While Scott Boras offered plenty of ideas to improve major league baseball during his press gathering this past week in Carlsbad, Calif., the general managers offered their ideas and concerns to MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem, who will brief owners at this coming week’s owners’ meetings in Atlanta.
Those ideas and concerns will likely be a part of the CBA negotiations, which should take place this offseason.
Here are some issues that have been raised, according to Halem:
■ Roster size. This is an ongoing topic. Halem said it was a major discussion during the last CBA but while a proposal was made to change the 25-man roster, the sides couldn’t quite agree. As a result, the 25-man roster with the usual September call-ups from the 40-man roster were kept intact. One idea that was floated was to move to a 26-man roster, but during the first month of the season the roster size would be 29. That would allow teams to transition better from spring training to the regular season and gradually turn up the intensity to perhaps avoid injuries. The 26-man roster makes sense in today’s game, in which teams are using their bullpens more than ever and going with fewer bench players. It makes sense, but it has to be collectively bargained. It also costs the owners more money to have more players on the active roster, so there might be some resistance on such an idea from the owners’ side. The flip side to keeping the roster size status quo is that there’s a lot of downtime for players spending significant time on the disabled list.
■ A 20-second pitch clock. From this point of view, say it isn’t so. And maybe it won’t be. The idea has been floated for a while, but commissioner Rob Manfred has not pulled the trigger on it. Certainly, the Players Association is against anything that makes players uncomfortable. David Price was the second-slowest pitcher between pitches to Justin Verlander. Price has publicly said he wouldn’t change a thing about how he goes about his pitch-to-pitch routine. It works for him. It works for Verlander. Halem and Manfred are certainly happy that the average time for a nine-inning game had been sliced by 4 minutes, 30 seconds, to 3 hours. MLB managed to accomplish this by reducing time between innings and during pitching changes. Also contributing were limiting mound visits to six per game, a good idea that did not affect the integrity of the game. “It’s going in the right direction,” Halem said.
■ Defensive shifts. This one I’d love to ban altogether as it takes away from offense and takes several points off the batting averages. David Ortiz hated shifts and it took him a while to solve them. What’s so great about a lefthanded power hitter grounding out to right field? The argument that hitters should go “the other way” and beat the shift — well, if it were that easy everyone would do it. It’s harder to do than people think. Just ask the hitters. Realistically, there could be an alteration on how much shifting can be done. One idea is when a team lines up in a shift, they can’t change it depending on the count. Once you declare your shift position prior to the at-bat, you must stay in that position.
■ Reducing strikeouts. When MLB has more strikeouts than hits in a season, it’s something that needs to be looked at. “We’re an entertainment product,” Halem said. “Certainly we want to play the game in a way that’s compelling for our audience, including our younger audience. So we’re constantly looking at the way the game is changing organically. We work very hard on trying to reduce as much dead time in games as possible so games are played as crisply as possible.” Halem emphasized the need for “more balls in play.” How do you get that done? That’s a huge discussion for the Competition Committee, which will also convene in Atlanta.
■ Sign stealing. There’s much discussion about safeguards for the use of electronics and video used to steal signs. The issue came up again in Game 1 of the Red Sox-Astros ALCS, when an Astros employee was caught videotaping the Red Sox dugout from the camera well at Fenway. The Astros were absolved when their reason for videotaping was to make sure the Red Sox weren’t engaged in hanky-panky. The Red Sox had their incident in 2017 when they were fined for using an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees. Halem said that in discussing this issue with the GMs he got a unanimous response that none of them are engaged in any electronic shenanigans. “I think the real issue here is giving clubs comfort that other clubs are not using electronic technology to steal signs,” Halem said. “So we took a variety of measures in the postseason to give clubs comfort that the rules were being enforced. We got some additional suggestions on things we can do at the more granular level. The issues that we talked about — the use of the center-field camera, how much the commissioner’s office should monitor video rooms — those sets of issues we’re going to talk to the commissioner about and he’s going to make a decision about what we should do next year just so we can sort of tamp down this conversation of whether ball clubs are playing by the rules.”
