Joe Torre on instant replay: “it’s complicated”

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — Joe Torre just addressed the media at the Winter Meetings to announce the latest developments on instant replay. The latest: not many developments.

Torre said that the matter was discussed at length with managers and general managers here this morning and that, while the league has given general approval of a challenge-based system like the one recently tested in the Arizona Fall League, there are still a number of issues that need to be finalized with respect to implementation. Torre said he is confident, however, that replay will be approved and in place for spring training and the 2014 season.

The challenge system — as opposed to any number of “eye in the sky” or fifth umpire-in-the-booth scenarios — seems unlikely to be changed, even if the specifics of what can and cannot be challenged are still in flux. A baseball source told me that there has been extensive discussion about something other than a challenge system, but that the consensus is still that a challenge system is still preferable. A big reason for this the time between the end of the play and initiation of the challenge. A manager may be expected to challenge swiftly, replay officials may deliberate more. During that deliberation a pitch may already be thrown.

One specific issue I and others have raised about a challenge system is what happens to umpire discretion on the so-called “neighborhood play” at second base, in which umpires — in the interest of fielder safety — will call a runner out even if the fielder doesn’t have a foot on the bag. I asked Torre if there has been discussion about what might happen to the neighborhood play if managers challenge the technical skirting of the rules about force outs. He immediately said “yes, lots of discussion.” I got the strong sense that that issue has taken up a lot of space and time in this whole story.

A person with knowledge of the managerial discussions told me after Torre’s comments that, at the moment, the idea is to make the neighborhood play non-challengable in the interests of fielder safety. Transfer plays, however — in which the fielder turning a double play may bobble the ball while retrieving it from his glove — will be reviewable.

None of this is perfect, obviously. But even a flawed system is preferable to one in which no replay is available. And, my personal criticisms and preference for a fifth umpire in the booth aside, it’s inevitable that whatever is ultimately implemented will improve with usage and practice. Put differently: it’s time for the discussion to end and time for replay to begin. the faster that happens, the quicker the debugging can happen.

Julio Urias to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery

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The news has gone from bad to worse for Dodgers’ left-hander Julio Urias, who is scheduled for anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder next Tuesday and expected to be sidelined through the middle of the 2018 season. His MRI came back negative on Wednesday, giving the Dodgers some hope that the 20-year-old’s bout of shoulder inflammation wasn’t masking any structural damage, but the pain lingered several days later and prompted further concern from the club. The procedure will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

Urias was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City in late May and placed on the disabled list with left shoulder discomfort several weeks into his assignment. At the major league level, he owned a 5.40 ERA, 5.4 BB/9 and 4.2 SO/9 through 23 1/3 innings, going 0-2 in five starts with Los Angeles. He made a brief rebound in Triple-A, posting three wins and striking out 17 of 67 batters in 17 1/3 innings before landing on the DL.

It’s a tough blow for the southpaw, who had yet to hit his stride in the majors before getting sidelined with shoulder issues. The Dodgers were especially mindful of this outcome for Urias, and had taken preventative measures to protect his arm by establishing a strict innings limit last season. According to club president Andrew Friedman, there’s a small silver lining here: while Urias’ injury will keep him out of work for at least 12 months, he doesn’t appear to have sustained any damage to his labrum or rotator cuff, and could be facing a much more streamlined recovery process as a result. Whether he’ll be able to rebound once he takes the mound again remains to be seen.

Tigers release Francisco Rodriguez

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Tigers’ right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez was released on Friday, per a team announcement. The club recalled fellow right-hander Bruce Rondon from Triple-A Toledo in a corresponding move.

The former closer got the boot after losing his closing role in early May, giving left-hander Justin Wilson a chance to impress at the back end of the bullpen. It’s been a rough year for Rodriguez, who manufactured six blown saves and a 7.82 ERA, 3.9 BB/9 and 8.2 SO/9 over 25 1/3 innings for the Tigers. The final straw, it seemed, came with Robinson Cano‘s grand slam in the seventh inning of the Tigers’ 6-9 loss to the Mariners on Thursday.

While the demotion to a clean-up role and an apparent lack of communication caused Rodriguez considerable frustration, he’s two years removed from his last dominant performance as a major league closer and has shown few signs of returning to form. His recent slump doesn’t diminish the impressive totals he’s racked up over his 16-year career — 437 saves and six All-Star nominations among them — but if he can’t break out of it soon, he may not receive the kind of high leverage role he’s seeking with another big league team, either.