As the off-season market for trades and free-agent signings gets underway, Major League Baseball is considering some pretty radical changes for next season.
Expanded instant replay for umpires' calls is virtually certain to be in place by opening day, and there's a chance a rule could be adopted to prevent runners from bowling over catchers at the plate.
"There's a pretty good possibility that something eventually will happen," MLB Executive Vice-President Joe Torre said Tuesday on the second day of the annual general managers' meetings. "Whether it's going to be soon enough to have it done this coming year, that remains to be seen. But I don't think it's impossible."
Outside the formal meeting room, outfielder Marlon Byrd and the Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a $16 million, two-year contract, a huge step up from the $800,000 he earned this year from the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates.
And catcher Brayan Pena finalized a two-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds worth $2,275,000. They were the first of the 168 major league free agents to switch teams this off-season.
Talk of limiting contact at the plate was the day's most interesting development, one that could make Lou Brock's shoulder-to-shoulder collision with Bill Freehan during the 1968 World Series and Pete Rose's bruising hit on Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game relics of baseball history, like the dead-ball era.
Torre said a written proposal will be developed that will be discussed when GMs gather again during the winter meetings, to be held at Lake Buena Vista from Dec. 9-12.
"There are college rules where you have to slide. I'm not saying that's what you're going to do," Torre said. "The players are bigger, stronger, faster. It's like in other sports. They've made adjustments and rules in other sports for that reason, to protect people."
Torre said collisions when pitchers cover the plate on wild pitches and passed balls also are an issue. He planned to discuss the matter Wednesday with baseball's rules committee. A change for 2014 would need the approval of the players' association.
"Suffice it to say, the players have some thoughts of their own regarding home-plate collisions as well as a number of other topics," union deputy executive director Tony Clark, a former All-Star himself, said in an email to The Associated Press. "We'll be addressing them all when we meet next month."
Torre said agreements with players and umpires on expanded video review should be in place by January.
"We expect to be all on the same page by the time we need to have it," he said.
Virtually all umpires' calls other than balls and strikes, checked swings and some foul tips will be reviewable. The system was tested last week during Arizona Fall League games, with two major league umpires reviewing video and making the final call.
Baseball started using video review in 2008 but limited it to home run calls. Owners likely will give their go-ahead Thursday for funding and then approve the rules when they meet in January.
"I'm sure they'll do as much testing as they think is feasible, but ultimately they'll probably go with what they have," New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "There probably will be bugs. ... It might be a little rough at the beginning, but I think that things will work out thereafter."
GMs are spending much of this week in meetings, finding out which players might be available in trades and what prices agents are seeking for their clients.
"It's not the most conducive time to be doing anything," Oakland GM Billy Beane said.
With MLB receiving a large increase next year in revenue from national broadcasting contracts, agents are asking for more at this early point in the off-season.
"I think it's the agent's job always to try to get as much as they can get, since they've been part of the MLB landscape," Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said. "I don't think it's ever changed."
With 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price two years from free agency, low-payroll Tampa Bay is exploring trades. The Rays' $65 million payroll at the end of the season was 28th among the 30 clubs.
"We just can't be afraid to make bold moves," Executive Vice-President Andrew Friedman said. "It's almost become a cliche of one eye on the present, one eye on the future. It's absolutely our operating philosophy. It's something that we have to do."
Texas also could make a big trade splash. Rangers GM Jon Daniels will consider offers for middle infielders Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus to clear a starting spot for 20-year-old Jurickson Profar.
"I don't think at this point we're going to go down the same path we did last year where Jurickson broke in as a utility player," Daniels said. "We've got three guys at the big league level. We've got another two guys at Double-A in Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor that we view as potentially impact big league guys, and I think the industry does, so we're not doing our jobs if we don't at least explore it."
While the Rangers are interested in re-signing Nelson Cruz, closer Joe Nathan could be headed elsewhere, perhaps Detroit.
Byrd already knows his destination. The 36-year-old outfielder hit a career-high 24 homers last season for the New York Mets and Pittsburgh, which acquired him on Aug. 27. He batted .364 with one homer and five RBIs in six playoff games after hitting .291 during the season with 88 RBIs, one short of his career best.
"Marlon adds a significant upgrade both offensively and defensively to our outfield," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a statement. "He has been particularly productive against left-handed pitching, which was a serious challenge for us this past season."
Byrd was drafted by the Phillies and began his big league career in Philadelphia. His deal calls for $8 million in each of the next two seasons and includes an $8 million team option for 2016 that would become guaranteed if he has 1,100 at-bats in the next two seasons, including 550 in 2015, or 600 at-bats in 2015.
"If you don't want to give up your first-round pick, Marlon Byrd is arguably the best available outfield bat," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "We feared he was out of our price range immediately. We stayed engaged in the process, and Marlon and his agents talked about wanting to come back to Pittsburgh. He loved his time there. The environment and playing for a winner and playing in front of that fan base was something that really intrigued him."