■ Halem rejected Boras’s idea that lower attendance was linked to teams tanking it or in less-dramatic terms, rebuilding. “I certainly don’t agree with that characterization,” Halem said. “I don’t, and our owners don’t believe that there’s any connection between the rebuilding process and overall attendance. There are a variety of reasons for our attendance numbers. We had poor weather.” There were 54 postponements, which was the most since 1989, and 26 occurred on the weekend when attendance is normally higher. And there were 35 games in which the temperature was 40 degrees or below in April.
■ I asked Halem about whether new Mets president of baseball operations Brodie Van Wagenen, who left his players agency (CAA) to switch sides, had divested his interests. Halem said the issue is addressed in the Basic Agreement, and that Van Wagenen has divested his interests to the satisfaction of MLB. Now the tricky part is that Van Wagenen represented several Mets, including stars Yoenis Cespedes and Jacob deGrom. How do you deal with players you’re still drawing commissions from?
Apropos of nothing
1. One of the many players Red Sox manager Alex Cora was proud of was catcher Christian Vazquez. “Maybe he didn’t start good,” Cora said, “but he’s in a good place. I told him, I said, ‘Hey man, you went from the doghouse to the fricking penthouse.’ He understood the situation and Sandy [Leon] was playing great, but then you know we needed offense and he did provide us with that and plus-defense. He caught better too because at one point . . . I don’t know if it was the contract or whatever it was, he wasn’t the guy that we were expecting early in the season.” Two other interesting things from Cora: He expects Andrew Benintendi to keep getting better, hitting for more power and one day to challenge for a batting title. And he predicts Jackie Bradley Jr. will take off offensively next season after making major adjustments in his swing during the second half of the season.
2. Brian Cashman was the last general manager to repeat a World Series championship and in fact three-peated and almost won four in row. “It’s hard, no doubt about it,” Cashman said about repeating. “Those [Yankee] teams were different but there were some similarities at the same time we had back then. You just have to be willing to adjust on the run and be willing to plug holes that pop up, and thankfully back then we were able to do that. But this is now and now we’re continuing to focus on ways to take a 100-win team that didn’t even win the division and improve upon it.”
3. Terrific “celebration of life” event in Carlsbad, Calif., this past week for longtime scout Don Welke, who died in September at age 75. Heartfelt speeches by Rangers GM Jon Daniels and Padres GM A.J. Preller, who were mentored by Welke. Welke helped build the Blue Jays with Pat Gillick in the early 1990s and then helped build the Rangers, who played in two World Series. He had spent the last several years with the Padres.
4. Here’s a thought: I’m not sure why J.D. Martinez wouldn’t be up for spending some time learning how to play first base in spring training. If the Red Sox don’t re-sign free agent Steve Pearce, Martinez could spend some time playing first base in a platoon with Mitch Moreland.
5. Yes, Dodgers first baseman David Freese was one of the hitters the Red Sox considered trading for when they wound up making the deal with the Blue Jays for Pearce.
6. Mike Tamburro, the longtime president and part owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox, was named “King of Baseball” by Minor League Baseball and will be recognized at next month’s winter meetings in Las Vegas. In the Larry Lucchino ownership of the PawSox, Tamburro serves as vice chairman.
7. I’ve learned over the years never to believe the Yankees when they downplay interest in a free agent. This offseason we’ve heard that sentiment when it comes to Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Wallace Matthews of the New York Daily News had an item during the GM meetings that, according to a source, the Yankees might be eyeing a deal to trade Giancarlo Stanton in effort to sign Harper. Anything is possible with the Yankees, who didn’t like getting beaten by the Red Sox.
Updates on nine
1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B/DH, Tigers — Cabrera (biceps tendon surgery) is said to be 100 percent healthy and ready for spring training, according to Tigers GM Al Avila. Cabrera will be playing on a rebuilding team where his hitting talents will go largely unnoticed. The Tigers could strip down even more by dealing starting pitcher Michael Fulmer, right fielder Nicholas Castellanos, and reliever Shane Greene (who wouldn’t be a bad pickup for the Red Sox). The Tigers aslo have parted ways with former Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias, a free agent, and likely will sign a cheaper veteran in his place.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Yankees — His agent, Scott Boras, indicated that Ellsbury was healthy again after hip surgery and is ready to go for the 2019 season. “We all know how talented Jacoby is when he’s healthy,” Boras said. It’ll be interesting to see whether Ellsbury will be able to take the starting job back.
