ORLANDO, Fla. — Don’t look for a National League designated hitter this year or for new anti-tanking rules in June’s amateur draft.
Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, said on Friday that management was focused on pace-of-game changes for 2019 and bolder ideas proposed by the players’ association were too complex to be put in place for this season.
Speaking after an owners’ meeting, Manfred felt encouraged the union responded to management’s proposal for a pitch clock and a three-batter minimum for a relief pitcher unless an inning ends.
“Some of these items need to be part of broader discussions that certainly will continue after opening day, and I hope we can focus on some of the issues that need to get resolved quickly in the interim,” Manfred said.
Baseball is in its third year of a five-year labor deal, one in which the free-agent market has slowed considerably. Premier players like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still available with spring training camps set to open next week.
Manfred said management would discuss larger changes as part of a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement extending beyond December 2021.
“I hope and I really do believe that there is a common interest between the players’ association, the players, the owners and the commissioner’s office in changes, whether they’re midterm or otherwise, that make our entertainment product the best it could possibly be,” Manfred said.
After the 2017 and 2018 seasons, players rebuffed management’s proposal for a pitch clock designed to speed the pace of play. Management has the right to implement a clock, but Manfred has been reluctant to make on-field changes without players’ agreement.
Management presented its latest proposal Jan. 14, one that included a requirement that pitchers face at least three batters or finish an inning. Players responded Feb. 1 with a broader plan, renewing their push for the D.H. in all games, an earlier trade deadline aimed at discouraging teams with losing records from trading stars, increasing service time for top young stars called up early in the season, and rewarding and penalizing teams in the draft based on their records.
“Those are significant economic issues,” Manfred said. “They are different in kind than the type of playing-rule changes that we have out there.”
Last off-season, negotiations on rule changes were hampered by player anger over the slow free-agent market. This off-season’s pace of signings has been faster but remains far slower than most previous years.
“We want players signed, particularly star players,” Manfred said. “I wish they were signed and ready to go. We got another week before they have to report. I’m really hopeful that it’s going to get resolved during that period of time.”
M.L.B.’s proposal that pitchers face a minimum of three batters in an inning unless it ends was designed both for pace and to slow or reverse the increased use of relievers. The union wants its use at the major league level delayed until 2020.
“Repeated pitching changes obviously take a lot of time,” he said. “The idea of relievers having to go longer is appealing in terms of promoting the role of the starting pitcher, encouraging pitchers to pitch a little longer at the beginning of the game.”
Manfred added that historically some of the league’s biggest stars were starting pitchers and “we want to make sure those big stars are out there long enough that they are marketed.”
In another move that may help the marketing of players, the league will make game highlights available to players for use on social media.
After three straight years of drops that left attendance at its lowest since 2003, Manfred said he was hopeful that the league would see a rebound.
He said he did not think the operation of the free-agent market was a big issue affecting ticket sales.
“I do think that negative commentary surrounding the game that is not factually supported can have an impact on attendance — assertions about clubs not trying to win and the like, I think that’s not helpful,” he said.