No rule changes likely until eve of spring training
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 20-second pitch clock and alterations to rules for waivers, trade deadlines and disabled lists also are being talked about by a traditionbound 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.
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.
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 try 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.
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.