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Manfred: No DH or draft changes likely for 2019

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Manfred: No DH or draft changes likely for 2019

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Don't look for a National League designated hitter this year or for new anti-tanking rules in June's amateur draft.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday that management is focused on pace-of-game changes for 2019 and bolder ideas proposed by the players' association are too complex to be put in place for this season.

Speaking Friday after an owners' meeting, Manfred felt encouraged the union responded to management's proposal for a pitch clock and a three-batter minimum for a relief pitcher unless an inning ends.

"Some of these items need to be part of broader discussions that certainly will continue after opening day, and I hope we can focus on some of the issues that need to get resolved quickly in the interim," Manfred said.

Baseball is in its third year of a five-year labor deal, one in which the free-agent market has slowed considerably -- even with premier players available such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Management would discuss larger changes as part of a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement extending beyond December 2021.

"I hope and I really do believe that there is a common interest between the players' association, the players, the owners and the commissioner's office in changes, whether they're midterm or otherwise, that make our entertainment product the best it could possibly be," Manfred said.

After the 2017 and 2018 seasons, players rebuffed management's proposal for a pitch clock designed to speed to the pace of play. Management has the right to implement a clock, but Manfred has been reluctant to make on-field changes without players' agreement.

Management presented its latest proposal Jan. 14, one that included a requirement that pitchers face at least three batters or finish an inning. Players responded Feb. 1 with a broader plan, renewing their push for the DH in all games, an earlier trade deadline aimed at discouraging teams with losing records from trading stars, increasing service time for top young stars called up early in the season and rewarding and penalizing teams in the draft based on their records.

"Those are significant economic issues. They are different in kind than the type of playing-rule changes that that we have out there," Manfred said. "I think that there are pieces of their response on the on-field proposal that were very encouraging. I think what needs to be sorted out is how closely the two agendas are tied, in other words, the on-field stuff and the economic stuff."

Last offseason, negotiations were hampered by player anger over the slow free-agent market. This offseason's pace of signings has been faster but remains far slower than most previous years.

"We want players signed, particularly star players. I wish they were signed and ready to go," Manfred said. "We got another week before they have to report. I'm really hopeful that it's going to get resolved during that period of time."

MLB's proposal that pitchers face a minimum of three batters in an inning unless it ends was designed both for pace and to slow or reverse the increased use of relievers. The union wants its use at the big league level delayed until 2020.

"Repeated pitching changes obviously take a lot of time," he said. "The idea of relievers having to go longer is appealing in terms of promoting the role of the starting pitcher, encouraging pitchers to pitch a little longer at the beginning of the game. ... I think historically some of our biggest stars (are) starting pitchers and we want to make sure those big stars are out there long enough that that they are marketed."

ATTENDANCE

After three straight years of drops that left attendance at its lowest since 2003, Manfred said it is too early to speculate about 2019.

"We're hopeful that we see a rebound from last year but, again, difficult to predict at this point," he said.

He said he doesn't think the operation of the free-agent market was a big issue affecting ticket sales.

"I do think that negative commentary surrounding the game that is not factually supported can have an impact on attendance -- assertions about clubs not trying to win and the like, I think that's not helpful," he said.

GAMBLING

MLB has talked to the union about expanding the anti-gambling provision section of the Major League Rules to prohibit the disclosure of confidential information that could be used in betting.

REVENUE SHARING GRIEVANCE

Manfred said the union is still in the fact-gathering stage of its grievance filed last winter accusing Miami, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay of not properly spending money they received in revenue sharing.

On other matters:

SOCIAL MEDIA

MLB will make game highlights available to players for use on social media.

150TH ANNIVERSARY OF PRO BALL

Teams will wear a special patch to mark the 150th anniversary of professional baseball, and there will be special hats on opening day. The Cincinnati Reds, the first pro team in 1869, will be at the forefront of the celebration.

REGIONAL SPORTS NETWORKS

MLB received a second round of data in its effort to purchase 14 team regional sports networks from The Walt Disney Co., which is selling them after acquiring the networks from 21st Century Fox. If successful, MLB could resell rights to streaming services or cable providers. "I think that we recognize that the media landscape is changing quickly and if somebody is going to be managing that changing landscape, we just as soon that it be us," Manfred said.

RAWLINGS

MLB extended its agreement with Rawlings to supply baseballs, a deal that also includes helmets and gloves.

EXECUTIVE COUNCIL

Boston's John Henry and Colorado's Dick Monfort were elected to the executive council, replacing Atlanta's Terry McGuirk and the New York Yankees' Hal Steinbrenner. The council also includes the Chicago Cubs' Tom Ricketts and Tampa Bay's Stu Sternberg (whose terms expire in 2020); San Diego's Ron Fowler and Houston's Jim Crane (2021); and Milwaukee's Mark Attanasio and Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox (2022).

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MLB looking into new technology to prevent theft of pitch calls

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MLB looking into new technology to prevent theft of pitch calls

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Jeremy Hellickson went out to bullpen mound No. 1 around 10 a.m. Monday as part starting pitcher, part guinea pig.

Hellickson was paired with catcher Spencer Kieboom. A meeting with a small group from Major League Baseball made the basic bullpen session unlike any other they have experienced. Both Hellickson and Kieboom strapped what looked like white Apple watches onto their left wrists. The duo was part of an experiment a sheet on the clubhouse tack board called “P/C communication devices”.

The idea is to use electronics to foil sign stealing and increase pace of game. Monday’s initial dalliance with the idea showed how far it is from being executed in the future. The “watches” are intended to allow catchers to call a pitch digitally. Another option is a larger rectangular device which emulates a quarterback’s playsheet.

