Commissioner Rob Manfred emphatically said Thursday that there will be rule changes to improve the pace of play before the start of spring training games, whether he receives the union’s approval or not.
Manfred also said that he’s not concerned with the abundance of unsigned free agents, acknowledging that the marketplace is slower than usual, but believe they will be eventually signed.
“There’s a difference between not having a job and having an offer for a job,’’ Manfred said, “and not being prepared to accept that offer. There’s a lot of activity out there in the market. Just based on press reports, it appears that there are offers out there being made. I firmly believe that players who are major-league quality players are going to be signed. …
“Drawing lines in the sand based on the perception that your market value is something different than what the market value is telling you it is. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is a fact that markets dictate value.
“Values are not dictated by big three-ring binders and rhetoric of who’s better than who. They’re dictated by markets. That’s the system we negotiated.’’
And when those players are eventually signed, Manfred said, they’ll be greeted by new rule changes, although he stopped short of offering specifics, such as the implementation of a pitch clock.
“There are going to be rule changes,’’ Manfred said, “with respect to pace of place for the 2018 season. We’ll know about those rule changes before we start playing spring training games. One way or the other, those changes are going to be as a result with the MLBPA.
It’s still unknown whether there will be a pitch clock in 2018, but certainly, Manfred suggested, there will be limited mound visits, shorter breaks between innings, and requirements for players to be ready in the batter’s box.
“We have delayed taken any action,’’ Manfred said. “We have made it clear from the very, very beginning is that our preference was to have an agreement with the players, and in fact, we have significantly altered our substantive positions based on input we’ve had from players.
“That’s the bargaining process.’’
Meanwhile, despite having 80 players still unsigned, Manfred dispelled any notion that teams are acting collusively.
“We bargained a market-based system,’’ he said. “Markets operate differently year to year, particular true in our business, with different players, and clubs with different needs. This market has been different in terms of timing, but we believe that players who are major-league players will eventually be signed no matter whatever that timetable turns out to be, and we wish them the best of luck in that regard.
“But I can tell you one thing for certain, the clubs have conducted themselves in a manner that’s completely consistent with the agreement that we made with the MLBPA.’’
While the union and agents are furious that at least one-third of the teams are rebuilding, and don’t want to win, Manfred strongly disagreed, pointing out that 27 teams of the 30 teams have reached the postseason in the last decade.
“I don’t think the current agreement has fundamentally altered the cyclical nature of the business,’’ Manfred said. “I believe all of our teams want to win. That’s why owners own clubs. It’s about winning, and I think our fans understand the timing for individual clubs in a particular year may vary….
“Our business has always been cyclical and when clubs go through the process of developing young players and bring them along as a group or a team, that’s been the tradition in baseball for years and years.’’
Yet, while there’s still more unsigned free agents at this juncture that at any time since 1995, and the pace-of-play negotiations have deteriorated, Manfred says he’s not worried that it will increase hostilities with the union.
“I don’t see anything about those pace of play discussions that should be a labor relations negative over the long haul,’’ Manfred said. “I really don’t. The labor relations is a process where people at certain points of the relationship are going to have disagreements on things. The trick is to get past those disagreements and focus on your long-term interest.
“I would submit to you that our long-term interest is to put together the best entertainment product on the field, and keep the game on the field, no matter what differences we have to work our way through.’’