CLEVELAND — Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred took on a host of topics with baseball’s card-carrying writing press on Tuesday at the All-Star Game, and one of the issues du jour was the designated hitter.
The upshot? Not coming to our National League town anytime soon.
Manfred said that the DH for both leagues won’t be up for much discussion until 2021, the year the current bargaining agreement is over.
And, Manfred added, “I do not that think that it’s inevitable. It depends on how the bargaining unfolds and how my politics develop on that one. I’m not quite sure where I am on that one.”
Manfred reminded reporters that it would take three-quarters of the owners (or at least 23 of the 30) to agree to the change for the National League to match the American.
“Hell, it was hard for me to get three-quarters to get elected, let alone on the DH,” cracked Manfred. “Lest we not forget.”
He addressed many other issues:
• One of the hottest items during All-Star week was the texture of the baseball and/or an intentional alteration of it, as American League starting pitcher Justin Verlander of Houston had suggested strongly the day before. Manfred said the independent scientists asked by his office to do the studies have determined that, indeed, there was a “drag,” on the ball.
Many team home-run records will fall but Manfred indicated to the Post-Dispatch that nobody, i.e., hitters, had complained that the composition of the same ball also was causing record strikeouts and walks in the past couple of years. Then, broached with the theory that if more balls were put in play there would be less kerfuffle about the ball, Manfred replied, “You’re right.”
• As for the Tampa Bay/Montreal proposed split season, Manfred said, “I’m focused on the idea that this split-season (plan that) the Rays came up with is an opportunity to preserve baseball in Tampa Bay. And I’m not prepared to say one way or the other what’s going to happen if that effort turns out to be unsuccessful.”
But Manfred said there is no expansion on the horizon.
“There’s no way we’re biting into expansion until we get Tampa and Oakland (which also needs a new stadium) resolved one way or the other,” he said.
• Addressing the barrage of stories and interest generated by the National Basketball Association’s free-agent signing period that started last week, Manfred said, “Would it be a good thing for us if we all went to the winter meetings in San Diego and we had a non-stop run of press conferences where all our free agents signed and we ‘owned’ that week? Yeah. . . that would be good for the game.
“The NBA has a very different system than ours. We would be more than prepared to discuss with the players’ association that system or any other system. I want to negotiate the freest free-agency in any sport, which is what we have. No cap. No franchise tags. No maximum contracts.
“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that our free-agency process, whether it’s perfect or not, has produced more $100 million guaranteed contracts than the rest of professional sports combined. But we’re prepared to talk to the MLBPA (players’ association). We’re good with the deal we made in 2016. We’re prepared to live with it. We told Tony (executive director Tony Clark) to tell us what mechanism he wants.
“But the conversation has to be limited. You can’t cherry-pick certain aspects of another system and say that I don’t want the things that aren’t good for me. And our economic system has to preserve the competitiveness of those small-market clubs.”
Clark, speaking to the writers earlier, said, “We are interested in in restoring meaningful free agency. We are interested in getting players something close to their value as they are producing it. We are interested in ensuring that the best players are on the field at all times.”
That last reference was to the number of free agents who didn’t sign until into spring training or even well into the season — or not at all. And also to potential stars such as 2019 Home Run Derby champion Pete Alonso and runner-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who were not brought up to the major leagues late last season — Guerrero not until May this year — postponing the starting of the clock on their service time.
Houston All-Star pitcher Gerrit Cole said, “Players are concerned about having the best product on the field, whether that’s young players or old players. Old players bring a different value than young players do, Young players bring a different value than some old players and now players are getting pinched on both sides.
“At least 50 percent of the league doesn’t give a (hoot) about winning. I think the fans end up suffering.”
• A new rule for All-Star Games is to put a runner at second base with nobody out for each team in the 10th and each succeeding inning, for time constraints and player usage. Manfred said he wasn’t ready to endorse at the major-league level a rule that is in place in the minors, other than the All-Star Game.
• There were some other rules changes MLB had decided on for next season. They are not in stone yet but, in one imminent change, pitchers will have to face at least three hitters in an inning.
“That’s an owner decision,” said Manfred. “Part of the deal with the MLBPA is that we have the right to do that and I’m kind of inclined to encourage the owners to exercise that right.”