3. Alex Cora, manager, Red Sox —
Yes, according to a major league source, Cora did have bonus incentives in his contract for postseason success. Cora will reap the financial rewards of winning it all. We’re not privy to the exact amount, but we hear it’s subtstantial.
4. Billy Owens, assistant GM, Athletics — Owens is said to be a GM candidate in San Francisco after Farhan Zaidi, who spent many years in Oakland before going to the Dodgers, was named president of baseball operations of the Giants. Owens is a longtime Billy Beane employee who has done a lot of the scouting legwork in evaluating players, which Zaidi will need given his more analytical background. Owens is deserving but he is also very loyal to Beane.
5. David Chadd, assistant GM, Tigers — Chadd, a former Red Sox scouting director, has been considered for the Orioles’ general manager position. The process has dragged out as team owners John and Lou Angelos try to settle on a replacement for Dan Duquette. Chadd was responsible for drafting Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Brandon Moss, David Murphy, and Jonathan Papelbon for the Red Sox, and James McCann, Castellanos, Drew Smyly, Rick Porcello, and Andrew Miller for the Tigers. Chadd has certainly paid his dues and has excelled in multiple roles.
6. Yusei Kikuchi, LHP, Seibu Lions — He is going to draw considerable interest once he is posted by the Lions in the near future. There’s no telling which team will emerge as the leader, but the Yankees are certainly interested, especially if they’re unable to land one of the top pitchers in free agency. The Red Sox have scouted the 27-year-old Kikuchi extensively, but because they already have three lefties in the rotation it seems unlikely they would dive into his market.
7. Ruben Amaro Jr., adviser, Mets — Amaro, who spent two years coaching first base for the Red Sox and another year with the Mets, moved to the front office to be an adviser to Brodie Van Wagenen. A longtime Phillies GM, Amaro had applied for the Mets’ GM job but was rebuffed. As a player agent, Van Wagenen had many dealings with the Stanford-educated Amaro (also Van Wagenen’s alma mater) on Phillies players. Suffice it to say, Amaro has had a very interesting baseball career. In the Mets’ coaching shakeup, Gary DiSarcina, a former Red Sox bench coach, will go from bench coach to third base coach.
8. Kenta Maeda, RHP, Dodgers — We don’t know whether the Dodgers reworked Maeda’s unique incentive-laden contract to reflect that he was moved to the bullpen after making 20 starts. Maeda signed a deal in 2016 for eight years at $25 million, but the deal was worth up to $106 million with incentives. He can make $1 million for making 15-plus starts, and $1.5 million for 25-plus starts. He also makes $250,000 for every 10 innings pitched after 90 innings through 190 innings, and $750,000 for 200 innings. So in 2018, Maeda made $2 million extra for 20 starts, and for his 125⅓ innings he earned an additional $800,000 or so. Interesting calculations.
9. Cory Kluber, RHP, Indians — The Indians had conversations with teams about dealing Kluber, according to a major league source. We did spot Brian Cashman with Indians president Chris Antonetti during the GM meetings, so there’s likely some Yankee interest. Kluber, who will be 33 in April, is entering the final year of his contract. He won 20 games in 2018 while pitching 200-plus innings for the fifth straight season. No doubt one of the best pitchers in the game, Kluber should draw interest not only from the Yankees, but from the Rangers, Braves, Phillies, Angels, Padres — well, you name it.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In a reflection of the weak state of their division and the weak state of their team, the Kansas City Royals had the lowest percentage of road attendance of any MLB club. The Royals filled just 57.7 percent of visiting ballparks. Of the 10 lowest road team attendances, five came from the AL Central. The Dodgers led the majors with a 77.3 percent road rate.” . . . Also, “Catching takes it toll. Just ask J.T. Realmuto, who hit .318 before the break when behind the plate and .211 after the All-Star break, or Willson Contreras, who hit .283 before the break and .195 after when catching.” . . . Happy birthday, Rey Quinones (55) and Ike Delock (89).