MLB: Boston Red Sox-Workouts

Red Sox outfielders Andrew Benintendi, right and Jackie Bradley Jr. talk during spring training workouts Friday in Fort Myers, Fla.

By Mike Shalin

CH-CH-CHANGES.

With all the attention focused on sign stealing, you might have forgotten baseball has some rule and roster changes for 2020.

It also might have gone unnoticed that the sport hopes to expand its postseason picture, but more on that later.

First, what’s new for this season besides, of course, increased scrutiny on video monitors.

Rosters have been expanded from 25 to 26 players, with a limit on pitchers of 13. The extra spot can give teams some flexibility and even allow for a third catcher. This spot could go to a player like Connor Wong, the young catcher just acquired by the Red Sox who can also play other positions.

The rosters, which used to allow as many as 40 players to be around in September, thus significantly changing the rules of the sport at its most-important time of year, will now be set at a mandatory 28 (with a 14-pitcher max). This saves management some cash and also allows for a more-reasonable finish to the regular season. There are also complicated guidelines in place for two-way players (i.e. Shohei Ohtani).

The most significant change is in pitching changes, one of the many things that slow the game down. Pitchers now have to face a minimum of three batters, unless a pitcher ends an inning. This, in essence, can eliminate the lefty specialist, although if a manager faces a base loaded situation with two out, he can bring in a tough left to face a lefty batter to try to end that inning.

This change will also further institute what has become a trend anyway in recent years: managers alternating righty and left hitters in the lineup. This could also be a spot for that 26th player, giving the manager on offense more leeway when that lefty specialist comes in with the bases loaded and two out.

So far, we are seeing mixed reviews on this, but anything to keep 12 pitchers from working in a nine-inning game can’t be a bad thing, right?

In addition, position players may pitch at any point after the ninth inning, but only when his team is winning or losing by more than six runs at the time he enters the game. We assume this would only take place when said team is losing.

Pitchers now have to spend at least 15 days (up from 10) on the injured list and at least 15 days in the minors when optioned. This change takes away what would amount to one start if a pitcher goes on the 10-day list.

Until now, managers have had 30 seconds to consider whether or not to challenge a call. That drops to 20.

Got all that? There will be a quiz later.

More playoffs

MLB has plans to expand its postseason for the 2022 season, adding two more wild cards and providing an extra twist that would give the sport an NCAA basketball-type selection shows.

Under the proposal, and it’s just that because this has to be part of a new agreement with the players, the three division winners would be topped by a best record, that team getting a bye. The other division winners then conduct a “draft” with the team with the better record getting its choice of which wild card it would face, and then playing that team in a three-game series with all three games played at the home of the division winners.

Under this plan, first revealed by Joel Sherman in the New York Post, the Red Sox, along with the Indians, Mets and Diamondbacks, would have made the playoffs with their 84 wins in 2019. The plan would also see a wild card team hosting another wild card team for three games.

This plan eliminates the silly one-game wild card play-in game, where a bad game could end your season just like that. It also, in theory, would discourage teams from tanking and selling off players, because they would be fighting for the chance at a three-game series, not just the one game. It would also allow more leeway for a team like Washington, which rallied from a 19-31 injury-plagued start to win the World Series.

Say, for instance, the Red Sox lost J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts to first-half injuries. The record could be rotten through 70 games but there would be an increased chance of a second-half rally.

These things do happen. The 1973 “You Gotta Believe” Mets won just 83 games and came within a win of winning it all.

Too many teams? Remember, football is at 12 with talk of additions. Both basketball and hockey are at 16.

I LOVE this!

Is the proposed system perfect? Hardly. But neither is the one they have now.

Apologies in order

With word on possible Red Sox cheating penalties still looming, the Astros began their contrition tour this week, and while Carlos Correa seemed to be the only one truly sorry, this story is far from over. Heck, the owner said it didn’t affect games.

For instance, the All-Star Game is at Dodger Stadium this season and that should be a fun place for Jose Altuve and other ‘Stros to be introduced.

Other players are ticked. Now, many have to be teammates with traded Astros like Jake Marisnick and J.D. Davis, both New York Mets.

Cody Bellinger, who now shares an outfield with Mookie Betts, was quite clear on his feelings, saying, “They’re not saying that they’re cheating. They never said ‘no’ to the buzzers. They always just said the commissioner’s report. It’s kind of bizarre what’s been going on over there. We listened to that and the guy said it wasn’t impacting the game. Are you kidding me?”

And, on Altuve and Houston teammates who escaped punishment (in exchange for testifying), he said, “I thought Manfred’s punishment was weak, giving them immunity. I mean these guys were cheating for three years. I think what people don’t realize is Altuve stole an MVP from (Aaron) Judge in ‘17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”

Well deserved

It was a great week for Kevin Garnett. First came word that the Celtics will retire his No. 5, and then he found out he is a finalist for the Hall of Fame.

