John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
It's no secret that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is determined to bring about dramatic pace-of-play changes to his sport. How determined has suddenly become a most intriguing question, especially for the Mets.
Suddenly an avenue has opened for Manfred to immediately implement the radical change that would require pitchers to face a minimum of three batters per appearance, which would prevent managers from matching up batter-by-batter with relievers and surely improve the pace of late-inning baseball.
The catch is that MLB owners would have to agree to immediately adopt the DH in the National League, as counter-proposed by the Players Association.
Both proposals were among ideas exchanged recently by the two sides, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic, which in itself is an important step, as MLB had been frustrated by the Players Association's unwillingness to engage at all on pace-of-play initiatives.
There are other proposals as well, involving roster size and competitive balance, but for now the headliners are the late-inning relief restrictions on one side, the DH on the other.
And while the feeling among baseball people is that getting the universal DH adopted quickly enough for the 2019 season is a longshot, at least one source close to the situation said he wouldn't rule it out, based on Manfred's belief that pace-of-play changes are essential to keeping the younger generation of fans interested.
"Don't underestimate how important this is to (Manfred)," the person said. "He'll twist some arms of the owners to try to get them to sign off on the DH. There might be too much resistance for it to happen so quickly, but it's going to happen eventually.
"There's too much at stake now, in terms of what teams pay their top pitchers, to risk injury as hitters or baserunners. There is more and more consensus on that even among the traditionalists (in the National League)."
One thing for sure: perhaps more than any other team, the Mets will be hoping Manfred's influence goes a long way regarding the DH. Think of the potential ways they'd benefit:
Yoenis Cespedes surely would return earlier from double-heel surgery if he could contribute without having to play the outfield.
Wilson Ramos' bat could stay in the lineup on days he's not catching, perhaps allowing him to take more days off behind the plate in an effort to avoid injury.
Jeff McNeil could get at-bats without having to be shoehorned into the outfield.
Robinson Cano could save his 36-year old legs occasionally while still impacting the lineup.
Peter Alonso's defense at first base wouldn't be nearly as much of a concern.
Yes, the adoption of a DH in the National League could be nothing short of a godsend for the Mets in 2019, especially regarding Cespedes. You'd have to think that not having to play the outfield would help him immeasurably in returning from surgery, staying in the lineup, and being productive offensively.
So the Mets can hope, anyway, but even if it doesn't happen until 2020, the Mets likely would still benefit in a big way for most of the same reasons.
With that in mind, one Mets person suggested that GM Brodie Van Wagenen was counting on the likelihood of the DH being adopted by the NL at some point soon as part of his thinking in trading for Cano, who has five years remaining on his contract. And that line of thinking is something Martino reported on back in December.
"That possibility made the trade more attractive," the person said. "No one doubts that Cano will still be able to hit when he's 40, 41."
What's implied is that Van Wagenen had enough connections, in his previous role as an agent, to be well aware the Players Association would use the DH as a bargaining chip of sorts in negotiating on the pace-of-play changes Manfred had been talking about for the last few years.
The Mets-related ramifications aside, it's clear these proposals mean that pace-of-play changes are coming sooner than later. There was no doubt the 20-second pitch clock, which Manfred can unilaterally implement, was going to be in place soon, but the three-batter minimum for relievers is far more dramatic in changing on-the-field strategy.
There is some feeling among baseball people that as these ideas are negotiated further, a two-batter minimum could be a compromise agreement, but that would still change the managers use relievers in the late innings.
In short, the manager may not be making that automatic move to bring in the lefty specialist in a tight spot if it means exposing him to a right-handed slugger as well.
In addition, the idea of a three-batter minimum was also hatched partly as a response to the use of an "opener" to start the game. Mostly it would prevent teams from copying what the Brewers did in the post-season, using Wade Miley to start against the Dodgers and then relieving him with a righthander after facing only one batter -- a strategic attempt to gain a matchup advantage.
Mostly, however, the three-batter minimum for relievers would be an attempt to keep the late innings of games from slowing to a crawl amidst multiple pitching changes -- something that is certainly a problem for baseball.
If it also means bringing the DH to the National League, Manfred almost certainly will be happy to oblige. Almost as happy as the Mets.