One of the biggest off-field storylines of the past couple years has been the necessary – but hotly debated – pace-of-play initiatives that are periodically rolling out across the game. Under Commissioner Rob Manfred, the league has made improving the pace of baseball games a priority, including both the length of the game and also the volume of action on the field. Those efforts, so far, have been mostly unsuccessful, piecing together small rule changes (that are rarely enforced) here and there.
While some much bigger changes were expected to be included in last year’s update to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Players Union and the League could not come to terms, and the issue was set aside for the time being. Sorta.
Of course, I say “sorta,” because there exists a rule that allows the Commissioner to change the rules of the game unilaterally (i.e. without the approval of the players), so long as he gives everyone a one-year heads up … which he did last season on this very topic. So basically, everyone expected pace-of-play to be addressed again this offseason – specifically, implementing pitch clocks, hit clocks, and mound visit limits – ahead of the 2018 season.
With that said, the Commissioner didn’t want to do it unilaterally. As we very recently explored, the league would obviously LOVE if the players were involved in the process (even if it meant some concessions would be made along the way), because the players can do a much better job of selling it to the general public (or vice versa) than the guys wearing suits ever could.
Unfortunately, it sounds like those negotiations between the Players Association and the League have ground to a halt, and the players are prepared to go hard in the opposite direction:
Sources: Players expected to reject MLB’s pace-of-play proposal, setting stage for Manfred to unilaterally implement pitch clock. Story for The Athletic: https://t.co/sYKIABFRIo $
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 18, 2018
#MLB's pace-of-play talks with the Players Association have stalled, says a source. Barring a breakthrough soon, we're moving closer to baseball unilaterally implementing a pitch clock in 2018. https://t.co/lr2zyFEQky
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) January 18, 2018
One unnamed player in the Rosenthal article claims he’s “seen players unified on issues before, but nothing like this.”
And apparently, the players are not against pace-of-play improvements in general, but are simply against things like the pitch clock because it violates the “timeless aspect” of the game, and could increase the risk of injury. You can probably make an argument for the former (though, I wouldn’t, because lengthy baseball games with no action are – in my opinion – a huge problem for the future of the sport), but what about that risk of injury part?
In case you forgot or were unaware, there’s been a pitch clock in the minor leagues for a few years now, and there’s been no indication whatsoever that it’s increased the risk of injury – believe me, if some top pitching prospect was hurt because of it (or in any tangentially related way), we’d never hear the end of it. But that’s not happened, and I don’t suspect it will.
But there’s more that’s irking the players. Take, for example, this revelation from Rosenthal’s report: “Under terms of baseball’s collective-bargaining agreement, Manfred only can implement the proposal he made to the union last offseason and not his latest offer, which — according to sources — addressed some concerns raised by the union.”
That’s a bummer. Basically, the final version of a pitch clock we might now see won’t be one that had *any* of the player’s concerns addressed. Had the union agreed to something last winter or come to an agreement this winter, they could’ve had their concerns met (or made other concessions like a 26th man on the roster), but because no agreement has been reached, the Commissioner can implement only the proposal from last offseason – which is only going to drive a further wedge between the players and the league at a time when the relationship is growing more strained by the day.
I’m still in favor of a pitch clock for 2018 (20 seconds is plenty of time to deliver a pitch with the bases empty), as well as other reasonable pace-of-play changes, but I had held out hope it would be a coordinated effort with the players behind it. Without an agreement, it feels like we’re headed for a lot more controversy.