CHICAGO (AP) Major League Baseball is having conversations with the players' association over possible rule changes designed to speed the pace of play, and Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday he hopes to reach an agreement instead of implementing any measures unilaterally.
Manfred also said the Bruce Sherman-led ownership group trying to purchase the Miami Marlins has presented the league with a financial structure that would work for finalizing the deal, and he expressed confidence that a major league franchise can be successful in the market. Speaking at the conclusion of the owners meetings, he also expressed surprise with veteran umpire Joe West's reaction to his suspension for his comments about Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre.
The average time of a nine-inning game is a record 3 hours, 5 minutes this season, up from 3 hours last year and 2:56 in 2015, Manfred's first season as commissioner. Management proposed making changes for this year, such as installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound by catchers, but players' association head Tony Clark said his side would not agree. The league can implement changes by itself with one-year advance notice.
''We met with Tony Clark and a group of players last week,'' Manfred said. ''The tone of those conversations have been very positive. Hats off to Tony and the players on that, and I remain confident that we will have changes for next year on the issue of pace of game that will be significant.''
Manfred declined to get into any specifics about possible changes or what the league might do if it is unable to reach a deal with the union.
''I think the best course for baseball - and by that I mean the clubs and the players - is for us to get an agreement,'' he said.
Union spokesman Greg Bouris confirmed the dialogue is ongoing, and said players ''are committed to discussing ways to enhance the game and move it forward.''
The owners had a light agenda for their quarterly meeting at a hotel in downtown Chicago, and one of the major topics was Sherman's signed $1.2 billion agreement to purchase the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria. Former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is a limited partner in the group and will take over Miami's business and baseball operations if the transaction is approved.
Sherman met with the MLB ownership committee on Wednesday, and the deal could be completed by the end of the season. Manfred brushed aside any concern over reports that the group is seeking more financing.
''The group led by Mr. Sherman has presented us with a financial structure that would allow them to close the transaction consistent with baseball's rules,'' he said. ''That doesn't mean that they might prefer to have additional equity in the deal and might be out there looking for it. But they have a financial structure that would allow them to close the deal consistent with our rules.''
West, 64, was disciplined this month after he told USA Today that Beltre was the biggest complainer in the major leagues. West, the majors' senior umpire, also said he told Beltre during a recent game that he may be a great ballplayer but that he was the worst umpire in the league.
Manfred said he met with West after his comments became public and they agreed a three-day suspension was appropriate.
''Unfortunately Mr. West decided he didn't want to live up to that agreement,'' Manfred said. ''I assume in consultation with the (World Umpires Association), given the statements that they've made, and we had to proceed in a different way.
''But I did have a very specific understanding with Mr. West as to what was going to happen here and that he was in agreement with what was going to happen here.''
The umpires' union announced West's suspension and said it strongly disagreed with the decision. It is seeking the restoration of West's lost salary.
A message was left Thursday seeking comment from the WUA.
While West's suspension and Detroit infielder Ian Kinsler's harsh criticism of umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday has put a spotlight on the relationship between players and umps, don't look for an electronic strike zone anytime soon.
Manfred said the technology isn't quite there just yet, and he sounded reluctant to make the move when it arrives.
''It would be a pretty fundamental change in the game to take away a function that has been performed by our umpiring staff really with phenomenal accuracy,'' Manfred said. ''I know it's easy to say he missed that one, he missed the other one. The fact of the matter is they get them right well over 90 percent of the time. And there is a human aspect to that, a work aspect to it that's always been an important part of our game.''
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