The announcement came during that incredible double-overtime win over Doc Rivers‘ Clippers.

“I’ve often said about him, he’s the greatest superstar role player ever,” Rivers said. “He was a superstar, but he played his role for the team anyway, somehow. I don’t know how he did that, but he did it.

“He changed the culture of this franchise. He really did. We needed a guy like that to come to the franchise, and he did that and it’s still here. It hasn’t left since. That was all Garnett.”

Is he gone?

There seemed to be a growing feeling around the NFL that Tom Brady will indeed play for someone else next season, although we’ll believe that when we see it.

The Raiders, moving into their new digs in Las Vegas, reportedly can offer TB12 $60 million for two years as the face of the again-moved franchise.

The Athletic’s Jeff Howe reported Bill Belichick will handle the Brady negotiations, with Robert Kraft stepping in on contract terms.

Sorry, but I can’t imagine Brady in the same room with Belichick and the pair not emerging with a deal, one at less than $30 million per years so the Pats can afford to get Brady more weapons.

The new guy

Thanks to NESN.com for pointing to the following on new Red Sox OF Kevin Pillar.

“Pillar has been average at best at the plate for his entire career. He’s never had an OPS+ higher than 93 — 100 is league average — and he’s a career .261 hitter. The good news, if you’re the Red Sox, is he’s coming off arguably the best offensive season of his career. Pillar hit .264 with 21 home runs and 87 RBIs in 156 games with the Giants in 2019. His .735 OPS was the highest of his career, as was his .442 slugging percentage.

“He’s something of a throwback when it comes to his approach at the plate. He swings at everything. Two years ago, he had a walk rate that was in the bottom 1 percent of the league. Only two players swung more often than him last season, and no one swung at more pitches outside the strike zone. Despite that, his strikeout rate of 13.8 percent was the 116th-lowest of 135 qualified hitters.”

Pillar played 71 games for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2013, hitting. 299 with four home runs and 26 runs batted in.

Looking around

Reports have A-Rod and J-Lo looking to buy the Mets. They don’t have the necessary cash, but don’t bet against them forming a Derek Jeter-type group that gets it done. …

The morning after his team blew a 3-1 third-period lead at home against the Rangers, Minnesota’s Bruce Boudreau became the seventh NHL coach fired this season. Two of them, John Hynes and Pete DeBoer, were able to pull a Claude Julien and get a new job in a hurry. Boudreau was the first coach of the AHL Manchester Monarchs, leading the team for four seasons (2001-05) to a 169-122-29 record and four first-round playoff exits. …

NBC’s John Forslund became the latest to label a hat trick a “natural” hat trick after David Pastrnak scored his third goal of the game the other night. A natural hat trick is when a player scores three goals in a row, uninterrupted by a tally by the other team. That didn’t happen in this case. …

On the same subject, Pastrnak became the first Bruin with multiple hat tricks in the same season against the Canadiens since Gordie Howe in 1950-51. …

Neat seeing Barack Obama joining young NBA stars Zion Williamson, Trae Young and Luca Doncic handing out backpacks full of school supplies to kids in Chicago this weekend. “He said I was playing great. I kind of zoned out after that,” boasted Williamson. “That’s all I needed to hear, to be honest.”

Looking ahead? David Price and new teammate Clayton Kershaw are a combined 12-20 in 39 postseason starts. …

Hard to believe it was 40 years ago, but I was lucky enough to be in Lake Placid covering the Olympic hockey gold medal game in 1980 for United Press International. Still think it’s the greatest sports story ever. …

From one Hall of Famer on another: “Happy 86th to a national treasure, Bill Russell, the most documented winner in American sports history,” tweeted Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe. “From ‘55 to ‘69, in the NCAAs, (2), Olympics (1) and NBA (13), his teams played for 16 championships. They won 14. No accident. Next question.” …

Speaking of the Hoops Hall, great to hear great TV voice Mike Breen, a pro’s pro, will go in this year as the Curt Gowdy winner. …

Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees closer who gave up the American League Championship Series-losing homer to Altuve last season, on Altuve perhaps knowing what pitches were coming, said, “It was a little suspicious.” …

This from the St. Louis Blues after Manchester’s own Zach Sanford‘s fourth goal of a game this week: “Zach Sanford is the first Blues player to score four goals in a game since David Backes on Jan. 6, 2015.” …

Finally, the Lakers, who lost their first in-conference road game (opening night, actually at the Staples Center against the Clippers) and have won 17 straight conference road games since.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.