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Friday October 20th, 2017 9:16PM

With MLB pace of game, even talks go slowly

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Even talks to speed the pace of Major League Baseball games are going slowly.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said management will speak some more with the players' association before deciding whether to push ahead with initiatives to speed games in 2018.

The average time of a nine-inning game is a record 3 hours, 5 minutes this season, up from 3 hours last year and 2:56 in 2015, Manfred's first season as commissioner.

"We've probably gone backwards a little bit," Manfred said Thursday after an owners' meeting.

MLB made proposals last offseason that players refused to accept for 2017, but management can unilaterally implement them for 2018. They include a pitch clock, limits on visits to the pitcher's mound by catchers and restoring the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap.

Union head Tony Clark and his members agreed only to one of the proposed changes for 2017: pitchless intentional walks.

"We've had extensive conversations with Tony about a process for putting a series of meetings together to try to advance the ball on the pace-of-game issues," Manfred said. "We remain committed to the idea ... there are things that can be done to try to improve on the pace-of-game topic. And we will continue to purse that agenda with Tony over the course of the season."

Here are other topics Manfred addressed:

MARLINS SALE

"There are two bidders, at least, for the franchise. The bidders are in relatively the same place in terms of price, maybe minuscule differences, and they are in fact in the price range that (owner Jeffrey) Loria was looking for," Manfred said.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush leads one group, which includes former New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who would head the team's baseball operations. The other group is led by businessman Tagg Romney, son of former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and includes Hall of Famer Tom Glavine.

Loria bought the Marlins for $158.5 million in 2002 and is seeking to sell for approximately $1.3 billion, which would include the assumption of about $100 million in baseball-related debt. More than $200 million in other debt associated with the team would be paid by Loria as part of the closing.

"The process is moving forward. It's really between the Marlins and the bidders," Manfred said. "At this point, two things need to happen. There needs to be a solidified financial structure presented to us so that we're sure that we actually have a transaction that can move ahead, and there are certain documents, the most important of which are a purchase and sale agreement that need to be negotiated between the buyer and the seller. And we'll be ready to process the transaction when those two things are completed."

EUROPE

Manfred remains hopeful MLB can play regular-season games in Europe for the first time in 2019.

Major League Baseball had hoped to have European games in 2018, possibly between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox at London's Olympic Stadium, but decided there was not enough time to get plans in place.

"It's something we'd really like to do in 2019," Manfred said. "I can't tell you we are going to do it. I can't give you a percentage, but we do think it's time, whether it's 2019 or shortly thereafter, that we play in Europe."

FACEBOOK TELECASTS

Facebook will carry a live game nationally each Friday starting with Colorado at Cincinnati this week. The Facebook package of 20 games will use the broadcast feed of one of the involved teams. The Twitter feed of a game each Friday, which started April 7, will be moved to Tuesdays.

Manfred called it "really important for us in terms of experimenting with a new partner in this area."

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

— Chris Ilitch, son of the late Mike Ilitch, was unanimously approved to succeed his father as the Tigers' controlling owner.

— Colorado owner Dick Monfort replaced San Diego's Ron Fowler as chairman of the labor policy committee.

— Under Armour will take over from Majestic Athletic as the supplier of MLB uniforms in 2019, a year earlier than previously scheduled.

— Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar and John Smoltz are among 16 men appointed to a new competition committee that includes managers Joe Girardi (Yankees), Mike Matheny (Cardinals), Dave Roberts (Dodgers) and Buck Showalter (Orioles).

— Manfred said "there is no statistical difference between injury rates for players who participate in the WBC and those who don't."

— MLB will be entering negotiations with StubHub, whose five-year agreement runs through this season.

— Manfred said "we are very close to being finished" with an investigation of the Dodgers, who were accused by Nick Francona of firing him improperly last year. Francona, who had been assistant director of player development, is a son of Cleveland manager Terry Francona.

— MLB would like to make changes in the player acquisition agreement with its Japanese counterparts. In December 1998, MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball agreed to the posting system in which Japanese clubs can make available players over which they have control. MLB teams bid, and the player's Japanese club receives the posting fee only if he reaches agreement with an MLB club.

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