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.