“All the dead time in the last two free-agent markets is a larger threat to our game than any supposed dead time between pitches.”
That quote from the head of the MLB Players Association, Tony Clark, comes in response to the recent MLB proposal to the players association, which reportedly includes the implementation of a pitch clock for the 2019 season. And although I tend to side with the players association on a lot of issues, I think that was a pretty poorly-worded statement.
That’s not to say I disagree with him in spirit – the slow free agent market likely is doing damage to the sport and it’s a real problem that absolutely needs to be addressed – but comparing it to pace-of-play is a kind of a false equivalency. Both issues exist separate from each other. And trying to slow the progress of the former in favor of the latter – in my opinion – will come back to bite the players down the line (and don’t even get me started on his use of “supposed,” in his comments … as if it’s not a real problem).
At the same time, I don’t really blame Clark for making these comments. He’s just playing the same game all sides do at times like this: firing away (sometimes disingenuously) in search of leverage at every corner.
Clark’s comments come in response to the proposal MLB handed to the players association, which includes, among many things, changes like going back to a 15-day disabled list (currently 10), increasing the time optioned players have to spend in the minors (from 10 days to 15 days), and, of course, a pitch clock (I recall also reading about a further reduction in mound visits from six to five, but that was not included in AP’s reporting, for what it’s worth). The goal of the league’s changes to the DL and optioned time is aimed at reducing the number of relief pitchers used (teams were playing crafty games with the recently-shortened shelf-time) in order to help with service time and aid offense by reducing strikeouts. And, of course, the pitch clock is aimed directly at pace-of-play.
But in response to what I consider the sort of changes that should benefit all of baseball in the long-term, the players association is making this about free agency. And that leaves us, the fans, in a tricky position.
On the one hand – as a fan and someone who covers baseball – I agree that the free agent ice-out that began last winter and carried into this offseason is bad for the game. It annoys fans, it frustrates players, and it transform a baseball advantage in attention into a negative. But I’m not about to make concessions to desired rules changes that can improve the on-field game in both the short and long-term in order to make improvements to free agency … because I shouldn’t have to choose. They both need to be addressed, and I think both sides know that, despite their words and actions.
Basically, I’m saying that the commissioner and union shouldn’t turn this into a false choice, and I don’t want you to fall for it. Personally and professionally, I care too much about baseball to let that happen. And I hope the players association and league eventually come to the same realization.
As a final reminder: The league doesn’t actually need the players association’s approval to make any of these rules changes – the commissioner can do so unilaterally on most of these proposals, having already proposed changes a year ago. However, given the contentious nature of that relationship, I believe both sides want to come to an agreement on the changes to the game. Inherently, however, agreements tend to come with concessions from both sides. I hope that’s something everyone keeps in mind as we head ever closer to what’s certain to be at least a threatened work stoppage before the expiration of the current CBA.