BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. -- MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred smiled Friday when a reporter asked him about the National League potentially adopting the designated hitter.
Manfred knows it is a hot topic, and he fanned the flames in January when it sounded like the move could happen as early as 2017. But that might not be the case. In fact, it sounded very unlikely when he discussed it at Grapefruit League Media Day.
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"I am a status quo guy with respect to the DH," Manfred said. "League differentiation matters to us. And the DH is the principled thing that separates the two leagues. I would be reluctant to give up that differentiator. The second thing is, the DH debate makes people talk about the game. Personally, I like when people talk about the game. I think it's a good thing. I think it's healthy. I think it engages fans. I'm sort of perfectly happy the way the way it is. Neither form of baseball offends me in any way."
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Manfred gave fans more to talk about in a 30-minute question-and-answer session at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point:
Pace of play. MLB is not prepared to make any formal announcements, but Manfred said two changes are coming to improve the pace of play: The inning-break clock will be shortened, and there will be a focus on the number and length of visits to the mound.
Manfred declined to say how much the time between innings will be shortened. It is two minutes and 25 seconds for locally televised games and two minutes and 45 seconds for nationally televised games. And whose mound visits would be limited?
"Whoever happens to be wandering out there," Manfred said.
Takeout slides. Manfred said he expects a change with plays at second base. Conceptually, he said, it would focus on requiring the baserunner to make a slide where he can actually tag and stay on the base, as opposed to sliding well past or wide of the bag in order to disrupt the fielder's throw to first base on a double-play attempt.
Upcoming CBA talks. Manfred credited the relatively painless negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association in recent Collective Bargaining negotiations on a deep relationship of "trust and respect" between the respective parties.
"I have every expectation that we're going to find a way to make an agreement, as we have the last three times around," Manfred said.
Manfred said he sat down Friday with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark about the upcoming calendar, with the potential for negotiations to begin in Spring Training or early in the season, and "hopefully, knock on wood, have an agreement before the end of the year or after the World Series."
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Remaining free agents. There are prominent free agents still unsigned, most notably pitcher Yovani Gallardo, shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Dexter Fowler. They each received qualifying offers from their 2015 clubs, thus the club that signs them to forgo a 2016 Draft pick. Manfred expects there to be conversations about Draft-pick compensation during the next CBA talks.
"It was a big free-agent class this year," Manfred said. "One of the things that the MLBPA has always wanted is a market-based system. It's been a long time since I took Economics 101, but my recollection is that when you have a lot of supply in relation to relatively fixed demand, the market is going to operate differently than one might expect. It's not a surprise to me, given the size of the class. I'm not going to get into speculation about [the CBA talks], except to note that Draft-pick compensation has been an aspect of the Basic Agreement that is generally pro-management, and it's been in there a very, very long time."
Gamesmanship. Critics have said some teams are not putting their best feet forward this season, essentially trading wins in order to get higher Draft picks the following year. Manfred disagreed.
"I don't think any team starts a season saying, 'I want to lose 100 games,'" he said. "I just don't believe that happens. Remember, I think 12 percent of the players that we sign eventually play one day in the Major Leagues. So the idea you're going to endure a 100-loss season to get a particular Draft pick, the chances of that pick working out not being that high, it just doesn't seem that realistic to me."
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Expansion. Could MLB expand to 32 teams?
"Expansion is important," he said. "I think baseball is a growth business. There are huge advantages to getting to 32 teams. But I don't see it as an immediate issue for us."
Manfred said he wants to get through the CBA negotiations first. There also are teams working on new ballparks.
"I can't see baseball expanding until those situations are resolved," he said.
Domestic violence. There are pending domestic-violence investigations, which Manfred hoped would have been settled at this point.
"More important than the calendar is making sure we know all the facts before I make a decision," he said. "The worst thing that can happen from our perspective is to make a decision and then find out we decided without knowing everything that happened. The timing of gathering those facts is not completely within our control. Obviously in large measure we're dependent on law enforcement and the activities surrounding the three incidents. I expect that we will have some action on at least two out of the three within the next few days."