Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has pleaded time and again for workable feedback from the players in the effort to accelerate the pace of play, and the latest proposal on the negotiating table reflects that player sentiment.
Manfred was in California for owners meetings Thursday, and he told reporters generally that MLB is willing to defer implementation of a pitch clock for the 2018 season if the players agree to guidelines designed to reduce the average time of game.
That was the headliner of a proposal sent to the union in the aftermath of a Jan. 23 meeting between representatives from the union and Major League League, but was just one of many details, according to an official on the team side who described the proffer.
Because of a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated decades ago, Major League Baseball has the power to unilaterally implement changes to the game, such as a pitch clock or a limit on the number of mound visits. But as MLB aims to reduce the average game time, which continues to increase despite constant conversation in recent years, it prefers a collaborative effort with the players. To that end, MLB integrated ideas from the players in its latest proposal.
The opener: "The following is offered as a potential framework for resolving the pace-of-game dispute based on the feedback we have received from the Players Association and players' comments at the August 2017 meeting, and to the media."
Among the highlights of the most recent MLB proposal:
The time-of-game goal for 2018 would be to play games in under 2 hours, 55 minutes; if 2:55 or longer -- a failure to meet the goal -- then an 18-second pitch clock would be put into effect for the 2019 season, with an automatic ball-strike penalty for violations put into effect on May 1, 2019. If the average game time was under 2:55 in 2018, then MLB would play in 2019 without a pitch clock, and the time-of-game goal would be 2 hours, 50 minutes. If that goal wasn't met, the use of a pitch clock would be triggered for 2020.
MLB will withdraw its request for a between-batter timer if the union reaches an agreement on the pace-of-play initiatives.
MLB maintained its request for a limit of six mound visits, with a possible circumstantial trigger to five.
Specific times allotted for pitchers to warm up between innings, and for hitters to approach home plate, so that the game promptly restarts after a commercial break -- but, in 2018, no penalties attached to the ball-strike count for those not in compliance. Special circumstances are acknowledged, such as when an inning ends with a runner on base, or when a catcher makes the last out of an inning and requires more time to put on his gear.
MLB is ready to accept the union's proposal to study the feasibility of bullpen carts and would introduce the use of carts where feasible in 2018 and 2019.
MLB is prepared to discuss the reduction of the 30-second replay clock, in which managers are required to decide whether they would challenge a call, as well as a reduction in the number of manager challenges.
There are specific proposed guidelines on the commercials for the local broadcasts (2:05), national television (2:25) and postseason (2:55).
Major League Baseball's latest proposal to the union was not accompanied by a specific deadline for acceptance, but Manfred stated the obvious to reporters Thursday: With the start of spring training looming, MLB needs to determine a course of action soon for the upcoming season.
Some club executives and agents believe the discussions around pace-of-play have been affected by the sluggish winter market for free agents. More than 100 veteran players remain unsigned, with individual players constantly trading unhappy texts and phone calls with peers about the union's current context.
"As we sit here today, the first week of February, our focus is on the 100+ Free Agents still available," said Tony Clark, executive director of the Players Association. "Players and the PA remain committed to the competitive integrity of the game on all fronts, including on field rules."
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson noted that teams appear to be more deliberate in their negotiations in a slow free-agent market, but said he expects a flurry of roster moves in the next few weeks.
"There's a reason that the market has been stagnant, and it's not just because clubs aren't spending money,'' Alderson said. "It's because players aren't prepared to sign contracts currently, given where the marketplace is. So I'm sure that will change at some point, one way or the other. Things will loosen up on one side or both. But right now, it isn't just clubs that are not signing players, it's players not signing contracts. They're as cautious as some teams have been."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.