Source: MLB, players union to discuss pace-of-play initiatives for '18

Officials from Major League Baseball and the Players Association expect to meet next week in New York to discuss new pace-of-play initiatives that would go into effect during the 2018 season, a source said Thursday.

Commissioner Rob Manfred made improved pace of play a priority even before the average game time increased to an average of 3 hours, 5 minutes in 2017.

The major changes under consideration are a pitch clock and a limitation on catcher mound visits.

Manfred is free to unilaterally institute changes under MLB's collective bargaining agreement, but he has consistently expressed a desire to reach a settlement with the union before new rules are implemented.

"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.''

Dan Halem, MLB's chief legal officer, said in November that early talks last fall featured significant input from players. Halem said at the time that "we would need to complete discussions by mid-January in order to effectively roll out (changes) and explain them to our umpires and our clubs.''

Umpires will meet at their annual retreat in Arizona in two weeks, and the next quarterly owners meeting is scheduled for Feb. 1 in Los Angeles. Any changes to the on-field rules would require the approval of ownership.

MLB officials have said throughout the process that they would like to have any changes in place this month to allow for a more seamless transition when the spring training schedule gets under way in late February.

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 offerings for big leaguers -- or two seconds fewer than the average of 22 seconds between pitches in 2017.

In 2015, baseball placed timers at ballparks to minimize down time between innings and enacted a rule requiring hitters to keep one foot in the batter's box barring several exceptions.

The changes had a positive impact in 2015, reducing the average game time by six minutes. But MLB games returned to three hours in length in 2016 and spiked to a record 3:05.11 in 2017.