The second biggest story of the Cubs offseason has been the launch, or sputtering start, to the Marquee Network. The Ricketts family brainchild to help them increase revenue so they can compete against the Dodgers and Yankees has been a lesson in how not to launch a new venture.
In another life I wrote a lengthy series of columns that outlined the problems with nearly every new pro baseball team exclusive network, and warned that the Cubs would have the same issues. Did anybody from Crane Kenney's office call me. Nope.
So far there are two minor regional cable companies that have signed on, so if you live in Iowa and Indiana you are golden. AT&T/DirecTV has also signed on, so about 600 homes in Chicago can watch, and HULU agreed to carry it also. Wait HULU has delayed the launch indefinitely. To its credit, Marquee has been signing on air talent like someone else wants them.
The list of former Cubs signed for pre/post game include, Ryan Dempster, Dan Plesac, Rick Sutcliffe, Lou Pinella, Mark Derosa, Carlos Pena, and Jason Hamel. They have also managed to snag Fox broadcaster Chris Myers. Studio hosting will be by somebody named Cole Wright, and, Taylor McGregor and Elise Menaker, will be on field reporters. Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies will continue to call the games. Expect Myers to handle play by play on games that Kasper is doing Fox Network games. Ironic, eh?
None of this matters, of course, unless they can work out a deal with Comcast to carry the channel. As you would expect the Cubs feel the new network is worth far more than Comcast feels it is worth and with Comcast owning MLB Network, plus rights to the White Sox, Phillies, and others, they are in no hurry to sign on. Look for all this to get resolved by the start of the regular season. However, keep in mind that the fine fans of the LA Dodgers still cannot see their games on local LA TV, after three years of launching their network.
Moving on to what is new in 2020 in major league baseball. There are some major new rules changes that you need to be aware of that will impact the game, and change the way managers manage.
Number one, is that any pitcher brought into a game now must either face a minimum of three batters, or complete the half inning. So, the days of lefty, righty, lefty, pitching changes are done. Pitchers will need to be able to get guys out from both sides of the plate. This should speed up the game, according to the commish, but giving up many more runs only slows the game down so I'm not sure this is going to help.
Secondly, teams that are lucky enough to have players who both pitch and play the field, see Shohei Ohtani, need to designate if they are pitchers or players for that game. The reason for this is because of rule change number three, which is that teams can only have 13 pitchers on their roster for regular season games.
Teams are now able to increase their regular season roster from 25 to 26 players, which will allow them an additional position player and should help with late game substitutions. However, they no longer can add 15 guys to their September rosters like years past. Starting in 2020 they can have a maximum of 28 players in September. This will free up bench space in those crowded dugouts.
Finally, position players will continue to be allowed to be placed on a 10 day IL in season, but, pitchers now will need to go on a minimum of a 15 day IL. This was done to eliminate the crazy roster shuffling of pitchers for make up games and series when teams used their whole bullpen on game one of a series.
Rumor has it that the national league will finally succumb and add the designated hitter in 2021. While I'm not a fan of the DH, I am a fan of the entire league playing under the same rules. Pick either way and move on. I would like to see inter league games stopped in 2021 because right now the schedule is not fair for all. More on this in another column.
The start of camp always creates optimism for every team, and this year the start of camp created the opportunity for every team, not named the Houston Astros, to just rip them to shreds for their role in a major cheating scandal that left three managers fired, and one GM tossed.
I've already written about this earlier but it remains the biggest story of the offseason and spring training. It's time for everyone to move along. Let baseball fix this mess and the rest of us can worry about our own teams and what mischief they are up to.
This years preseason preview will be posted as we get closer to the start of the season but look for the Cincinnati Reds to be vastly improved, and the team to watch in the central division. You've already seen the first column from White Sox insider Tom Barnicle and expect more from him as camp moves along. The White Sox will be another very improved team in 2020 and fun to watch.
Finally, I will be at Cubs camp in about nine days and will have a full report once I return. I hope to be able to bring you updates on the young 'uns to keep an eye on and also maybe an interview with a management type. It depends on how many beers we drink while there.