Don’t look for a National League designated hitter this year or for new anti-tanking rules in June’s amateur draft.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday that management is focused on pace-of-game changes for 2019 and that bolder ideas proposed by the players’ association are too complex to be put in place for this season.
Speaking Friday after an owners’ meeting, Manfred felt encouraged the union responded to management’s proposal for a pitch clock and a three-batter minimum for a relief pitcher unless an inning ends.
“Some of these items need to be part of broader discussions that certainly will continue after opening day, and I hope we can focus on some of the issues that need to get resolved quickly in the interim,” Manfred said.
Baseball is in its third year of a five-year labor deal, one in which the free-agent market has slowed considerably — even with premier players available such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Management would discuss larger changes as part of a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement extending beyond December 2021.
“I hope and I really do believe that there is a common interest between the players’ association, the players, the owners and the commissioner’s office in changes, whether they’re midterm or otherwise, that make our entertainment product the best it could possibly be,” Manfred said.
After the 2017 and ’18 seasons, players rebuffed management’s proposal for a pitch clock designed to speed to the pace of play. Management has the right to implement a clock, but Manfred has been reluctant to make on-field changes without players’ agreement.
Management presented its latest proposal Jan. 14, one that included a requirement that pitchers face at least three batters or finish an inning. Players responded Feb. 1 with a broader plan, renewing their push for the DH in all games, an earlier trade deadline aimed at discouraging teams with losing records from trading stars, increasing service time for top young stars called up early in the season and rewarding and penalizing teams in the draft based on their records.
“Those are significant economic issues. They are different in kind than the type of playing-rule changes that that we have out there,” Manfred said. “I think that there are pieces of their response on the on-field proposal that were very encouraging. I think what needs to be sorted out is how closely the two agendas are tied, in other words, the on-field stuff and the economic stuff.”
Last offseason, negotiations were hampered by player anger over the slow free-agent market. This offseason’s pace of signings has been faster but remains far slower than most previous years.
“We want players signed, particularly star players. I wish they were signed and ready to go,” Manfred said. “We got another week before they have to report. I’m really hopeful that it’s going to get resolved during that period of time.”
MLB’s proposal that pitchers face a minimum of three batters in an inning unless it ends was designed both for pace and to slow or reverse the increased use of relievers. The union wants its use at the big-league level delayed until 2020.
“Repeated pitching changes obviously take a lot of time,” he said. “The idea of relievers having to go longer is appealing in terms of promoting the role of the starting pitcher, encouraging pitchers to pitch a little longer at the beginning of the game. I think historically some of our biggest stars (are) starting pitchers and we want to make sure those big stars are out there long enough that that they are marketed.”