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Sunday July 21st, 2019 11:40PM

MLB hopes for new Japan posting deal by early December

By The Associated Press
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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Major League Baseball hopes to put in place a new posting system agreement with Japan by early December, a deal that would allow star pitcher-outfielder Shohei Otani to start negotiations with big league teams.

MLB Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem said a new framework has been agreed to with Nippon Professional Baseball and has been given to the Major League Baseball Players Association for its approval.

"I'm hopeful that we can wrap up our discussions with the union soon, maybe within a week," he said Wednesday at the general managers' meetings.

After that, MLB owners would hold a conference call for an approval vote.

"I'm hopeful that we'll have a new system in place in which players can be posted by the NPB in early December," he said.

Otani, a 23-year-old with the Pacific League's Nippon Ham Fighters, would be restricted to a minor league contract with a maximum signing bonus of $3,535,000, with each team having different amounts to spend.

Halem also hopes to have a separate deal with the players' association by mid-January on pace-of-play changes such as a pitch clock, limits on mound visits. Baseball also is considering split screens to allow commercials on broadcasts as half-innings start.

"Proposals have been exchanged and in-person meetings have taken place," he said. "I would characterize those discussions as being in the beginning. We have a ways to go. In terms of the calendar, I think we would need to complete those discussions by mid-January in order to effectively roll them out and explain them to umpires and our clubs."

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 in the postseason.

Owners have the right for next season to unilaterally institute a 20-second pitch clock and limit a catcher to one mound visit per pitcher each inning, but baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred prefers to reach an agreement with the union in time for next season.

"Both discussions are 'ongoing' and we remain 'optimistic,'" union head Tony Clark wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

Halem said baseball officials and general managers discussed sign stealing this week and teams were reminded that watches with internet capability are prohibited from dugouts. Boston was fined in September for improper use of an Apple watch.

After a season in which a record 6,105 home runs were hit, topping the 5,963 in 2000 at the height of the Steroids Era, MLB is examining baseballs and quality control.

"We have consultants that are on retainer that look at all of our equipment, including the baseball," Halem said. "The test results for the baseballs this year, including the postseason, were no different than the test results in prior seasons. That being said, it is an issue that has generated a lot of discussion, so we are thoroughly reviewing the entire testing process and the way baseballs are handled to determine whether changes should be made."

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