MLB would drop 2018 pitch clock if players agree to phase-in

LOS ANGELES — Major League Baseball has offered to ditch its proposal for a pitch clock this year and also would go without one in 2019 if the average time of a nine-inning game drops to at least 2 hours, 55 minutes this season.

Speaking after a quarterly owners meeting ended Thursday, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said owners authorized him to implement management’s proposal from last offseason, which calls for a 20-second pitch clock this year, if an agreement cannot be reached with the players’ association. Management has proposed a deal that would phase in new rules over the next three seasons

“We remain 100 percent committed to the idea that we need to make changes to address pace of game and the best way to address pace of game for us, the players and, most importantly, for our fans is to get an agreement with the players,” Manfred said. “There is a strong sentiment among ownership that we need to do something about pace of play this season.”

At a Jan. 23 meeting in New York attended by Manfred, deputy commissioner Dan Halem and union head Tony Clark, MLB said its latest proposal was for an 18-second pitch clock with no runners on base in 2019 if the average time of a nine-inning game is higher than 2:55 this year, a person familiar with the plan told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the details were not announced.

MLB proposed if the average time of a nine-inning game in 2019 is 2:50 or higher, a 20-second pitch clock with runners on base would be added for 2020, the person said. MLB did not set a specific deadline for the union to reach an agreement, the person added.

The average time of a nine-inning game was a record 3:05 last year and has not been at 2:55 or below since 2011 and at 2:50 or under since 2006.

Talks began after the 2016 but Manfred said just one meeting that included players was held during the 2017 season, last August in Washington, D.C. He said the next 10 days are important in negotiations but has not set a specific deadline for a deal. Training camps open in mid-February and big league exhibition games start Feb. 23.

“We are waiting for a response,” he said. “They are well aware we have a calendar that is ticking.”

The union acknowledging that pace of play is an issue but has resisted a pitch clock, which has been used at Triple-A and Double-A for three seasons.

“They think it could be addressed without a pitch clock,” Manfred said. “I don’t see it as something that needs to be the source of great contentiousness between us and the players.”

MLB also has proposed limits on trips to the pitcher’s mound.

Clark, who departed the meetings before Manfred spoke to media, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, management has the right to implement on-field rules changes with one year of advance notice, so in the absence of a deal MLB’s choice would be limited to whether or not to impose last offseason’s proposal.

“This is just abiding by the deal we already made with the players,” Manfred said.

In other news:

–Manfred said MLB’s latest pace-of-game proposal to put a runner on second base at the start of the 11th inning of the All-Star Game and each additional inning, and used in the 10th inning of spring training games is “a limited purpose tool” and wouldn’t be used in regular season games. He said it could be used in the World Baseball Classic.

–There will be no change in the 10-day disabled list after Manfred expressed concern last season that teams were manipulating it, especially around the All-Star break.

— All 30 major league clubs have agreed to extend protective netting to at least the far ends of both dugouts this season to protect fans from foul balls.

–Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox replaced Ray Davis of Texas on the executive council and Milwaukee’s Mark Attanasio took over from Pittsburgh’s Bob Nutting.