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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred favors pitch clocks and elimination of defensive shifts in baseball

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New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred favors introducing a pitch clock, eliminating defensive shifts, and other changes to the game of baseball.

Rob Manfred takes over for Bud Selig as commissioner of baseball
Rob Manfred takes over for Bud Selig as commissioner of baseball
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Bud Selig era has officially come to an end, and the Rob Manfred era has begun. After 23 years as Major League Baseball’s chief executive, Bud Selig has stepped down, leaving an impressive legacy. In his seat, Rob Manfred, Selig’s right-hand man, inherits a game that is thriving.

Bud Selig’s track record includes several notable achievements, including the introduction of interleague play, four wild card teams in the playoffs, revenue sharing, the luxury tax, performance-enhancing drug testing, and instant replay.  He leaves behind a $9 billion per year business that is setting records for attendance and profits for owners and players alike with each new season.

Manfred, who was elected unanimously as commissioner, takes over the reigns with some tasks left unfinished by Selig, as well as a a few items that he would like to accomplish on the agenda. Here are a few topics that will be addressed by Major League Baseball in the near future.

An international draft was Selig’s fondest wish that remained unfulfilled when he stepped down. The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) -- signed in 2011 and set to expire after the 2016 season -- left open the possibility that an international draft could be implemented once the players and owners came to an arrangement.

The CBA did implement limits on bonuses for signing international players, as well as the much more important draft slotting system for those selected from the United States. It is likely that the next round of negotiations will result in either international players being eligible for the Rule 4 amateur player draft, or a separate draft for international players. The owners want this badly, and current members of the players union have nothing to lose by agreeing. It’s just a matter of what they will ask for in exchange for the concession.

The luxury tax, formally known as a "competitive balance tax," has helped to restrain wealthier clubs from spending out of control (to some degree). It has been in place since 2003, but is set to expire. A specific "sunset" provision in the current CBA rules out the possibility that such a tax will be part of the next agreement.

Proceeds from the tax are used to pay for players’ benefits as well as baseball’s international growth fund, so those funds will have to come from another source. It is difficult to imagine the impact of the wealthiest clubs being able to spend an unlimited amount, hoarding the best free agent players. It’s even more difficult to imagine the players agreeing to any sort of limit on the number of players that a team can sign.

Growing revenue streams outside of local revenues are key to maintaining competitive balance. National television contracts, MLB.tv, MLB Advanced Media, and out-of-market TV packages provide centralized revenue streams with which to level the monetary playing field. Massive local TV contracts in bigger markets make these revenue streams imperative.

Revenue sharing should survive the next round of talks, and may even be expanded. Currently, clubs share 34 percent of local revenues with MLB, which is a separate matter from the luxury tax. An adjustment in revenue sharing might be a way to offset the expiration of the luxury tax.

Draft pick compensation for signing the game’s top free agent players is an issue that the players will want to address. It only impacts a few players each offseason, and clubs are deterred from signing some free agents when losing a draft pick is added to the cost of signing them. Any notion that the system benefits smaller market teams has been dispelled. The list of clubs receiving compensatory draft picks is a who’s who of playoff contenders and the richest clubs in the business. The new qualifying offer system has not worked as intended.

Stadium issues continue to plague franchises in Tampa Bay and Oakland. Teams are playing in outdated facilities. Both clubs have looked at the possibility of relocating, but both have faced significant obstacles in doing so. Manfred will have to roll up his sleeves and, ultimately, Major League Baseball may have to step in with a heavy hand to get the ball rolling.

The pace of play is high on Manfred’s personal agenda. The problem, as he and others see it, is that games are taking longer and longer to complete. This gets in the way of executives being able to negotiate for prime time television slots on the networks. Those in favor of speeding up the game will tell us that it’s all about making the game more enjoyable for fans. Make no mistake: like everything else, it’s about money.

Several ideas are under consideration, from forcing the batter to stay in the box, to limiting trips to the mound, to the introduction of a pitch clock.

Manfred told ESPN

"I would be aggressive about using the clock, over the long haul. I think it’s a helpful thing in terms of moving the game along".

Eliminating shifts: Manfred also told Crasnick that he would be in favor of eliminating defensive shifts in order to inject more offense into the game. Shifts are a relatively new tool used by forward thinking coaches and franchises. We could see rules dictating to managers what defensive alignment they can or can not use rather than forcing players to develop the ability to hit the ball to all fields.

Home field advantage in the World Series being determined by the winner of the All-Star game. This is one area that Manfred said he would not like to change.

The use of instant replay is something that Manfred believes has been a great success, and would consider expanding replay.

The use of the designated hitter is another issue that should be addressed to make the rules uniform in both leagues, one way or the other. That would require taking on owners who are committed to their point of view on whether the DH should be part of the game.