MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark spoke to reporters, including David Brandt of the Associated Press, today about an array of topics including the adjustments made to the pitch clock this offseason and the state of the free agent market.
The players on MLB’s competition committee voted against the slate of rules changes which were approved back in December, and Clark made clear that he feels adjustments to the pitch clock, which was implemented prior to the 2023 campaign, are being made much too quickly. Clark noted that the rules changes “warranted a much longer dialogue” before being put into place. The clock, which allowed 15 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on last year, will allow only 18 seconds with runners on in 2024. No adjustments were made to the clock when the bases are empty.
“We just had the biggest adjustment this league has ever seen in regards to length of game and how the game was affected, by including a clock,” Clark said, as relayed by Brandt. “Rather than give us another year to adjust and adapt to it, why are we adjusting again, and what are the ramifications going to be?”
Clark added that his primary concern regarding the pitch clock is pitcher health, noting that shortening recovery time between pitches could leave the game’s hurlers more susceptible to injury. The pitch clock modification wasn’t the only change made to the rules this winter. The runners’ lane has been widened to allow players to take a more direct path to first base, the maximum number of allowed mound visits in a game has been reduced from five to four, and pitchers who are sent to warm up for an inning cannot be replaced without entering the game to face at least one batter.
Also discussed during the presser was the possibility of a free agent signing deadline, which MLB commissioner Rob Manfred advocated for earlier this month. Manfred suggested that a deadline in December would allow “two weeks of flurried activity” surrounding the annual Winter Meetings, though he noted that the MLBPA had rebuffed the idea of a signing deadline in the past. Clark confirmed the union’s opposition to the idea, suggesting that “A deadline, in all likelihood, is going to do more damage to players in those conversations than the other way around.”
The possibility of a signing deadline has become a hotly debated topic in the media and among fans this winter thanks at least in part to lack of movement at the top of the free agent market in recent weeks. With Spring Training already underway, four of the top seven free agents from this winter’s addition of MLBTR’s Top 50 free agents list remain unsigned in Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, and Matt Chapman. Each member of that quartet is represented by the Boras Corporation, which has developed a reputation for encouraging its clients to be patient upon hitting free agency. It’s a tactic that has yielded a range of results in the past; while Bryce Harper famously landed a $330MM guarantee back in March of 2019, Carlos Correa instead settled for a surprising short-term deal with the Twins in March of 2022.
While it’s clear that the league hopes to curtail the ability of both agencies and clubs to slow-play free agency and create a short, active signing window akin to those seen in other major North American sports leagues, the MLBPA’s resistant to such a plan makes it unlikely that a proposed deadline would find much suggests when collective bargaining talks begin in advance of the current CBA’s expiration on December 1, 2026.
Clark also spoke to reporters about the possibility of MLB players partaking in the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, a possibility which has begun to gain steam as MLB has suggested they’ll consider the possibility. In his comments, Clark echoed Manfred by noting that while the possibility of big leaguers participating in the Olympics is an exciting one for players and that there’s been “a lot of dialogue” about it, there remains a long way to go before making the idea a reality. In addition to working out the logistics of having major leaguers participate with the International Olympic Committee, both MLB and the MLBPA would need to sign off on players participating in the games.