With just three days to go before Opening Day, labor and management settled on multiplying each day on the active roster this year by 1.3 so that the shortened season will not hurt players needing to accumulate service time toward free agency.
The result came in the third negotiating session between the Japan Pro Baseball Players Association and Nippon Professional Baseball. The season, shortened from 143 games to 120, will take place over a span of 151 days instead of 190.
The active rosters will also be expanded from 29 to 31, to allow players more rest in order to stave off COVID-19, which will also allow one or two more players each day to accumulate days toward the 145 needed to count as one year toward free agency.
Full international free agency requires nine years, while players who turned pro after leaving a Japanese high school can file for domestic free agency after seven, while those who go from junior high or high school to the pros need eight years to move to another NPB club under their own power.
One additional imported player can be carried on the active rosters this year, although the prohibition against having four pitchers or four position players will remain.
On Thursday, the Nikkan Sports reported in Japanese on a few plans discussed on May 27 to reduce the burden on players who will be entering a season without the typical seven-week buildup while facing the added burden placed by possible exposure to the novel coronavirus.
Increase the imported player limit to 5
Since 2002, Rule 82.2 of NPB’s Baseball Charter has allowed up to four imported players on the 29-man active roster, with no more than three position players or pitchers.
On Wednesday, a special rule was discussed for this season that would allow five imports on the active roster, while retaining the four-man limit for the 25-man game roster. The additional active spots are typically used for starting pitchers between starts, and are one reason, along with a current 12-inning limit, that Japan virtually never sees a position player used as an emergency pitcher.
A primer on NPB’s import player rules and roster limits.
Increase the active roster beyond 29
On Monday, when NPB executives and their pro soccer counterparts from the J-League met with infectious disease experts, one recommendation was an expansion of the active rosters beyond 29. The rationale for this is that players may be exposed to the coronavirus and giving players more frequent rest could make them less vulnerable to infection in a season that is slated to run from June 19 to the end of November.
Curfews and time limits
Other items discussed were a possible 3-1/2 hour time limit on games and no extra innings. All official games that are declared ties when called either early because of playing conditions or at the end of 12 innings.
Last season, 247 of NPB’s 858 regular season games lasted longer than 3:30, with 150 of those exceeding 3:45 and 78 going past four hours.