Posted on February 1, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred

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The offseason hot stove is at a standstill, but talk of Major League Baseball implementing a pitch clock remains a hot topic. Last month, there were rumblings that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was thinking of enacting a pitch clock for the 2018 season, even if the Players Union didn’t agree to it. However, Manfred now says he’s willing to back off on a pitch clock, at least in 2018 and 2019, if baseball’s pace of play improves.

Manfred spoke to the media Thursday following owners meetings. He said he would hold off on a pitch clock if the players agree to guidelines he believes will reduce the average game time. Otherwise, he has the power to unilaterally implement a pitch clock. Manfred admits that he’d prefer to have the players on board with any changes. Last year, the average time of a 9-inning game was 3 hours and 5 minutes, an all-time high.

MLB’s proposal states that if the average time of a 9-inning game in 2018 exceeded 2 hours and 55 minutes, there will be an 18-second pitch clock starting in 2019. If that ends up happening, those who violate the pitch clock will be penalized starting on May 1, 2019. That 18-second pitch clock will only be applicable while no runners are on base.

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If the average game time in 2018 is below 2 hours and 55 minutes, there will not be a pitch clock in 2019. However, the new goal for the average length of a 9-inning game will become 2 hours and 50 minutes. If that goal is not met, MLB will have a pitch clock starting in 2020.

As part of the proposal, MLB will drop its idea of having a timer in between batters. The league will also consider the use of bullpen carts. The league will also consider reducing the time managers have to decide on a challenge. Both were among the suggestions made by the players union. However, MLB would also move forward with their idea of limiting the number of mound visits in a game.

“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 Thursday. “There is a strong sentiment among ownership that we need to do something about pace of play this year.”

There is no specific deadline for when the players need to inform Manfred whether or not they are willing to accept his proposal. However, the clock is obviously ticking. Players will start to report to spring training in less than three weeks. Teams start playing exhibition games on February 23. Manfred admits that the next 10 games will be critical for negotiations between the league and the players.

If the players don’t agree to Manfred’s proposal, the commissioner has the power to implement the rule changes he proposed a year ago. He can do that without the players agreeing to them. Those rule changes include a 20-second pitch clock and 30 seconds in between batters. Mound visits would also be limited to one per pitcher per inning. If the players don’t get on board with Manfred’s latest proposal, those rules in all likelihood will be part of Major League Baseball in 2018.

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