MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said today at the owners’ meetings that the league is not interested in considering certain union-proposed changes in advance of the 2019 season, as Ronald Blum of the AP reports. In particular, Manfred indicated he is not open to the introduction of the designated hitter to the National League.
It emerged recently that MLB and the MLB Players Association were exchanging proposals on a variety of significant potential rules changes. Some of those, including the introduction of a twenty-second pitch clock and a rule requiring any pitcher that enters a game to face at least three hitters, were set forth by the league.
Manfred indicated that he was pleased the union responded to the league’s proposals, a fact which some observers have pointed to as a positive step given the chilly (if not altogether frozen) negotiation atmosphere between the sides of late. Despite the less-testy signals, though, it seems the league isn’t inclined to budge on any substantive matters.
It’s not at all surprising to hear that MLB doesn’t wish to pursue an immediate implementation of the DH in the NL. With a good bit of the offseason movement already in the books, it’d be an odd time to make such a move. That’s all the more true of some of the other union-backed proposals involving draft incentives and service time, which surely would require extensive analysis and negotiation.
It is notable, though, that Manfred suggested the league is also generally not receptive to considering the expansion of the DH until the conclusion of the present Collective Bargaining Agreement, at the end of the 2021 campaign. An unnamed official told Bob Nightengale of USA Today that such a change is “not happening during this CBA.”
If that is indeed MLB’s committed stance, it seems to represent an intention to take a hard line on reopening the current rules regime before the deal is up. The issue of the universal DH seemed at least to offer a potential path to mutual benefit, as the league could market a bump in offense while veteran sluggers would find easier paths to roster spots and extra earnings.
Manfred, though, characterized that proposal (and others from the union) as presenting “significant economic issues” that are “different than the type of playing rule changes that we have out there.” That’s certainly true to an extent, but it’s also a bit of a partisan characterization of the league’s own suggestion that pitchers be required to face at least three batters. It’s debatable exactly how the ramifications of that rule would settle out in terms of player earnings, but it would certainly impact the way teams structure their rosters and invest in certain players (in that case, veteran LOOGYs) in much the same way as a universal DH.
It’ll be interesting to see where these discussions go from here. Manfred says the league “will engage on” the subjects raised by the union, so perhaps there’s still some room for an opening. It all takes place against the backdrop of a still-sluggish free agent market in which two young superstars and several other prominent players remain unsigned. Manfred acknowledged today that the hope is to see both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado under contract when Spring Training opens, though even if that occurs it’s hardly a guarantee of a reduction in tension. For the time being, both the league and union will presumably continue to trade words on these and other matters — cognizant all the while that these may be the preliminary skirmishes of a building public relations battle.