This week's quarterly meetings for the 30 MLB owners will double as a retirement party for Bud Selig, whose 23-year tenure as commissioner officially ends Jan. 25.
Selig will remain on baseball's payroll, however, reportedly earning a $6-million annual salary in a commissioner-emeritus role, so it's abundantly clear the extent to which he was appreciated by his colleagues.
Much of that has to do with the game's financial growth under Selig, particularly the lucrative television and advanced media packages. But Selig also presided over landmark changes in how baseball is played between the lines, the two biggest being the evolution of stricter PED testing and expanded video review.
More changes could be implemented in the very near future, shortly after Selig steps down and commissioner-elect Rob Manfred takes over. The next frontier appears to involve pace-of-game rules, a number of which will be discussed at this week's meetings.
Initially, Selig was reluctant to bend on expanded replay, labeling himself a traditionalist who worried about tampering with the age-old umpiring dynamic. But he eventually realized it was better to avoid the public messiness of obviously blown calls than stick with an antiquated way of doing things.
The pace-of-game situation is a different matter, but also a modern problem, as MLB has to concern itself with shorter attention spans and a more competitive landscape for sports programming. MLB used the Arizona Fall League this year to test-drive six rules with the hope that a few could be implemented by Opening Day this season.
The owners might determine this week a set of rules that makes sense, and then come up with a proposal for the players association, which also must give its approval. The new rules seem to be working in the AFL. In 2013, the average AFL game lasted 2 hours, 52 minutes. This year, at the Salt River ballpark used for the experiment, the games were a full 10 minutes shorter at 2:42.
One of the more radical concepts involved a 20-second pitch clock, which was posted in both dugouts, along with behind home plate and the outfield, like the NFL does in each end zone with its own play clock. The pitcher had 20 seconds to begin his motion, thereby resetting the clock and avoiding an automatic ball.
Though it was effective in the AFL, it could be too much of an adjustment, too quick, for major-league pitchers, who tend to be creatures of habit.
Another rule that could face resistance is the AFL mandate of keeping at least one foot in the batter's box during each at-bat, except in the case of foul balls or avoiding inside pitches. Eventually, after more reinforcement in the minors, that could become a seamless transition. But too many established players could take issue with it.
The AFL also experimented with the no-pitch intentional walk -- just having the manager call for it from the dugout rather than throw four balls -- along with a maximum of three timeouts pertaining to mound conferences for either a manager or player per game. The AFL put additional 2-minute, 30-second clocks on pitching changes and the between-inning time period, with either strikes or balls as penalties. The complication at the MLB level, however, would involve the length and frequency of TV commercial breaks, which are as important to the sport as the all-stars who play it.
The owners could come up with a plan in the next two days to address those issues, as well as further refinements to replay -- such as avoiding the manager's time-consuming walk on challenges -- and the controversial Rule 7.13, otherwise known as the collision rule. Joe Torre, who recently received the glossier title of MLB's chief baseball officer, has talked in the past about revisiting some of the language with each of those rules and could push this week in Arizona for changes for the upcoming season.