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Rob Manfred on pace of play, a Cubs All-Star Game, Addison Russell and more

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The Commissioner held a wide-ranging news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Al Yellon

GLENDALE, Arizona — Commissioner Rob Manfred’s annual Cactus League news conference this year was held in a venue kind of out of the way from most of the Cactus League ballparks, the Glendale Civic Center, a building seemingly more suited for corporate outings or weddings.

Nevertheless, Manfred answered reporters’ questions for about 40 minutes, much of it regarding the pace-of-play initiatives announced Monday and that I wrote about this morning.

Manfred said pace of play was a “fan issue.” Now, I know many of you here would disagree with that; you’ve said so clearly, that you don’t care about how long games are. As I’ve written before, the point is to have less dead time during games, not necessarily play shorter games. Manfred was asked more than once if he had a “target” for how long he wants games to go, and as the attorney he is, he danced around that question, although he said players told him they accepted this was “an issue, and an issue we need to improve on.” He did say that this has been brought up more by “our broadcast partners” than fans at ballparks, and I think you can see the difference there as well.

He added: “We went the extra mile, maybe the extra two miles, to make sure we had player input before we went to the changes you will see this year.”

A conciliatory tone, to be sure, and this is likely the reason you won’t see pitch clocks this season. If the pace of play picks up without them, then you probably won’t see them next year, either, although Manfred said, “We’ll reserve the right to go to the clocks in 2019, but I’m hopeful we’ll have progress this year, and more important, ongoing dialogue with the players.” He also said he doesn’t see any reason the CBA would be “opened up” before it expires in 2021.

Manfred was joined by Joe Torre, who is now MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer and in charge of things such as pace of play, and both were asked how this was going to be enforced and what the penalty would be.

They both said that umpires would be empowered to enforce penalties, and that the penalty would be “a pitching change.” What wasn’t addressed, though, was this: If a seventh visit is made to the mound, would a team be forced to make a pitching change if a pitcher wasn’t ready to go? Torre said that umpires would be empowered to stop catchers (for example) from making mound visits once the sixth one had happened. That’ll be interesting to watch. Torre added, “We’ll try this out during spring training and make adjustments if necessary.”

The caveat to that is that mound visits, both by managers/coaches and players, are done far less frequently in spring training games than they are during the regular season, for obvious reasons — pitchers are getting work in, generally full innings no matter how much they give up rather than have a coach or manager visit the mound. So most teams likely won’t go over the six-visit limit in spring games; we’ll probably have to wait and see through a good chunk of the regular season before we find out the real impacts of this change.

Willson Contreras, who is known for multiple mound visits, sometimes within the same inning, says he’s not going to change his style:

If the “price” is a forced pitching change and not a fine, though, I’d think Willson will have to adjust his thinking.

Quite a number of questions were asked about the Cubs, first in regard to having an All-Star Game at Wrigley Field. Manfred said that they are likely to announce 2020, 2021 and 2022 “in the near future. Chicago’s expressed a strong interest in having the game, and places where there have been new stadiums or extensive renovations kind of get a ‘thumb on the scale’ in terms of our thinking. It’s also important to us in terms of marketing the game to be in major markets, so stay tuned.”

Based on that, I think you’ll probably see the Cubs host the All-Star Game in 2021 or 2022, after they’re absolutely certain everything’s ready to go — and cities like Milwaukee, Kansas City and Cincinnati, the three smallest TV markets currently in the major leagues, might have to wait quite some time to host again. Those three cities last hosted in 2002, 2012 and 2015, respectively.

Manfred was also asked about the renovations of the very small visitors’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field. He replied, “We’ve talked to the Cubs about the condition of the visitors’ clubhouse. The sequencing of their construction was such that the visitors’ clubhouse was toward the end of their renovation project. We have continued to talk to the Cubs during this offseason about at least some interim improvements to get to at least a little greater parity regarding the home vs. the visitors’ clubhouse. By the way, in fairness to the Cubs this is not a Cub-only problem. There are other places where we do get complaints about the visitors’ clubhouse.”

Asked about the investigation into Addison Russell that was begun last spring, Manfred said, “I can’t tell you, standing here, exactly what the status is, I’m liable to be wrong and I don’t want to be wrong.” Which, in fact, doesn’t tell us much, whether this investigation has been closed or not.

Teams in Florida will be wearing commemorative hats in honor of Stoneman Douglas High School in Friday’s spring training openers, Manfred said, adding that the school had “very specific baseball connections,” clearly referring to Anthony Rizzo. He continued, “It was a very strong sentiment that it was the appropriate thing to do.” Late today it was announced the Cubs and all MLB teams would join the clubs who train in Florida:

Manfred was asked about MLB’s desire to have at least four “regulars” travel to every spring road game. He said that’s definitely the case, and Torre added that this won’t be enforced “until March 1 due to the short time between players reporting and the first games.” But after that, both said that teams will be held accountable if they don’t do this, and Manfred specifically stated, “We have disciplined clubs in the past for not adhering to that standard.”

Regarding the slow-as-molasses free agent season, Manfred said, “We’re glad that in the last few days, we’ve seen a number of important signings. At the end of the day, we want players signed, we want the best players playing the game. Market activity is by definition bilateral. Clubs make offers, and in order to have a deal, the agent or the player has to accept that offer. The press reports that were out there about offers, and the recent activity shows those press reports were accurate, and some of the delay in the market was related to players taking their time making decisions. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

With quite a few “best players” still unsigned, we’ll have to see how the rest of the time before Opening Day plays out. Almost time to play ball!

Poll

Pitch clocks!

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Great! Pick up the pace!
    (163 votes)
  • 59%
    Hate it! Baseball isn’t timed!
    (420 votes)
  • 17%
    Don’t care either way
    (123 votes)
706 votes total Vote Now