A bag of baseballs at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz.

MLBPA’s Tony Clark: We’re concerned about our industry

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark spoke with reporters afterward regarding the rule changes and state of the game, which has become increasingly concerning for players.

Q: How have people reacted to the new changes?

A: The (players) have been involved in each of (the changes) along the way. What you’ve seen, and what you continue to see, is a concern about our industry in general. The realization that we don’t believe it’s making changes on the field that’s the biggest concern. So being in a place where we can have a broader conversation on broader issues that we think are affecting the game and affecting fan interest is the point we were able to get to. And players are looking forward to having those conversations.

Q: There’s obviously been a lot of talk about the free-agent market. Do you have any reason to be encouraged things will get better on that front?

A: (Pause) There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. We’re glad that guys have had some opportunities to find some homes, but we still have a number of guys out there who can help clubs win – who aren’t in camp and should be. You’re looking at the calendar and realizing we’re a couple weeks away from guys breaking, and if you count the Japan series, the season is starting soon. So from that standpoint, we’re glad some guys found some homes, but there’s absolutely no reason why a number of guys, who are experienced guys who’ve had success in this league and can help teams win, are still sitting at home. It remains a concern of ours.

Q: What’s at the forefront of players’ concerns?

A: It has less to do with questions they’re asking and more to do with conversations they’re having among themselves, which is tied to being involved, staying involved, being educated. Our guys are and have been, whether you’re a young player or guy in the middle of his career or a veteran player who’s still got value in helping a team be the last team standing. It has less to do with questions they’re asking and more to do with the fact that this clubhouse is connected to another clubhouse which is connected to the other clubhouse. In ways, that’s encouraging to us. In ways, that shows a level of solidarity and engagement across the board. That’s important for every discussion we have next.

Q: Where does service-time manipulation fall on the agenda?

A: It has to be (addressed). It has to be. As an industry, we have to be in a place where the best players are on the field at all times. I don’t think we’re able to say that in the fashion that we should. Whether you’re a young player or a veteran player, the best players should be on the field regardless of if they’re just starting or in between, what their service-time clock looks like in relation to arbitration or free agency. I think we can be a lot better in that regard, and we look forward to having that dialogue.

Q: One new rule increases the minimum assignment period for optioned pitchers from 10 to 15 days, starting in 2020 (an attempt to stop pitcher manipulation). Was the reasoning for waiting another year simply to avoid springing those changes on teams just two weeks before opening day?

A: That’s more a matter of wanting to do more due diligence and wanting to have more conversation with the other side to make sure that makes the most sense. So yes, to your point on the calendar, it is always a challenge to make changes close to opening day when players and clubs are making decisions against a different set of dynamics. That’s always a piece of the puzzle. But as it relates to anything that’s part of the committee, those were items that we had engaged on and weren’t able to come to an agreement on, but did agree to have a larger conversation and do more due diligence from our side and their side.

Q: Regarding limiting September rosters to 28 rather than 40, was part of that related to pace of play? Some of those September games dragged on.

A: In some ways. In other ways, it was trying to create a more consistent level – or continuity, if you will – between the game that’s played the first five months and the game that’s played the last month. It’s something we’ve had dialogue on in the past, but we weren’t necessarily able to find common ground. We were closer to doing so now, so we were able to have it as part of the agreement.

Q: Do you anticipate another wave of rule changes for 2021 and other coming seasons?

A: I don’t have a crystal ball, but our focus is on the broader industry issues and not making changes to the game on the field.

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