A reminder about 2020’s rule changes and how they could affect the Yankees’ winter

Remember Clay Rapada? A new rule will effectively make pitchers like him useless. (Keith Allison)

This isn’t breaking news by any means, but it’s worth discussing. As announced a while back, there are more rule changes to be implemented for the 2020 season. Many, if not all of these revisions have implications for the Yankees’ offseason strategy. Let’s dig in to each change.

26-man roster

This is the big one. Each team will have an extra player this season. There will be a cap on the amount of pitchers each club can carry, though that still hasn’t been announced. I assume it will be no more than 13, which some teams (including the Yankees) carried at times in the last couple of seasons. The limit is to prevent too many pitching changes which would slow the game down.

Assuming a 13 pitcher max, I expect the Yankees to run with that number all season, which means they’ll field a four man bench. Looking at the 40-man roster as it stands today, here’s how things could shake out for pitchers:

Starters (5 or 6)

  • Luis Severino
  • James Paxton
  • Masahiro Tanaka
  • JA Happ
  • Jordan Montgomery
  • 6th starter

Relievers (7 or 8)

  • Aroldis Chapman
  • Zack Britton
  • Adam Ottavino
  • Tommy Kahnle
  • Chad Green
  • Jonathan Holder
  • Luis Cessa
  • 8th Reliever

Note: the Yankees can’t plan for Domingo Germán because there’s a strong chance he’ll be suspended for violating the league’s dometic violence policy to start the year. I’d argue that they shouldn’t plan to bring him back at all, though in all likelihood, they’re counting on him to return at some point in 2020.

Otherwise, they have the option of either running with a six man rotation or with eight relievers. I’d guess it’ll depend on the schedule (i.e. long stretches without an off day may result in a six man starting rotation).

The sixth starter potential could make things interesting this offseason. They certainly should be players for the big fish free agents like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, but it would also behoove them to add some depth.

I wouldn’t count on Jordan Montgomery just yet, especially since he’s not too far removed from surgery. After that, the starting depth in the minors includes guys without any major league experience (Mike King, Deivi García). There’s also Jonathan Loaisiga, though he’s better suited in relief in my opinion. And again, Germán’s status up in the air. So, adding back-end guys like Alex Wood or Kyle Gibson (in addition to the aforementioned aces available) makes sense. Depth is always good to have. And this slightly larger roster will provide for even more opportunities to use depth as a strength.

Things are a little simpler on the bench. Obviously, there will be a backup catcher (potentially Kyle Higashioka). There’ll be a fourth outfielder, likely Mike Tauchman. Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada could be the reserve infielder. Who would take the fourth spot isn’t certain. Perhaps Mike Ford is the guy.

September roster expansion

Teams will no longer be able to have 40 players active during September, and will instead be limited to 28. This is yet another rule intended to prevent September games with a dozen pitchers used just because managers can.

With this reduction, I anticipate that teams will be more willing to protect players in the low minors from the Rule 5 draft. I believe that because of the 26th roster spot, teams will be more inclined to draft and stash guys than in previous years. And, since teams can only field 28 players in September, there are up to a dozen guys who won’t see the light of day in the regular season, which theoretically makes keeping an A-ball player on the 40-man a little more palpable. This could be good news for prospect Miguel Yajure, who has just two starts above High-A Tampa.

Three batter minimum

Rest in peace, LOOGYs. Granted, lefty specialists haven’t been in vogue in recent years, but this rule will certainly put their usage to bed. All pitchers must face three batters unless any one of the following exceptions occur:

  • Pitcher finishes half-inning before facing three hitters
  • Pitcher is unable to continue due to injury or illness

The Yankees haven’t made use of lefty specialists in recent years, so this likely won’t alter the front office’s roster construction. In any case, the Yankees have done a nice job fielding pitchers who aren’t subject to platoon splits. Zack Britton, a southpaw, does a fine job against righties. Tommy Kahnle has effectively become the guy the Yankees like to pitch against lefties even though he throws right handed. Oh, and he can retire right handed hitters too. Ultimately, this rule change shouldn’t be a big deal for the Bombers.

Injured list

The 10-day injured list is no more. It’s going back to 15 days, just like it was before 2017. In some cases, this means that at the minimum, starting pitchers will have to miss two to three starts rather than just one or two. Much of it depends on the timing of off days.

I don’t think this necessarily has any team building implications for the coming months. It’s more of an in season strategy and an attempt by the league to prevent abuse of the short stint where teams could effectively have a taxi squad of reserves available.

Option length

Somewhat in conjunction with the injured list rule, pitchers who are optioned to the minors must remain there for 15 days (barring a recall to replace an injured player). This is an increase from 10.

This is intended to prevent teams from shuffling the back of its bullpen almost weekly. While it will make the Yankees’ use of the Scranton Shuttle less frequent, it doesn’t discount the importance of depth. In any case, this shouldn’t alter the Yankees’ path this winter.


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  1. Jack H.

    Real question:

    About German you wrote: “I’d argue that they shouldn’t plan to bring him back at all…” Why do you say that? Are you saying they shouldn’t plan on it because his status is uncertain, or are you saying the Yankees shouldn’t employ someone accused of DV?

  2. Kenneth Bauer

    I don’t like the new rules

  3. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    Now why shouldn’t they bring back German, Derek? Chapman’s on the roster. Astros have Osuna. This isn’t the Church of Latter Day Saints here, we’re trying to win ballgames and German helps us win. He would have been a good guy to have in the ALCS. My 4 man bench would be Higgy(Romine starting), Wade, Tauchman and Mike Ford. I love the 26 man roster because it gives AL clubs another guy on the bench.

    I love the September rule change. 40 man roster was way too many. It was completely different from April-August baseball and then you had guys like Joey Cora using 50 pitchers in a game just because he could.

    3 batter minimum – Hate it. It’d be like taking away switch hitters. Changes the game and takes away a skill. And how will Boone use Ottavino in the postseason if he has to pitch to more than one hitter? I understand they want to speed the game up but better ways to do that would be robot umpires, cut down on commercial time, implement a pitch clock and don’t let batters step out of the box between pitchers.

    injured list/option length – Don’t like it. Our players always seem to be injured and Boone would keep an injured guy on the bench rather than put him on the 15 day DL. The 10 day list seemed to mitigate that a little. They had no right do to this.

    • Phil

      I agree about German, and all the others. If they break a law, the police arrest them and the judiciary punishes them. That’s paying their debt to society. They’re allowed to work again after that. If you want it to not create a bad example for kids, the media should stop talking about it 24/7. If you want them facing tougher consequences, call your congressman and have the laws changed. Leave sports out of this.

      • Colombo

        You are ignoring the fact that there is a Domestic Violence policy in place that covers MLB players. So, in addition to the laws they break, there is also the policy they violate, which allows MLB to hand out discipline.

        “Leave sports out of this”, Like “stick to sports”, is a BS argument.

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