MLB would drop 2018 pitch clock if players agree to phase-in

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Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during a news conference at the baseball owners meetings. | Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Major League Baseball has offered to ditch its proposal for a pitch clock this year and also would go without one in 2019 if the average time of a nine-inning game drops to at least 2 hours, 55 minutes this season.

Speaking after a quarterly owners meeting ended Thursday, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said owners authorized him to implement management’s proposal from last offseason, which calls for a 20-second pitch clock this year, if an agreement cannot be reached with the players’ association. Management has proposed a deal that would phase in new rules over the next three seasons

“We remain 100 percent committed to the idea that we need to make changes to address pace of game and that the best way to address pace of game for us, for the players and most importantly for our fans is to get an agreement with the players,” Manfred said. “There is a strong sentiment among ownership that we need to do something about pace of play this year.”

Manfred thought he was close to a deal during the offseason but union head Tony Clark said players rejected the proposal and said “he didn’t think he was in a position to make any agreement on the topic.”

MLB listened to player’s public comments and at a Jan. 23 meeting attended by Manfred, deputy commissioner Dan Halem and Clark, MLB proposed no clock this year as part of a three-year plan, Manfred said. There would be a pitch clock in 2019 if the average time of a nine-inning game is higher than 2:55 this year, Manfred said, and a person familiar with the plan told The Associated Press the proposal called for an 18-second timer and only with no runners on base. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because those details were not announced.

MLB proposed if the average time of a nine-inning game in 2019 is 2:50 or higher, a 20-second pitch clock with runners on base would be added for 2020, the person added. MLB did not set a specific deadline for the union to reach an agreement.

The average time of a nine-inning game was a record 3:05 last year and has not been at 2:55 or below since 2011 and at 2:50 or under since 2006.

Talks began after the 2016 but Manfred said just one meeting that included players was held during the 2017 season, last August in Washington, D.C. He said the next 10 days are important in negotiations but has not set a specific deadline for a deal. Players start reporting to spring training Feb. 14 and big league exhibition games begin Feb. 23.

“They are well aware that we have a calendar that is ticking,” Manfred said. “We’re waiting for some sort of response as to our last suggestion.”

The union acknowledges pace of play is an issue but has resisted a pitch clock, which has been used at Triple-A and Double-A for three seasons.

“They think it could be addressed without a pitch clock,” Manfred said. “I don’t see it as something that needs to be the source of great contentiousness between us and the players.”

MLB also has proposed limits on trips to the pitcher’s mound.

Negotiations have been complicated by the slow free-agent market.

“As we sit here today, the first week of February, our focus is on the 100+ Free Agents still available,” Clark said in an email to the AP. “Players and the PA remain committed to the competitive integrity of the game on all fronts, including on field rules.”

Manfred said free agent markets changed based on available players, involved agents and general managers, and changes in the collective bargaining agreement.

“Occasionally you’re going to have some that are a little different, not quite as robust,” he said.

He said due to changes in the labor contract that started last year “our payrolls are more compressed” from top-to-bottom-spending teams, according to 2018 projections. He said the teams feel that “is important in terms of preserving the competitive balance in the game.”

Under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, management has the right to implement on-field rules changes with one year of advance notice, so in the absence of a deal MLB’s choice would be limited to whether or not to impose last offseason’s proposal, which calls for a 30-second clock between batters, a 20-second clock between pitches and one mound visit per pitcher each inning without a pitching change, whether by a manager, coach or player.

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