Rob Manfred wants to enact pace of play changes, and there isn’t anything that can be done to stop him from implementing some version of them. Instead of negotiating and trying to gain some kind of concession from Manfred and the owners, however, according to Ken Rosenthal, the MLBPA is considering just letting Manfred and ownership do what they want, in the hopes it backfires on MLB down the road.
The collective bargaining agreement allows Manfred to make changes to the CBA so long as he gives the Players Union a year’s notice. So, Manfred could push through pace of play whether the union wants it or not, so long as the version put into place is the one proposed a year ago. Rosenthal says the MLBPA might remain silent on this move for a very specific reason:
If enough players oppose the changes, they could absolve themselves of responsibility and allow Manfred to force the issue by introducing the two key elements of MLB’s plan: a 20-second pitch clock and reduction in mound visits. The onus then would be on Manfred to deal with any public fallout and unintended consequences the new rules might trigger.
It makes sense if you think of it from one specific angle: pace of play changes are destined to be universally reviled to the point ownership and MLB feels pressure to change them to compensate. If Manfred and Co. take the heat for the new rules, the MLBPA might have more leverage than they currently do, and could get something more to their liking in place a year from now.
The much larger issue, though, is that pace of play changes are unlikely to be disliked to this degree that this game of 12-dimensional chess requires. Minor League Baseball has had a pitch clock in place since 2015, and there hasn’t been any kind of mass revolt against attending MiLB games. There might be a few weeks early on where some fans are upset or confused, but like with every other major rule change in the game over the years, it’ll become the norm in no time, and the Players Union isn’t going to get this leverage they’re expecting to appear.
Seriously, who out there is going to be upset about fewer mound visits to the point that MLB begins to worry about losing those fans if they don’t make changes?
The best plan here for the MLBPA is to extract whatever concession they can out of the owners in order to come up with the pace of play plan that will work best for 2018 and beyond. Giving in to ownership hasn’t exactly worked out for the Players Union for a couple of decades now. Rosenthal notes this is a “tense moment in baseball’s labor-management relations” given how free agency might no longer be the avenue for riches it’s supposed to be, despite agreeing to a CBA that supposedly emphasized free agency as the way to get paid.
The MLBPA punting here is not going to work out like they think it will, and if anything could just end up giving players another reason to be upset with Tony Clark’s conciliatory union leadership.