In case you missed, earlier today, a prominent Major League agent threw down the gauntlet against the owners and the mess this offseason has become, going as far as to suggest a player boycott of Spring Training. Woof.
Although that statement was not in direct response to anything that just happened (it’s clearly about the offseason and the last year as a whole), Commissioner Rob Manfred did make his rounds yesterday (at the close of the owners meetings, but before the agent statement), and had plenty to say on pace-of-play, the union, free agency, and everything in between.
- By now you know that Manfred has the authority to implement a pitch clock in 2018 with or without the input from the union (even though he desperately wants it, so he can better sell the changes to the fans). But a clock this season is not a foregone conclusion. Recently, he extended an offer, which, if accepted, would mean no clock in 2018 no matter what, and potentially no clock in 2019 if the average game time this season was less than 2 hours and 55 minutes (which is frustratingly beside the point, but whatever, we dug in already). “The players seemed to be saying that pace of game was a problem, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, but we don’t like clocks,” Manfred said. “Our proposal then was, ‘Let’s see how year one goes.’ If in fact we get a reduction in our game time … there would be no clock in the second year of the agreement either.”
- In the end, the commissioner says that the league is 100% committed to both addressing pace-of-play and doing so with the players on board – note: some of the other parts of the proposal (mound visits, commercial time, batters staying in the box) would remain in effect. This is just the “no-clock-no-matter-what” offer.
- Encouragingly, Manfred has not set a “drop-dead” date by which the union must accept one of these offers, which I believe is the right move. There is already so much tension, the last thing we need is a countdown. “I don’t think this is a Defcon 3 issue,” Manfred said, “no matter what happens.”
- Of course, don’t expect this to go on forever … or even too far into Spring Training. “The next 10 days are important,” Manfred said about the negotiations and planning for 2018. And although that may seem like a deadline, I can at least understand where Manfred is coming from. If these sort of changes are to go in effect by Opening Day, the league will need time to prep the stadiums, inform and train the umpires, educate the players, etc. Otherwise, it just won’t go smoothly and that could actually exacerbate the problem.
- But as the league focuses the next ten days on coming to an agreement, the union is still dead-set on finding homes – with appropriate contracts – for the 100+ free agents out there. Manfred addressed this issue, too: “Every market is different,” Manfred said. “There’s different players, different quality of players, different GMs, different decisions, new Basic Agreement, different agents who had particular prominence in a market in terms of who they represent. Those factors … have combined to produce a particular market this year.” Manfred went onto explain his belief that some winters have been defined by the unusually high contracts for players and that everything ebbs and flows.
- He’s right to an extent, but clearly this offseason is in a league of its own. And moreover, no, he’s not wrong that there’s a confluence of events conspiring to restrict free agent flow, but that’s kinda beside the point, isn’t it? At least, from the players’ perspective, it is. These guys will either get the deals their peers have signed in other offseasons or they won’t, and that’s how they’ll measure the outcome. And unfortunately, without knowing – for just one extreme example – if J.D. Martinez is really asking for $200 million but only getting $100 million offers, it’s hard to know which side (the players or owners) is being more unreasonable.
- And finally, on this ugly, no-good, dirty-rotten, extra-inning rules wherein a runner would start on second base during exhibition games (All-Star Game, Spring Training), Manfred re-affirmed that no such change has been considered for the regular season. I’m still weary of the exhibition games simply being a proving ground for the regular season, but so long as the rule is truly solely for exhibition games, I’m on board. Especially because, for the 1,000th time – the length of these games is not the problem. It’s the pace. So if you address pace-of-play, future fans don’t necessarily care if a game goes 15 innings or not. The game doesn’t need to end sooner; it needs to bear as much actual baseball action as possible.