Could work stoppage mean no rule changes in 2022?

In anticipating the negotiations between owners and players leading up to the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, everyone assumed there would be two major areas of dispute: baseball’s economic model and potential rule changes to the sport.

Turns out the two sides really only discussed money before the CBA expired late Wednesday night and owners instituted a lockout.

Commissioner Rob Manfred, during his Thursday news conference with reporters in Dallas, revealed the rule change issue never came up in those final days of negotiations, and suggested they won’t be addressed anytime soon.

baseballs-in-bin-sidebar.jpg“We are in the process of still evaluating changes,” Manfred said. “And frankly, based on the discussions at the table, we saw it as another contentious issue and tried to put it to one side in an effort to get to an agreement, on the theory that we could deal with it mid-term of the next agreement.”

Read that carefully, and it sounds like the commissioner is saying there will be no rule changes included in the new CBA, whenever one is ratified. They’ll take these matters up later on and simply add them to the new CBA.

Now, maybe that’s not exactly how this will play out. Maybe the owners and players will get a deal done with enough time to spare that they can turn their attention to things like pitch clocks and the universal DH and implement changes in time for the 2022 season. But the prospects of that happening appear less certain than previously thought.

We’ve been assuming for a while now there was a good chance there would be a pitch clock (15 or 20 seconds) in the major leagues next year. And everyone seemed to think the DH in the National League was a foregone conclusion in 2022.

Now? Maybe not as much. Maybe Major League Baseball will just wait until next winter to get to that stuff and not try to rush any of it into existence by this spring.

If nothing else, there’s a practical reason to think it wouldn’t be fair to add the universal DH now: If the lockout drags into late January or early February as many expect, teams are going to be scrambling to assemble rosters in the span of maybe two weeks before pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Can you force National League general managers to also find themselves designated hitters at that late date? Shouldn’t they have a full winter to prepare for such a significant change?

We’re entering a period of such uncertainty that it’s probably not wise to make too many predictions. Nobody really knows how this is all going to play out.

But based on what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard so far, it sure sounds like the two sides are going to be too preoccupied with finding a financial system they can agree on to devote any time in these negotiations to on-field matters.

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