BUCKLE UP, baseball fans.
The changes are coming — and some of them are coming in a week.
With the end of baseball’s basic agreement still three seasons away, and with many predicting storm clouds, the sport is making changes and making some of them now.
When the A’s and Mariners open the season with a two-game series in Japan, there will be new rules in place. None of them will affect the game itself on the field at the start of the season — that comes next year — but the sport is a-changing.
Announcing two years’ worth of adjustments — and not including the pitch clock (currently in use in spring training) — here’s what will go down:
The 2019 season will see the elimination of the August waiver trade period, meaning July 31 is a hard deadline. There can be waiver claims after that, but a claimed player cannot be called back so a deal can be worked out. Moving this date up will force teams to decided earlier if they’re buyers or sellers at the deadline.
“We think there is value in doing all that you can to have the best team you can have at the start of the season,” players’ head Tony Clark told Jayson Stark of The Athletic. “And we think having a single trade deadline could impact some of those decisions.”
In addition, the All-Star fan voting will produce three leaders at each position, with an “election day” held for the fans to vote on the finalists. Sticking with the All-Star theme, the winner of the Home Run Derby will win a million bucks, as part of a $2.5 million pool.
If this doesn’t sound like much, when rookie Aaron Judge won the thing in 2017, the million would have been twice his rookie salary.
There will also be slightly less time between innings.
That’s this year. In 2020, pitchers will have to face a minimum of three batters — up from the current one — which will eventually eliminate the left-handed specialist.
Rosters will increase from 25 to 26, but September rosters, currently at the allowed 40, will shrink to 28 — even though the numbers say the bullpen position is all but dead, anyway.
The players are NOT happy with the three-batter rule, which is being unilaterally installed by the commissioner.
“We did not agree to the three-batter minimum,” said Clark, who did agree not to file a grievance.
Obviously, there are more important matters that will be on the table, real labor issues, but these moves are a start as they look to quicken games and make things more fan friendly.
It’s still Gronk
The Rob Gronkowski winds seem to blow a different way every day. It looks like he’s coming back. It looks like it’s not a sure thing.
Regardless, the Patriots’ start of the free agency period seemed to be on hold, largely a product of limited cap space. Gronk will affect that. So will another Tom Brady re-structure. That stuff takes time and they do have time. No NFL team went out and won a championship this week. Teams got better. Teams got worse, but the Patriots are still the Patriots.
There were two things coming from agent Drew Rosenhaus on Gronkowski, who is in his second straight soap opera offseason.
According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Gronk was still making up his mind but that the Pats are “tentatively planning” on a return by the big fella. Old pal Willie McGinest went as far as predicting Gronk could start the season retired and then come back late, thus saving his body.
“I think he’s gonna start out the season being retired,” McGinest said. “I think he’s gonna get the itch. I think he’s gonna be in great shape and he’s probably gonna have that feeling that, ‘Hey, I want to come back.’”
But Rosenhaus told Peter King on King’s podcast: “He loves football. He loves playing with Brady and (head coach Bill) Belichick and his teammates. He loves to win championships. But at the same time, the amount of pain and punishment that he’s had to endure, for somebody who can do something outside of football and be a huge success — whether it is broadcasting, or acting, or endorsements — Rob has so many opportunities. It is a tough decision. I am sure he would love to play football, but at the same time he has to consider where he is from a physical standpoint.”
Joining the enemy
Michael Bennett is now a Patriot, the team officially announcing the trade with the Eagles Thursday even though they did NOT announce the terms (they also get a seventh-round pick while trading a fifth). Bennett will help the defense and there continues to be signs his brother, Martellus, will come out of a one-year retirement and give the Pats their second brother combo.
Michael Bennett now has to change his thoughts on his new team.
“I used to hate the Patriots,” he told Patriots.com. “I’d hate it because they’d win so much. I’d hate it because Tom Brady’s hair was long. I’d hate it that Belichick would wear sweaters. But now that I’m here, I love you. I love Tom Brady’s hair.
“I love being a Patriot because, obviously, it’s all about winning. I think everything about the organization is about team-first. It’s just about doing what you need to do to get to where we want to go as a group. I think I love that.”
The Pats were ready to address their wide receiver situation by signing Tennessee’s Adam Humphries. They reportedly offered more money, but Humphries, even with New England upping its offer, stayed home. The Patriots then brought Philip Dorsett back for another year, and it looks like Josh Gordon will be back (Cordarrelle Patterson left for Chicago).
From Humphries: “I’m a man of my word. But it’s tough. It’s a big decision. It’s a decision that will impact me for the rest of my life. I obviously put a lot of thought into that. Having family around me was good. Once I committed to Tennessee, I was really excited to be a Titan and I still am.
“That was something that I was weighing, the options between both teams. It was tough. Obviously, they have a lot of success with guys similar to me. Obviously, everything I’ve said to you guys today about why I chose here is true. I’m excited to work with this team and hopefully propel them to some wins and a playoff run.”
The Pats were also one of the finalists for WR Cole Beasley, who picked the Bills (is the AFC Least getting better?) Then, the Pats settled for a one-year deal with wide receiver Bruce Ellington.
Re: Patterson: He has a $10 million two-year deal with the Bears, with $5 million guaranteed. His kick returns and ability to run the end around will be missed.
With Odell Beckham Jr. now in Cleveland, WEEI’s Ryan Hannable tweeted: “FYI: The Patriots host the Browns this season. Should be a fun one with Baker Mayfield and now Odell Beckham Jr.”
Pearce goes boom
After going 0-for-12 to start his spring training, 2018 World Series hero Steve Pearce hit two homers for the Red Sox in Lakeland, Fla., Thursday.
Thescore.com gives the Red Sox a C+ for their offseason moves, stating, “The Red Sox did essentially what was necessary this offseason to maintain their claim to the throne, or at least guarantee second place in a top-heavy division. But now that the big picture is in full view, their winter machinations seem kind of underwhelming. They brought the band back together as best they could by re-signing (Nathan) Eovaldi and Pearce, but let arguably the most important piece walk in (Craig) Kimbrel.
“We still don’t know where Kimbrel will wind up, but Dave Dombrowski has been pretty clear his club has no intention of meeting the closer’s reported contract demands. Given that Boston’s payroll is well above the luxury tax, that makes sense. But the team’s bullpen is in shambles, and a whole bunch of buy-low guys like (Jennry) Mejia, (Erasmo) Ramirez, and (Josh) Smith simply can’t fill the void left behind by Kimbrel and (Joe) Kelly.”
The Yankees? They got an A, with their evaluation ending, “Getting (Luis) Severino to waive his arbitration eligibility for a team-friendly extension is the cherry on top.”
Finally, tired of saying this, but it’s absurd that Kimbrel doesn’t have a job. Dallas Keuchel, too.
Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News.
His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.