CARLSBAD, Calif. — Major League Baseball owners will vote next week on whether to give commissioner Rob Manfred a five-year contract extension when they meet in Atlanta, three baseball executives told USA TODAY Sports at the GM meetings.
Manfred, who was elected commissioner in 2014, is expected to receive unanimous approval. He needs support from 23 of the 30 ownership groups to receive a contract through 2024.
The executives spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the vote.
Manfred and the owners also are expected to discuss new rules and proposals that arose at the annual GM Meetings, including a 20-second pitch clock for 2019, along with ideas to limit shifts, diminish the use of “openers’’ instead of starting pitchers, and decrease the frequency of pitching changes.
Several GMs proposed the idea of having a 28-man roster in the month of April and limiting the number of players who would be eligible to be on the active rosters in games in September. Yet, deputy commissioner Dan Halem said the concept of increasing the roster before September is likely an issue for the next collective bargaining agreement, which expires in 2021.
“In the collective bargaining in 2016, it was a topic that was heavily discussed,’’ Halem said. “We came very close to an agreement on that topic. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t make an agreement on expanding the 25-man roster. I’m sure there will be discussions certainly in the next collective bargaining round. Maybe there will be discussions before, but it’s a topic that we’ll continue to discuss in the future.’’
The competition committee will discuss potential rule changes in 2019, which will then be addressed with the owners and the MLB Players Association.
“We discussed everything, and all issues are on the table,’’ Halem said. “Pace of play. Potential on-field rule changes. … But at this point, nothing has been decided. There will no announcements on this for a while. We’re in the beginning of the process.’’
Halem and the GMs also talked about threat of electronic espionage among clubs illegally stealing signs, and there could be limitations to the use of the center-field camera at ballparks and the monitoring of video rooms.
“We spent a lot of time on it, and got good suggestions,’’ Halem said. “I think the real issue is giving clubs comfort that other clubs are not using electronic technology to steal signs. We took a variety of measures in the postseason to give clubs comfort that the rules are being enforced. We got some additional suggestions on things we can do. I’ll talk to the commissioner who will make the decision whether we should continue protocols we put in place during the postseason, or whether we should add anything.”
Halem rejected veteran agent Scott Boras’ belief that attendance plummeted by 4.2% last season because too many teams were deliberately trying to lose to gain a top draft pick instead of being competitive.
“In our current system we have a cancer that allows losing,’’ Boras said, “and an intent to lose and a non-competitiveness to be rewarded in the development environment.’’
Teams rebuild every year, “some of those teams that were ‘rebuilding’ did pretty well last year. I don’t, and our owners don’t believe there’s any connection between the rebuilding process and overall attendance.’’
The biggest reason for the attendance decline, Halem said, was the weather. There were 54 postponements last season, the most since 1997, and 98 of the 351 games in outdoor stadiums in April were played with temperatures under 50 degrees, according to numbertamer.com. Still, this was the lowest baseball’s lowest attendance (69.6 million) since 2003, and the eighth decrease in the last 11 years.
The time of games were reduced by nearly five minutes last season, but MLB remains concerned about the lack of action during games, with more strikeouts than hits for the first time in history, and a .248 batting average that was the lowest since 1972.
“We’d like to see more balls in play,’’ Halem said, “that’s an issue under discussion. It’s an area that were focused on. We’re working very hard to reduce as much dead time in the game as possible so our games are played as crisply as possible.’’
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