LOS ANGELES — The pitch clock, limits on the shift and enlarged bases will be implemented next season in Major League Baseball, but not the automated strike zone, with details still being sorted out in the next few months.
The players union still wants to lift the qualifying offers for marquee free agents, but not at the expense of accepting the international draft MLB has proposed with a July 25 deadline looming.
MLB and the union each would love to see baseball expanded to 32 teams, but nothing is remotely close with the stadium issues unresolved in Oakland and Tampa.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said that he rejected the premise of the question “that minor league players are not paid a living wage,’’ but said that minor league paid for the players has greatly improved with the housing and meals and health care.
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MLB will keep embracing gambling as a new revenue stream, but union executive director Tony Clark worries about potential problems.
Major League Baseball’s attendance is down by 5% the first half compared to the last full season in 2019, but Manfred sees it encouraging that attendance is at 95% levels considering the country still is recovering from the pandemic.
The back-to-back hour-long interview sessions with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Tuesday before the All-Star Game was hardly riveting, but intriguing.
Manfred’s strongest comments were on the Oakland Athletics stadium woes, saying that a new stadium is needed to be improved immediately, or face the risk of the team relocating to Las Vegas or elsewhere.
“The condition of the Coliseum is a really serious problem for us,’’ he said. “It is not a major-league quality facility at this point.’’
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is pushing for approval of a waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal, with the Oakland City Council expected to vote on it in a few months.
“I’m hopeful that that can still happen,’’ Manfred said. “It needs to happen now. It needs to be done.”
Clark, whose contract expires after this year, said that he plans on staying in his current job, and expressed gratitude that the veteran players during the 99-day work stoppage were looking out for the younger players, assuring that they will be paid higher salaries before salary arbitration.
The older players, of course, would be rewarded more in free agency if the qualifying offer didn’t depress the marketplace for about 10 players each year, but dismissed that it was worth simply agreeing to MLB’s international draft proposal.
“We want to remove or diminish them,’’ Clark said, “but that does not mean we’re going to mortgage the future of international players.’’
Clark loved seeing the diversity in this year’s draft, saying, “It was exciting to see talented ballplayers that looked like me being a part of the draft in the fashion that they were recognized for the talents they have,’’ but is worried the collegiate NIL’s could create a greater obstacle for baseballs acquiring the top amateur talent.
“As excited as I am to what we saw the last couple of days, I’m still very much concerned we move forward with the changing landscape as it relate to NIL rights.’’
He also ridiculed the youth baseball development programs, saying “These days (travel ball) is broken. It makes money and produces players that throw hard and hit the ball far but do not necessarily know how to play the game.’’
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Clark lauded the efforts of the Advocates for Minor Leagues, which has enhanced the pay and living conditions, calling it exciting to see the power of their collective voice.
But pardon Manfred for not sharing the same excitement for the group, particularly after the Senate Judiciary Committee inquired about the league’s treatment of minor leaguers, and after MLB settled a class action lawsuit by minor leaguers for $185 million.
“I kind of reject the premise of the question that minor league players are not paid a living wage,’’ he said. “We’ve made real strides in the last few years in terms of what minor league players are paid, even putting to one side the signing bonuses that many of them have already received. They receive housing, which obviously is another form of compensation.’’
Harry Marino, executive director of the minor league advocates group, wasted no time responding.
“Most minor league baseball players work second jobs because their annual salaries are insufficient to make ends meet,’’ Marino said. “The commissioner makes an annual salary of $17.5 million. His suggestion that minor league pay is acceptable is both callous and false.’’
Meanwhile, there’s oncern among players about the influx of gambling with Clark saying they want to make sure the players and families are protected.
“The climate has changed in regards to sports gambling,’’ Clark said. “We are entertaining a very delicate, and I dare say, dangerous world here.’’
Manfred spent time praising the game’s first half, particularly the performances of young players like Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners, and the strong runs by the Baltimore Orioles and Mariners before the All-Star break, hoping that this is the year the Mariners finally end their 21-year playoff drought.
Who knows, one day there may be serious talk about expanding to 32 teams, likely including Nashville and Montreal, or possibly Las Vegas, but just not now.
“I need to get Oakland and Tampa resolved,’’ Manfred said, “before we could realistically have a conversation about expansion.’’