CARLSBAD, CALIFORNIA – 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 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.
DAZN vote planned
In addition to a new five-year term for Manfred, baseball owners plan to vote on a new television contract with Fox and an agreement for in-game cut-ins with the subscription video streaming service DAZN when they meet next week in Atlanta, a person familiar with the agenda told The Associated Press.
Fox and Turner Broadcasting are in the midst of eight-year agreements through 2021 in which Fox has exclusive rights to the World Series and All-Star Game, splits the League Championship Series with Turner and shares the Division Series with Turner and the MLB Network.
DAZN, which launched in 2016 in Japan and has aggressively expanded globally, has been negotiating a $300 million, three-year deal with MLB, the person said.
The streaming company announced an 11-fight deal last month with boxer Canelo Alvarez. Former ESPN president John Skipper is the chairman of DAZN’s parent company.