Under baseball's labor contract, management can change on-field rules on its own with one season of advance notice.
Such a decision by the union would set the stage for Manfred to unilaterally implement his original proposal, which included a 20-second pitch clock and reduced mound visits.
Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the 2017 regular season and 3:29 during the postseason, and the length of games has concerned club owners and executives in an age where they compete for consumers with more entertainment choices and shorter attention spans.
At the Double-A and Triple-A levels of minor league baseball, a 20-second pitch clock has been used since the 2015 season.
Players and Major League Baseball have bargained over the matter since last summer, and the union told Major League Baseball on Thursday there was no consensus among its members for pace alterations.
The players know this, of course, so their decision to strongly oppose the idea is partially seen as a PR move.
Given the slow market this winter, the players may feel as though they have to fight tooth and nail over every little thing from now until the collective-bargaining agreement is up in December 2021. However, Manfred and the players are not seeing eye to eye on potential changes.
To be fair, the players acknowledge that pace of play is an issue that need to be addressed. If the pitcher steps off the rubber, the clock would reset. Instead, players are suggesting that the time in between innings be limited. Nevertheless, the players, mindful of how other recent evolutions have hit unanticipated speed bumps - most notably the expanded instant replay - are hesitant to sign onto another big adjustment that doesn't thrill them, anyway.
At that point, the players will have made it clear to Manfred they are prepared for all-out war.
By rule, Manfred can only implement rule changes proposed last offseason, which includes a pitch clock. That gives some major leaguers experience playing with one. In this sense, it's easy to understand why the players don't want to go along with such a rule change right now. If the pitcher is too slow, he'll get one warning.
But players have maintained their objections, saying MLB should try other measures to improve the pace of play without resorting to such a fundamental change to baseball's ethos.
However, Manfred doesn't appear willing to wait that long.
"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players", Manfred said during the owners meetings in Florida in November, per ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.
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