MLB offers to delay pitch clock for other concessions

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Rob Manfred has a power to unilaterally implement a pitch clock for the 2019 season. He doesn’t necessarily want to do that — MLB prefers consensus and ushering in rules changes jointly with the union — and the players seem to not want the pitch clock at all. Those are the conditions for negotiation and, as Jeff Passan reports, the league has made an offer on that score.

The offer: MLB will agree to push back the implementation of the pitch clock until the next Collective Bargaining Agreement in exchange for some or all of the following things, some of which the players want, some of which they don’t, some of which they may not care about:

    • A single trade deadline of July 31st as opposed to a waiver and non-waiver deadline;
    • A three-batter minimum per pitcher, phased in by 2020;
    • A 26-man roster, also phased in by 2020, and a limit of 28-men on the September roster;
    • A 15-day injured list and 15-day minimum optional assignment; and
    • Further limitations on mound visits, position-player pitching, and time between innings

There are pros and cons to all of those things, but I’m certainly struck by how such a deal is very beneficial to the league while being minimally beneficial and, perhaps, harmful to the union’s negotiating interests.

By making the pitch clock such a big deal — and by agreeing to push the pitch clock into the next CBA negotiations — the union would successfully hand Manfred a non-financial bargaining chip he could use to counter to any financial demands the union makes. “You want to change arbitration and service time? OK, give me my pitch clock,” his negotiator might say.

While some set-in-his ways pitcher may think that’s fine, I am still struggling to understand why big leaguers are so dead set against the pitch clock. It’s almost a non-factor in minor league games. Minor leaguers asked about it — including guys who have been around a good while and had to change their approach because of it — have almost all said it’s not a big deal. It’s a pretty forgiving time limit and violations of it are quite rare.

Maybe it irks some guys — and, yes, it’s their workplace and their jobs that are affected — but in no way would I think that it’d be so irksome that it would make sense to diminish your negotiating power on financial issues simply to delay it a bit. And no, it doesn’t similarly diminish MLB’s negotiating power because (a) they could still implement it unilaterally down the road anyway; and (b) by the very act of offering to push it now, they are revealing that it is not as important to them.

As for the other things:

  • A single trade deadline is probably a good quality of life thing for players as it chops a month of uncertainty out of their professional existence. It also promotes baseball trades a bit more than contract dumps and gamesmanship and encourages teams to make decisions about truly trying to win earlier. I suppose it may also encourage white flag-style trades earlier, but it’s harder to quit on your fans in July than August. I’m kinda cool with that going away, frankly;
  • Managers who love to manage the hell out of games may not like a three-batter limit on relievers, but it would end that pitching change/commercial/at-bat/commercial shuffle that kills sixth and seventh innings in their tracks. That’s death for fans and I think a lot of us would happily forego a few one-batter specialists for that. Especially when that one batter is, like, intentionally walked;
  • An extra roster slot is going to, 100%, lead to an extra relief pitcher and God we don’t need that, but I’m not sure how you could avoid it without a pitcher limit on the roster which is a lot more major of a change and a much tougher thing to implement, practically speaking;
  • We’ve talked about the pros and cons of a 15-day, as opposed to the current 10-day, injured list before. As I wrote last month, on balance I probably prefer a 15-day, but I’m not really too invested in it one way or another; and
  • A year in, the mound visit rules seem to be pretty benign and I’m not sure we couldn’t limit them more. Position player pitching seems like a symptom of a problem (i.e. relief pitcher addiction) instead of a problem in and of itself, but a rule on that may actually slap some sense into managers and make them actually, you know, let pitchers pitch a bit more. I’d love to cut down on between-innings breaks, but deals with advertisers, not players, has to lead that kind of initiative.

So, yeah, that’s a lot. And I suppose we’ll soon hear how the union responds to it. In the meantime, I can’t see why the union shouldn’t just tell MLB “do what you feel you need to do on a pitch clock” in the name of keeping some powder dry for the extraordinarily financial negotiations in the next round of CBA talks, but no one asks me these things.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.