Recent events, like the Red Sox-Yankees filming incident in 2017, have prompted the league to be more pro-active in considering remedies for sign stealing. Though, most expect any changes to just lead to players and teams searching for a new advantage to gain an edge.

Kieboom and Hellickson embraced trying the idea, smiling at the devices and making jokes about possible hacker interference. Kieboom shuffled to the plate and crouched. He pressed the watch-like device on his left wrist with dots aligned in a three-by-three format. A curveball away to a right-handed hitter, for instance, would cause a 2 to blink in the lower left corner of Hellickson’s device. Hellickson stood on the rubber then looked at his wrist.

“Didn’t come through,” he said.

After a bit of guidance and new attempts, it worked. Kieboom tapped. Hellickson glanced, nodded and delivered.  

In the end, both were skeptical of the device’s baseball future.

“It’s not practical at all,” Hellickson told NBC Sports Washington.

“I appreciate what people are thinking,” Kieboom told NBC Sports Washington. “I appreciate the want and need to address any kind of issues. I don’t necessarily -- these are the first times I’ve seen anything like this. Very rarely the first time you ever try anything is it gold.”

Problems with the idea ranged from who initiates the pitch call -- Hellickson could only receive the info, not send it -- to lights on the watch being a tell in the evening. In general, baseball, and its players, are resistant to change, which will always be a hurdle.

MLB stressed this process is in its earliest test-and-discuss stages.

“The meetings this spring have been exploratory in nature,” an MLB spokesperson said. “It has been helpful to show concepts to on-field personnel and to gather their feedback.  We aim to be proactive in the technology space now and frequently look at new technologies that may or may not come to fruition.”

Technology has recently mixed with old-school ways of sign and information stealing. Runners on second base still pose a threat, as always. A stadium filled with cameras and cell phones presents a new one.

Hellickson is adamant the watch experiment is not an answer to the problem. He’s also among those who hold only modest concern about on-field sign stealing.  

“I feel like it’s part of the game,” Hellickson said. “And us trying to mess with [the runners] out there. I don’t think there’s too much sign stealing going on in the game to make it this big of a deal. But if they do want to do that, the watch isn’t going to be the answer.”

Hellickson also argued attempts to steal signs can work both ways. More than once, a runner on second has incorrectly tried to tip a pitch to the hitter, leading to a bad swing and a glare from the batter’s box out to second base.

“I think that’s pretty funny,” Hellickson said.

Trying to read signs -- whether pitch calls or indicators and patterns from the dugout and third base coach -- is a legacy element of the game. Technology has added wrinkles. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle is 61 years old. He entered the major leagues as an outfielder in 1977.

“There’s much more exposure to your signs than ever before,” Hurdle said. “With the technology available, it’s a whole different deal. There was a time and period back when I played it was called an art and science of sign stealing. Everyone wanted to know how to do it, learn how to do it, you gravitated to people who could do it.

“I know names of people who were kept on staffs BECAUSE they could do it. There was a time where our mindset, was, if somebody’s stealing your signs, shame on you. Change your signs. However, with the technology that’s available in today’s game, it does make it much more challenging. Different coding that’s going on. Lack of a better term: it’s a whole different ball game.”

Hurdle cited an instance when he learned an overhead camera had zoomed in on a book with scouting reports in the visitor’s dugout. That information was being sent to the opposition during the game. He moved the book.

He also uses a mantra applicable to what MLB is trying to do: “If you’re not willing to adapt, improvise and overcome, you’re going to get left in the dust.”

This initial pass has issues. Hellickson thought the watch felt odd, saw that it only occasionally worked and just doesn’t see a grand problem in the first place. Kieboom was more intrigued. He’s the rare 28-year-old who consults a watch to confirm the time in his daily life. So, it didn’t feel strange. It was just different. And not ready.

“I don’t see anything changing like that in the near future,” Kieboom said.

That would be fine with Hellickson.

“Honestly, I hope I’m out of the game when they bring that in,” Hellickson said. “It’s too much.”

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    Washington Nationals Roundup: Michael A. Taylor shows encouraging signs toward return

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    Washington Nationals Roundup: Michael A. Taylor shows encouraging signs toward return

    Less than a week remains in Spring Training for the Washington Nationals. 

    Here are all of their news and notes, with nine days remaining until Opening Day. 

    Players Notes:

    Outfielder Michael A. Taylor took some major strides after his scare late last week. Taking light swings and playing catch was an encouraging sign for Davey Martinez. However, Taylor will not likely be with the team on Opening Day.

    New acquisition and projected third starting pitcher Patrick Corbin had a rough outing in a split squad game for the Nats. He got roughed up for nine hits and four runs in four innings pitched against the Marlins. He's had a mixed bag of results for Washington in Spring Training.

    Shortshop Carter Kieboom continued his hot Spring Training with a 2-for-4 day against the Mets. He has a .314 average and a OPS of 1.038.

    Injuries: 

    2B Howie Kendrick: Hamstring, status uncertain

    OF Michael A. Taylor: Knee, out indefinitely

    RP Koda Glover: Elbow, but should be ready for Opening Day

    Coming Up:

    Tuesday 3/19: Nationals @ Braves, 1:10 p.m., Champion Stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports

    Thursday 3/21: Cardinals @ Nationals (Split squad), 6:35 p.m., FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

    Friday 3/22: Nationals @ Marlins: 7:05 p.m., Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium

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    Source: Rotoworld