Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have reached a tentative agreement to bring the extra-innings ghost runner back for the 2022 season, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Additionally, they have agreed to expand active rosters from 26 to 28 players this season until May 1. The league’s 30 owners need to vote next week to officially ratify the conditions, but Sherman writes that only a simple majority is needed and the provisions aren’t expected to have any issue passing.
Neither development is especially surprising, as reports emerged a couple weeks ago that both were under consideration. The lockout lingered into the second week of March, compressing the Spring Training schedule by two weeks even with the start of the regular season pushed back eight days. The concern is that the shortened ramp-up period might not afford enough time for players to get ready to shoulder a typical regular season workload. By adding a couple players in the early going and limiting the potential for marathon games, the league and union will give managers some extra flexibility in keeping playing time in check.
Sherman adds there won’t be any restrictions on the number of pitchers teams can carry in April. MLB is instituting its 13-pitcher limit this year. That rule change was originally slated to go into effect in 2020, but MLB scrapped it in each of the past two seasons due to concerns about overworking arms while teams were facing the possibility of COVID-19 outbreaks on their rosters. That’ll eventually be a challenge for clubs, but they’ll have some extra leeway on the mound for the first couple weeks of the season.
The return of the extra-innings runner figures to be the more notable development for fans. It was first implemented in 2020 as part of the pandemic protocols. There’s little doubt the rule has indeed served its purpose of preventing marathon games. There has only been one MLB game that exceeded thirteen innings in either of the past two seasons; there were 23 such games in 2019 alone. Nevertheless, the rule has predictably proven divisive among fans, many of whom perceive the placement of a free runner on second base to start extras as gimmicky.
Sherman writes that the ghost-runner rule has only been approved for 2022, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the league and union revisit it again down the line. The other big on-field pandemic rules change — the seven-inning doubleheader — will not return this year.
One rule that will be in effect permanently is a modification to the designated hitter, albeit one that only seems likely to affect one player. If a team uses the same player as both that day’s starting pitcher and as their DH, he can remain in the game as a hitter even after being removed from the mound. That’s obviously a provision designed to allow the Angels to keep Shohei Ohtani in the lineup deep into games he starts.