No rule changes likely un­til eve of spring train­ing

Belleville News-Democrat - - Sports - BY RON­ALD BLUM

Ma­jor League Base­ball and its play­ers’ union likely will not de­cide un­til the eve of spring train­ing whether to change rules in an ef­fort to in­crease ac­tion on the field next year.

Deputy Com­mis­sioner Dan Halem said Thurs­day as the an­nual gen­eral man­agers’ meet­ings ended that there was no con­sen­sus for change yet. More dis­cus­sions will take place when own­ers gather next week in At­lanta, the union’s ex­ec­u­tive board con­venes in late Novem­ber and ma­jor league ex­ec­u­tives go to Las Ve­gas for the win­ter meet­ings in mid-De­cem­ber.

Top­ics be­ing dis­cussed in­clude the in­creased use of de­fen­sive shifts, the de­crease in in­nings thrown by start­ing pitch­ers and tech­nol­ogy that aids sign steal­ing. A pos­si­ble 20sec­ond pitch clock and al­ter­ations to rules for waivers, trade dead­lines and dis­abled lists also are be­ing talked about by a tra­di­tion-bound sport re­sis­tant to change.

“We’re an en­ter­tain­ment prod­uct. Cer­tainly, we want to play the game in a way that’s com­pelling for our au­di­ence, in­clud­ing the younger au­di­ence,” Halem said. “We’re con­stantly look­ing at the way the game is chang­ing or­gan­i­cally and try­ing to bal­ance the com­pet­i­tive is­sues with our clubs and our GMs do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to win ver­sus what those de­ci­sions re­sult in in terms of the prod­uct on the field. And it’s not an easy bal­ance, but we work very hard at it.”

Agree­ment with the union is nec­es­sary for play­ing rules changes, but man­age­ment has the right to uni­lat­er­ally im­ple­ment a new play­ing rule with one year ad­vance no­tice. Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred had the right to man­date pitch clocks for 2018 but backed off when the union re­fused to agree, and he re­tains the abil­ity to or­der clocks for 2019.

MLB did ini­ti­ate lim­its on mound trips with­out pitch­ing changes in 2018, and the aver­age time of a nine-in­ning game dropped to 3 hours, 44 sec­onds dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son from 3:05:11 in 2017 – al­though it rose to 3:34:50 this post­sea­son from 3:29:28 in 2017.

“It’s go­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” Halem said.

Halem said he isn’t cer­tain when man­age­ment and the union will meet and set spring train­ing as the dead­line to de­ter­mine any ac­tions.

Man­fred has said the sport is ex­am­in­ing whether it should at­tempt to man­age the evo­lu­tion of on-field play in an era when strike­outs topped hits for the first time in 2018 and the big league bat­ting aver­age dropped to its low­est level since 1972, the last sea­son be­fore the Amer­i­can League adopted the des­ig­nated hit­ter. Strike­outs have set records for 11 straight years as more pitch­ers throw harder and teams more fre­quently bring in re­liev­ers.

“I think the com­mis­sioner has said we’d prob­a­bly like to see more balls in the play,” Halem said.

There was just one trade an­nounced dur­ing the four-day ses­sion: Seattle ac­quired speedy out­fielder Mallex Smith from Tampa Bay as part of a five­player trade that sent catcher Mike Zunino and out­fielder Guillermo Here­dia to the Rays.

Most gen­eral man­agers said

their fo­cus is win­ning un­der the cur­rent rules.

“I just re­act to what­ever’s hap­pen­ing and do ev­ery­thing I can to try to put our team in po­si­tion to score more runs than the other team,” Los An­ge­les Dodgers pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions An­drew Fried­man said.

Agent Scott Bo­ras on Wed­nes­day at­trib­uted the 4 per­cent at­ten­dance drop this year to the de­ci­sions by sev­eral teams to jet­ti­son vet­er­ans in fa­vor of re­build­ing – which cuts the money spent on con­tracts for play­ers, in­clud­ing his clients.

“I cer­tainly don’t agree with that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion,” Halem said. “I don’t and our own­ers don’t be­lieve that there’s any con­nec­tion be­tween the re­build­ing process and over­all at­ten­dance. There are a va­ri­ety of rea­sons for our at­ten­dance num­bers. We had poor weather.”

There were 54 post­pone­ments, the most since 1989, and 26 were higher-draw­ing week­end games. Man­fred said 35 games in April had a tem­per­a­ture of 40 de­grees or less.

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