Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols is dominating the headlines this week, and that probably won’t change in the coming weeks and months until some kind of resolution is reached about his expiring contract.
SI.com’s Jon Heyman reported earlier today that there is “virtually no chance” of Pujols and the Cards finding a middle ground on an extension before the slugger arrives at spring training next Wednesday, February 16. Now Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com is reporting that Pujols has no plans to address the media on his day of arrival either.
That’s Albert’s prerogative, just as it’s his prerogative to seek out as much money as he can possibly find either from the Cardinals this spring or as a free agent next winter. But Pujols set that mid-February deadline two months ago because he wanted to “avoid distractions” while preparing for the 2011 season, and that simply isn’t going to happen.
Cardinals camp will be flooded with reporters on February 16 and they will all want to ask Pujols about his contract status. How many times can one guy respond “no comment” before a chair goes flying?
Even if Pujols makes it through that day without getting frustrated by the throngs of media members who want a sound byte from baseball’s best hitter, the rest of the spring is not going to be a breeze and the regular season will probably be even worse. Reporters who cover road teams are going to ask him about his contract status after every single game and a packaged response may only work for so long.
Albert can probably handle it. The Cardinals’ media relations department will do a fine job of blocking potential problems and keeping things well mannered, but Pujols will soon come to realize that his 2011 spring and summer won’t be distraction-free if he is indeed an impending free agent.
For a guy who likes to keep things close to the vest, this will all be strange territory.
ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.
MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.
Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.
Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this:
Earlier, Craig covered Rob Manfred’s comments in which he accused the Major League Baseball Players’ Association of “a lack of cooperation” concerning some proposed rule changes. The union would need to agree to any such changes, which have included automatic intentional walks, limiting mound visits, pitch clocks, and swapping batting practice times for home and visiting teams.
Manfred went on to say that MLB will impose those rule changes unilaterally next year as allowed in the latest collective bargaining agreement.
Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLBPA, responded to Manfred’s comment. Via Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:
“Unless your definition of ‘cooperation’ is blanket approval, I don’t agree that we’ve failed to cooperate with the Commissioner’s office on these issues.”
“Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this off season we’ve been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened.”
“I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don’t continue, notwithstanding today’s comments about implementation. As I’ve said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open.”
“My understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2min limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of Game warning/fine adjustments.”
Clark’s response isn’t anything too shocking. Manfred’s accusation was pretty baseless, but it’s behavior to be expected of a commissioner who comes down on the side of the owners over the players almost always.