Maddon, Theo weigh in on new rule changes

March 14th, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- None of the rule changes unveiled during Thursday's joint announcement by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association came as a surprise to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

As part of MLB's competition committee, Epstein and other front-office leaders from around the game were able to have their voices heard during the process of creating the changes being implemented over the next two years. It would be impossible to expect everyone to be in total agreement, but Epstein feels the alterations are aimed at a middle ground to help counter the evolution of baseball.

"I don't feel like this is the end," Epstein said, "but it's a good-faith attempt by all the parties involved to try to improve the nature of the play on the field, sort of nudge it in the direction of more action and a better brand of baseball for the fans, which is the goal."

The biggest change for 2019 that will affect Epstein and the game's other roster architects is the elimination of the August waiver trade period. Now there will be a singular non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31, which in theory will put more emphasis on constructing a roster during the offseason and in the season's first four months.

"I'm fine with it," Epstein said. "We'll adapt. It'll change the nature of the Trade Deadline and the way you think about putting a team together through the fifth and sixth month of the season, and into the seventh month. But it'll be something everybody adapts to."

Three-batter minimum coming in '20

For the 2020 season, MLB is planning to raise the active roster limit to 26 for the first five months and 28 for September. The time a player spends on the injured list will also be increased to 15 days from 10. Another planned rule will require pitchers (both starters and relievers) to face a minimum of three batters unless they are finishing an inning.

That three-batter-minimum rule does not sit well with manager Joe Maddon.

"The other stuff looked OK to me," Maddon said. "I'm standing by [not liking] that one. Whenever it impacts strategy, I don't like that. Pace of the game, I'm all about it. Length of the game, I don't think it really matters. And strategy should be left alone."

Lefty Brian Duensing was surprised to see that rule -- one the MLBPA said it will not challenge -- part of Thursday's announcement.

"It was a little shocking, to be honest, that that's one of the things they came up with," Duensing said. "I think it'll take jobs away from some pitchers. But, I mean, that's just the way it is, I guess. It's also going to cause some guys to pitch differently or find new ways to go about their job to keep their job."

Added Epstein: "In general, fewer pitching changes and having an extra spot on the bench for another position player is probably good for late-inning offense, good for ball in play. I think we need a little bit more late-inning offense in the game these days."

Worth noting

• Shortstop prospect Nico Hoerner (No. 2 on the Cubs' Top 30 list, per MLB Pipeline) has impressed not only on the field this spring (6-for-9 with four extra-base hits in seven Cactus League games), but also behind the scenes.

"He's impressed everybody with his work ethic," Epstein said. "He's had a real nice experience. His first full bona fide big league camp will be a lot easier for him now, and he's more familiar with the atmosphere around the big leagues. And the players, the coaches and staff have gotten to know him a little bit better. It's just been a real productive scenario all around."

Epstein would not rule out the possibility of having the 21-year-old Hoerner open with Double-A Tennessee.

• It is still too early to know whether the issue with utility man Daniel Descalso's left shoulder will lead to a season-opening stint on the injured list, according to Epstein. Descalso jammed his non-throwing shoulder in Saturday's game against the Angels and is currently shut down from hitting.

"We'll have to see how he bounces back the next couple days," Epstein said, "but it's certainly an injury that he could be fully recovered from and ready to go Opening Day."

Up next

Left-hander Cole Hamels is scheduled to start on Friday, when the White Sox host the Cubs in a 3:05 p.m. CT Cactus League tilt at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz. The White Sox will send righty Lucas Giolito to the mound.