The players' association rejected Major League Baseball's latest pace-of-play proposal Thursday, increasing the likelihood that baseball will unilaterally implement a pitch clock and a limit on mound visits in advance of the 2018 season, two sources told ESPN.
Union executive director Tony Clark and assistant general counsel Matt Nussbaum informed MLB of the decision in a phone call to deputy commissioner Dan Halem late Thursday afternoon. While Clark and commissioner Rob Manfred are scheduled to meet next week, a source familiar with the negotiations said the sides remain far apart on the issue and are not optimistic they will reach an agreement through further talks.
Players are opposed to the addition of a 20-second pitch clock -- the central feature of Manfred's pace-of-game initiative. Barring a change in tone of the discussions, it appears that MLB will implement rules changes this season without the approval of the union.
"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players,'' Manfred said during the quarterly owners meetings in Florida in November. "But if we can't get an agreement, we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other.''
MLB and the union have had talks throughout the past year and met in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. The union has since reached out to its membership en masse and held a conference call among executive board members and team representatives Tuesday, during which players expressed opposition to management's proposal. A subsequent attempt to bridge the gap was unsuccessful.
Although players agree with ownership and the commissioner's office that the pace of games needs to be addressed, they have argued that games can be shortened through revisions in instant replay, stricter monitoring of the down time between innings and other remedies that don't require a clock, a source said.
The players even discussed the possibility of bringing back bullpen carts, although that initiative didn't gain much traction.
Baseball introduced a pitch clock in the minor leagues in 2015. The clock currently being proposed by the commissioner's office would allow for 20 seconds between pitches for big leaguers -- or two seconds fewer than the average of 22 seconds between pitches in 2017.
According to details obtained by the Associated Press, MLB's proposal would require a hitter to be in the batter's box with at least five seconds left on the timer. The clock would start when the pitcher has the ball on the mound, except for the first pitch of an at-bat, when it would start at the end of the previous play. The clock would reset when a pitcher steps off the rubber and when he makes or feints a pickoff throw.
An umpire would issue a warning to a pitcher or batter for a first violation each game, and subsequent violations by the same player would result in a ball being called against a pitcher and a strike against a batter.
Under the proposed limit on mound visits, a team would be allowed one visit per pitcher each inning, whether by a manager, coach or player. A second visit would result in the team being forced to change pitchers.
Any rules changes require the approval of MLB owners, who are scheduled to hold their quarterly meetings from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 in Beverly Hills, California. Spring training games are scheduled to begin Feb. 23 in Florida and Arizona.