.

There are stipulations, the chief one being a maximum of 13 designated “pitchers.” Ensuring that each roster contains at least 13 guys capable of playing the field may remove teams’ incentives to encourage two-way players such as Ohtani and Lorenzen. Until the dramatic emphasis on bullpen use, it was common for teams to roster 13 position players and 12 pitchers (or even 14/11), so this change will return to teams the flexibility to carry a fifth outfielder, third catcher, sixth infielder or all of the above if one is a true “swingman.”

Indeed, what may take place is a shift of emphasis away from “two-way players” and toward “infielder-outfielders” such as the Cubs’ Ian Happ, who in 2019  played 15 games in left field, 12 in center, 13 at second, 8 at third, 8 in right and 7 at first.

By simultaneously filling infield and outfield slots, a player such as Happ will give National League teams the flexibility to carry three catchers, five outfielders, six infielders, and 13 pitchers while staying within the 26-player roster limit. Yes, it’s math-defying…it’s also legal.

American League teams will still have to sacrifice somewhere in order to carry a DH. That, or employ a DH who can also play the field in a pinch.

After Sept. 1, teams will be limited to 28 active roster players (and 14 pitchers) rather than 40 as has been the case for decades. On days when doubleheaders are scheduled, teams will still be able – as they have done for several years – to call up an additional player for that date only.