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Play Ball: Talk About Change Could Prevent Another MLB “Strike” Out

There’s this pervasive feeling among Major League Baseball fans that a major rift between the owners and the players will darken the game’s path as it tries to move forward.

The fact dozens of free agents are still unsigned 10 days before Spring Training has the players union feeling ownership is being disingenuous. It has them whispering about collusion again, worrying that

the system and the mindset is now designed to prevent them from becoming filthy rich during free agency.

You know, like why else would Bryce Harper and Manny Machado not be signed by now unless there was a conspiracy in place to prevent it?

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks at the National Press Club July 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. The MLB All-Star game will be held tomorrow at Nationals Park. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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If this is true – and why wouldn’t it be – you can expect every effort ownership makes to change to the game will be met with just enough resistance from the union to turn it into a bargaining chip.

We were reminded of this again after The Athletic laid out a series of rule changes ownership would like to implement, some as soon as the start of this season.

On Jan. 14, ownership presented the players a fact sheet concerning pace of play, long a key concern of its competition committee. Among the proposals would be something that potentially could eliminate a specialty job, the reliever who faces just one or two hitters.

MLB wants relievers to be required to pitch to at least three hitters before they can be replaced, something which would reduce mound visits and trim time from games.

As you might suspect, the union was quick to respond.

The main thrust of its retort was the perceived lack of competitive integrity (teams not improving themselves in free agency) and the way ownership controls the timing in which players are recalled to the Majors at the start of their careers.

The later a player is recalled in their rookie season, the more service time the team gets before free agency rolls around. In 2015, the Cubs waited until April 17 to call up Kris Bryant, by which time Bryant would not be credited with a full year of service time. This manipulation of a loophole in the rule really bothers players.

The union figures it can fight back on the competition issue by penalizing teams with poor records instead of rewarding them with high draft picks. Imagine a world in which the Boston Red Sox get the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft for winning the World Series and the Baltimore Orioles pick last for losing 115 games.

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 15: The Oakland Athletics number one draft pick Kyler Murray #1 an outfielder out of the University of Oklahoma takes batting practice prior to the start of the game between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum on June 15, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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The players also want what’s known as the universal designated hitter, a fancy way of demanding the NL adopt the rule the AL has used since Ron Blomberg was walked by Luis Tiant of the Red Sox as the game’s first DH on April 6, 1973.

The union wants this done right away. MLB seems reluctant, fearful the way the game is played in the NL – without a DH – would disappear forever.

It doesn’t take a degree is analytics to see how things are beginning to stack as potential negotiating chips for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The current one expires in 2021.

Sources tell The Athletic if there is no agreement on these issues, the commissioner’s office has the power through the existing CBA to implement three things it wants – the 20-second pitch clock, a reduction of mound visits from six to five and a rule placing a baserunner on second base in spring training games and the All-Star Game when the score is tied after the 10th inning.

As of now, MLB is asking mound visits be dropped from six to four this season and down to three in next year. It has also agreed to expand rosters to 26 next year while limiting them to 28 (from 40) come September.

In terms of the roster expansion to 26 (with a 12-pitcher minimum) here is the possible give and take: The owners award the extra job in return for mandating the minimum number of hitters a reliever can face because we all know that extra player will likely be a specialty reliever.

The Athletic said MLB believes the three-batter minimum might make starting pitching more valuable again. It would also limit platooning which the game blames for the astronomical rise in strikeouts in 2018. For the first time ever last season, there were more strikeouts than hits in the game.

There has also been discussion about moving the trade deadline up from July 31 to before the All-Star break, lowering the pitcher’s mound and allowing two-sport studs, like Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, to sign Major League contracts in order to keep them from choosing football instead of baseball because of money.

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