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Manfred talks pace of play, rebuilding clubs

MLB.com @RichardJustice

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said pace of play changes began with a basic understanding.

"Pace of game is a fan issue," Manfred said Tuesday at Cactus League media day. "Our research tells us that it's a fan issue. Our broadcast partners tell us it's a fan issue. Independent research that our broadcast partners do confirm the fact that it is a fan issue.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said pace of play changes began with a basic understanding.

"Pace of game is a fan issue," Manfred said Tuesday at Cactus League media day. "Our research tells us that it's a fan issue. Our broadcast partners tell us it's a fan issue. Independent research that our broadcast partners do confirm the fact that it is a fan issue.

"Because it's a fan issue at the end of the day, I hope it's an issue we'll be able to find common ground with all the constituents in the game moving forward because it is, after all, the fans that make the engine known as Major League Baseball run. They are our most important constituency."

Manfred began this offseason with the idea of working with the Major League Baseball Players Association to potentially implement a pitch clock as a way to reduce dead time.

After the players association pushed back against the idea of a pitch clock, a set of rule changes were agreed upon with the MLBPA that include limiting the number of visits to the mound to six and cuts the time between innings.

"We went the extra mile, maybe the extra two miles, in an effort to make sure that we not only received but took into account player input before we decided on pace of game changes that we're going to make for this year," he said.

"I know there's been some confusion about this, but I want to be clear: We reached an understanding with the Major League Baseball Players Association, the certified representative of our players, as to what was going to happen on the pace of game changes for 2018.

"It is true that under the basic agreement, which we also negotiated with the MLBPA, we had the option of proceeding unilaterally on a number of other changes -- two types of clock [pitch clock and batter's box]. We did not proceed with any of the rule changes we had the right to proceed with unilaterally. Instead, we reached an understanding with our players."

Every issue, including the pitch clock, will be revisited after the 2018 season. Manfred is hopeful that these changes could make a difference because the players also want a quicker pace.

He acknowledged that there could be some "shakeout period" as exists with most new rules.

"We have very intelligent, athletic people playing our game, and they're capable of adjusting whatever the rules are," he said.

And there could be additional changes in 2019.

"Going forward, we will continue to focus on this issue because we think it's important for fans, and we will continue to try and work with the MLBPA and the players on solutions that are effective in terms of giving us a crisp and quick game," Manfred said. "I think it's really a dead-time issue, taking out those parts of the game where our fans routinely comment there's a lack of action.

"Part of my thinking in moving forward more slowly, not going ahead and implementing some of the changes, was publicly and privately players admitted that pace of game was an issue and it was an issue we needed to improve on.

"I thought given that public recognition, it was prudent to proceed in a more limited manner to see how we do in 2018 with this more limited set of changes. Part of our understanding with the MLBPA is we reserved our rights to proceed on the clocks in 2019. I'm hopeful we'll see progress this year, and maybe more important, we'll have dialogue with the players."

Touching on a number of other issues, Manfred spoke on:

Rebuilding teams

"I don't buy into the concept that when a club adopts a strategy of rebuilding that that should be characterized as tanking," he said. "I think that our clubs -- all of them -- want to win. That's why owners own. The question is, 'What strategy are they going to adopt over what period of time to put themselves in position to win?"

"I actually went back and did a little research. If you look at the newspaper articles of a year ago, you will find articles saying that Arizona, Colorado, Milwaukee and Minnesota all did not do enough during the offseason to try to win. To refresh your recollection, three out of those four teams made it to the postseason, and another one [Milwaukee] was in the hunt all the way to September.

"My point is this: It is not always transparent to outsiders what the plan is for winning and what the timetable is for winning. We've always had a cyclical sport. Clubs have gone through cycles in an effort to be competitive. I suspect if and when, together with the MLBPA, we reached a conclusion that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, it'll be addressed in collective bargaining. I can tell you that in the last round of bargaining, this was not a major issue."

The free agent market

"We're glad that in the last few days we've seen a number of important signings in the free-agent market," Manfred said. "At the end of the day, we want players signed. We want the best players playing the game. That's always our goal.

"I guess I would just make a couple of points about the recent activity. First, market activities, by definition, is bilateral. Right? Club makes an offer, and in order to have a deal, the agent or the player has to accept that offer.

"For a number of weeks, I've been saying publicly that there are press reports out there about offers. We were aware of those press reports, and I think the recent activity shows that those press reports were accurate.

"Some of the delay in the market was related to players taking their time making a decision as to whether they were going to accept those offers. There's nothing wrong with that. It's the player's right to hold out as long as they want to get the best possible deal.

"But in evaluating what's going on out there, I think it's important to remember that it does take two parties to make an agreement."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.