Baseball in 2020 will be finally getting rid of the most confusing rule in the game: the waiver rule that allows teams to make trades - even after the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. What good is a July 31 trade deadline if teams can use a convoluted rule to make trades anyway?
In 2019, the old system will stay in place. Teams can make any trades they see fit before the July 31 trade deadline. This season will be the final August that a team can trade a player after he clears waivers. It’s confusing, but the August waiver rule basically means that if a first-place team wants to acquire a shortstop from a team lower in the standings, every other team has to get a chance to block the move by claiming the player on waivers.
For example, the second-place Mets could block the first-place Nationals from picking up help for the final two months of the season.
The elimination of the August waiver rule will likely mean more intense trading before the July 31 deadline. That is a good thing.
And it also means that the attention will be on the game and races into the final two months, not which player is going to clear waivers and help a contender.
But there have been plenty of race-altering trades in August that won’t happen starting in 2020.
On Aug. 31, 2017, the Astros acquired pitcher Justin Verlander from Detroit. Verlander was a stud in the rotation and helped the Astros win the World Series.
In August 2012, the Nationals upgraded their catching by getting Kurt Suzuki from Oakland. He helped them into the playoffs for the first time.
On Aug. 31, 1983, the Orioles picked up Tito Landrum from the Cardinals. Landrum wound up hitting the a home run in the final game of the 1983 American League Championship Series against the White Sox that season.
In 2003, The Orioles’ Jeff Conine was sitting on a team plane minutes before the Aug. 31 deadline when he found out that he was traded to the Marlins, who used his five home runs and 15 RBIs in September to get into the postseason and win the World Series.
On Aug. 7, 2006, Arizona acquired pitcher Livan Hernandez from the Nationals. Hernandez and the D-Backs didn’t make the playoffs in 2006, but he helped them win the 2007 National League West title.
Also in 2006, the Phillies acquired lefty pitcher Jamie Moyer from Seattle. In 2007, Moyer was a key to helping the Phillies win division, and in 2008, he helped them win the World Series.
Going back to 1987, the Detroit Tigers traded prospect John Smoltz to Atlanta for Doyle Alexander in August. Alexander made 11 starts for the Tigers and helped them get into the postseason.
The rule that says no trades in August might have biggest impact.
Thoughts on the new rules:
* There is nothing worse than a steady stream of mound visits. Last year, baseball limited mound visits to six. This year, it will be five. It works. It’s not revolutionary, but it gives a quicker pace to the game. Too many meetings are never good, no matter what office or business that you are in.
* All-Star voting will be conducted in two rounds. There’s no major opinion here as long as the game becomes more than an exhibition where everybody gets to play. More money will be given to each player on the winning team and that might spark competition and pull the game from its doldrums. Paying more money to the winners is better than having the All-Star Game determine home field advantage in the World Series.
* Both clubs will start extra innings in the All-Star Game with a runner on second base. That is fine, but let’s hope that it doesn’t bleed into regular-season games. There’s nothing better than a 15-inning game that goes until midnight. That doesn’t happen too often.
* Shorter breaks between innings are is a great idea, especially for nationally televised games where the time between innings will be cut by 25 seconds. That will cut close to 10 minutes off the average time of game.
* The winner of the Home Run Derby will get $1 million. This will entice the big stars to take part and give electricity to the competition. Mike Trout has never taken part. Aaron Judge did it once and says he doesn’t want to do it again. Maybe money will bring out the stars, although players are concerned about how the derby can mess up their second-half swing.
* Starting in 2020, teams will be allowed 28 players on a roster in September. It’s about time this rule got changed. Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter argued for this rule for many years. He’s got to be happy. This keeps rosters fair for the final month and prevents big-market teams from having say, 33 active players, and going against a team that has 29.
* A relief pitcher has to pitch to three batters coming into a game unless he retires a batter or batters to end the inning. This is the most controversial change. It will recalibrate strategy, but I don’t think it is a bad idea. It’s worth thinking about. The players’ association says it will fight the rule. The commissioner said he is within his rights to implement the rule.
Sounds like a political battle is on the horizon. That’s the last thing baseball needs. Labor peace is a good thing.