ORLANDO, Fla. — Commissioner Rob Manfred on Friday all but ruled out bringing the designated hitter to the National League in time for the 2019 season, saying “the clock’s kind of ticking” on making such a momentous change before Opening Day.
But Manfred did sound hopeful that owners and players can agree to changes to pace-of-play rules before the first pitch of the season is thrown.
“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 that it can possibly be,” Manfred said at the end of the owners’ meetings at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. “I have great confidence in that common sort of viewpoint.”
Major League Baseball sent the Players Association a pace-of-play proposal in January that included items such as a 20-second pitch clock and a three-batter minimum for relievers. The union, which is led by former player Tony Clark, countered with a much more extensive proposal that included economic issues, such as changes to calculating service time and the amateur draft. The owners consider adding the DH to the National League an economic issue because the DH can be a high-salaried position.
“I’m glad we got a responsive proposal from the union,” Manfred said. “I will say that not just the designated hitter, but obviously things that give service time to players for days when they’re not in the major leagues and alterations to the amateur draft, which is our pipeline to talent — those are significant economic issues. They are different in kind than the type of playing rule changes that we have out there.”
The collective-bargaining agreement between the owners and players runs through 2021, but Manfred said he is willing to discuss the union’s proposals in time.
“We will engage, but they came with a much broader agenda than what we have out there,” he said. “We’re going to get back at them this week. I’ll have a better feel for where I think we are. I do think, realistically — and I suspect Tony knows this — that there are items in their agenda . . . it’s going to take longer to deal with. Just pick an item, the idea that we’re going to agree to the DH in time for the 2019 season, the clock’s kind of ticking on that one. So I think 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 we need to get resolved quickly in the interim. We’ll see how the talks go on that.”
Manfred explained the thinking behind the radical proposal to require relievers to face at least three batters (unless it’s the end of the inning or the pitcher is injured).
“I think repeated pitching changes obviously take a lot of time,” Manfred said. “They affect the pace of the game. That’s one rationale. I think 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.”
With spring training set to open next week, two of baseball’s biggest stars in Bryce Harper and Manny Machado remain free agents. It’s an embarrassing situation for baseball and one that Manfred hopes will be settled soon.
“We want players signed,” he said. “Particularly star players. I wish they were signed and ready to go. We’ve got another week before they have to report. I’m really hopeful that it’s going to get resolved during that period of time . . . Obviously, we want our star players signed and ready to go when we start playing.”