DUNEDIN, Florida - Blue Jays players assembled Monday afternoon for their annual spring meeting with the Players' Association, the first gathering chaired by new executive director Tony Clark.
Just as the meeting was beginning, Major League Baseball unveiled Rule 7.13, an experimental rule for the 2014 season aimed at eliminating what the league calls “egregious” runner/catcher collisions at home plate.
See a full explanation of the rule here: http://tinyurl.com/l4zaqo5
Here is a link to a play at the plate last season, involving Phillies' base runner Chase Utley and former Cubs' catcher Dioner Navarro, now with the Blue Jays. Watch the clip, keeping in mind the new rule didn't exist, and guess based on the new rule whether Utley would be safe or out.
Assembled media, waiting for Clark to emerge from his seminar with the Jays, couldn't agree on the call. Some saw fault with Utley for initiating contact with Navarro. Others believed Utley would be called safe because Navarro blocked the pathway of the runner to the plate prior to receiving the baseball.
If you think Utley is safe, based on the new rule, Clark agrees with you.
“My guess is, according to the rule, (Navarro) can't be sitting on the plate without the ball,” said Clark. “It's one thing to catch it and then move and block the baseline. It's another thing to block the baseline and not having the ball.”
Blue Jays' catchers hadn't seen the new rule as of Monday's availability and had plenty of questions, including the wisdom of asking an umpire to make a split-second determination about more than whether a runner is safe or out.
“I think it's tough to make that out/safe call at home and they're always trying to get good positioning,” said Erik Kratz. “Now, is their positioning going to have to change? Are they going to have to talk about that? Are they going to have to look at the runner as he's running, ‘I saw the runner's eyes, he was looking at the catcher.' You did? What about the ball? What about the catcher's eyes? Did he have his fist clenched?”
“I'm going to do you one better,” said Clark. “During a play on the field you may also have a rotation component here where you've got the home plate umpire running to third and the first base umpire running to home. It's a tough enough play as it is as he's running to try and call a close play but now you're also talking about trying to determine intent and where guys are positioned. It's difficult.”
Many other nuances were discussed, which is why, according to Clark, the rule has been made public and is being explained to players only two days before Grapefruit League play is scheduled to begin.
A Major League Baseball representative and an umpire will be visiting all 30 teams during spring training to further explain the rule.
Manager John Gibbons has met with MLB Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre and his right-hand man, Tony La Russa. The intent of the rule is to make close plays at the plate safer for both the catcher and the runner. A catcher in his playing days, Gibbons is skeptical.
“I don't know about that,” said Gibbons. “I think when you start trying to mess with the game too much, I mean, you're going to run into problems. It's a big part of the game. The game on the line, that's the winning run or something, guys are trying to stop that run. Instinct tells them to do one thing. But if that's the rule then we live with that. Nothing we can do about that.”
Clark of Free Agency
Ervin Santana and Stephen Drew are two high-profile free agents who've yet to find work, in large part because there is draft pick compensation tied to their next contracts.
“As a union it's our responsibility to make sure that player rights are defended, protected and advanced,” said Clark.
When asked over the course of the winter about the Blue Jays' interest in select free agents, general manager Alex Anthopoulos repeatedly opined that market prices were too high and that the club was willing to wait for player demands to come down.
Clark, speaking in general terms, not specifically about Anthopoulos or the Blue Jays, says the union will review the offseason's free agency activity.
“If the free agent market as a whole is being manipulated on some level and we have an opportunity to reflect on this offseason, comments that were made, where those comments came from and how they may have affected the free agent market then it is a conversation we're going to have going forward to make sure the integrity of the Collective Bargaining Agreement is upheld and that we don't find ourselves in a place where certain information is lending itself to certain understandings and appreciations publicly with respect to free agents,” said Clark.
Clark on A-Rod
Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez won't play in 2014, suspended for his role in the Biogenesis performance enhancing drug scandal.
Rodriguez has since dropped a lawsuit which named, among others, the Major League Baseball Players' Association.
Clark says if A-Rod is playing in 2015, he'll be welcomed back into the union he briefly considered taking to court.
“Over the course of 140 years there have been, I believe, a little less than 20-thousand players who have ever worn a major league uniform for one day,” said Clark. “If you have worn a major league uniform for one day then you are part of that fraternity. There are guys that make decisions that guys don't appreciate, that guys don't like, but after Alex serves his suspension he will come back as a member of that fraternity and we expect to see him in 2015.”
Clark on an openly gay player
Jason Collins is back in the NBA, making history on Sunday night as the first openly gay athlete in the league's history.
Michael Sam appears poised to become the first openly gay player in the NFL.
Is baseball ready for such a scenario?
“I don't see it being an issue,” said Clark. “Our locker rooms are more diverse than most and as you've heard with a lot of the leagues, whether it's the NFL or any other place, inevitably it's going to come down to can you help us win ballgames?”
Manager John Gibbons has drawn up his pitching schedule for the first five Grapefruit League games.
Here it is:
Wednesday at Phillies: J.A. Happ (2 innings,) Todd Redmond (2,) Kyle Drabek (1-2,) Chad Jenkins (1,) Neil Wagner (1,) Mickey Storey (1.)
Thursday vs. Phillies: R.A. Dickey (2,) Esmil Rogers (1,) Dustin McGowan (1,) Brett Cecil (1,) Aaron Loup (1,) Jeremy Jeffress (1,) Rob Rasmussen (1,) Marcus Walden (1.)
Friday vs. Pirates: Mark Buehrle (1-2,) Brandon Morrow (1-2,) Steve Delabar (1,) Sergio Santos (1,) Liam Hendriks (1,) Sean Nolin (1,) Aaron Sanchez (1,) Juan Perez (1.)
Saturday at Orioles: Drew Hutchison (2,) Ricky Romero (1-2,) Marcus Stroman (2,) Tomo Ohka (1-2,) Deck McGuire (1-2,) Mickey Storey (1.)
Sunday vs. Yankees: Esmil Rogers (2,) Todd Redmond (1-2,) Brett Cecil (1,) Aaron Loup (1,) Jeremy Jeffress (1,) Chad Jenkins (1,) Neil Wagner (1,) Casey Janssen (1.)
NOTE: Brandon Morrow experienced tightness in his calf on Monday. Gibbons says there is no concern the injury is serious and the plan is for Morrow to pitch on Friday.