It’s time to manufacture pace-of-play content once again

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There’s a neat pattern that plays out a couple of times a year. It goes like this:

  • MLB meets and, included among the many topics of discussion, is pace-of-play;
  • MLB makes some non-committal noises about some minor rules changes which may improve pace-of-play;
  • The media — almost always ESPN and their multiple personalities on multiple platforms needing to feed the maw of a 24/7 sports news monster — goes far beyond the minor rules changes being discussed and talks about things like seven inning games;
  • Since ESPN occupies such a prominent position in the sports media landscape, this maw-feeding leads to the rest of the media weighing in on the agenda ESPN set.

It happened last July. It’s happening again, kicked off by Rob Manfred’s comments the other day. If you’re curious about the latest iteration of it, seek out Jayson Stark and Karl Ravech’s Twitter feeds this morning. Or, if you’re into such things, go check out the Mike and Mike show, which is doing that thing where they pretend to care about baseball 2-3 times a year.

It’s no accident that this stuff becomes a big topic of conversation when it does. It happens during the dog days, after the All-Star Game and before the trade deadline or the time when pennant races get into gear. It happens now, before spring training and after the Super Bowl, when sports news is at its annual nadir (note: it’s the same week the SI Swimsuit Issue comes out too, which was itself designed to fill pages when sports news could not). I would bet my children that somewhere an ESPN editor or producer decided that, as a company, that’s what would be on the agenda this week, all hooked on the tiniest bit of news about baseball considering, maybe, implementing an automatic intentional walk.

Yes, pace-of-play and game length is an issue MLB is concerned with and yes it’s a topic worth discussing. But don’t get sucked into the ESPN-led debates about this. Keep an eye on who is setting the terms of the discussion and whether those terms bear any relationship with what is actually being considered by Major League Baseball. When you see an article or hear a teaser for a radio segment which goes “should baseball games be seven innings long?!” know that the idea was invented by pundits to fill air time and give it your attention accordingly.

 

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.