MLB

Morosi: Expanded replay rule closer to a reasonable reality

Pete Kozma
The 'neighborhood play' at second base appears to be safe.
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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz.

At last, approval of expanded instant replay in baseball is imminent.

Major League Baseball is “very close” to formal agreements on replay with the MLB Players Association and World Umpires Association, sources told FOX Sports Wednesday evening. The timing of that progress is important, with MLB owners set to vote on rule changes associated with the replay expansion during their quarterly meeting here Thursday.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told FOX Sports last weekend that the union was still “working through some of the issues” raised by the replay expansion. But MLB and the union have made progress in recent days, to the point that the revised MLB proposal revealed after Thursday’s meeting is likely to have backing from the union.

Managers are expected to have one challenge through the first six innings, which they will retain if their challenge is correct; after that, the umpire crew chief will have the discretion to initiate a replay. Certain plays — such as balls and strikes — will not be reviewable.

Interestingly, sources said the “neighborhood play” at second base will not be reviewable because of the union’s concerns about the health of middle infielders.

It’s common for umpires to call runners out at second base on double plays even if, for example, the shortstop doesn’t have the ball in hand precisely as he shuffles across the bag. This “phantom tag” is popular among infielders as a way to lessen the chance of a collision when the ball clearly beats the runner. A rule allowing managers to challenge the play would effectively force shortstops and second basemen to remain on the base longer — at added injury risk, the players feared.

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While it’s difficult to legislate an unwritten rule, MLB was correct to agree with the union in this case. Remember: The idea of expanded instant replay is to preserve the game as is while ensuring a higher percentage of correct calls. And the neighborhood play has been an accepted part of baseball for years.

However, the replay program will allow managers to challenge instances when a ball is clearly dropped or bobbled at second base — as was the case with St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma in the World Series.

Angels owner Arte Moreno once changed the franchise’s name. But it looks as if its address will stay the same.

Moreno told FOX Sports that he’s “very optimistic” about his chances to secure a long-term lease at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. He said discussions with the city are ongoing about a deal that would extend into the “mid-2030s.” The main components, according to Moreno: The team would put in capital for various infrastructure improvements to the stadium; then the Angels would recoup some of their investment with revenues from redevelopment on city-owned land surrounding the ballpark.

On the field, Moreno said the Angels are still trying to upgrade their pitching staff before the season begins. He confirmed that they didn’t meet with Masahiro Tanaka but that they have had multiple conversations with free-agent starter Matt Garza. Moreno said the Angels can’t afford to give up a first-round draft pick, as they did to sign Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton during the past two offseasons. That enhances Garza’s appeal, since the Angels wouldn’t need to surrender a pick to sign him.

Meanwhile, Moreno said there is “nothing to speak of” with the possibility of a long-term contract for superstar Mike Trout. The Angels have four more seasons of control with Trout before he’s eligible for free agency.

• MLB commissioner Bud Selig is set to retire a little more than one year from now, on Jan. 24, 2015. The search for his successor is likely to intensify in the coming weeks and months, although multiple owners said Wednesday that they had no knowledge of a search committee being formed.

Selig has said publicly that it helps a commissioner to have run a franchise before taking the sport’s highest job. But two respected baseball executives with such experience — Phillies president David Montgomery and former Cubs president Andy MacPhail — both said emphatically Wednesday that they aren’t candidates to be the next commissioner.

MLB COO Rob Manfred, an expert on labor matters who had a prominent role in baseball’s Biogenesis investigation, is viewed as a favorite for the job if MLB chooses someone within the commissioner’s office. Selig, who will have considerable influence in choosing the next commissioner, holds Manfred in extremely high regard.

• MLB will open the 2014 regular season in Australia, with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks playing at the Sydney Cricket Ground in March, and baseball officials are talking about further international games.

In the very near term, one source said MLB and the Yankees are still discussing the possibility of playing one or two exhibition games in Panama this March as a tribute to retired closer Mariano Rivera.

Meanwhile, MLB officials would like to hold games in Europe as soon as the 2015 or 2016 season; it’s believed that Selig, a driving force in baseball’s globalization, wants to help secure MLB games in Europe before leaving office.

A baseball stadium nearing completion outside of Amsterdam is one possibility; the field and clubhouses are considered major league quality, but temporary stands would need to be erected in order to make the facility suitable for an MLB event. The Netherlands has one of the strongest baseball programs in Europe and experienced a surge in enthusiasm for the sport when the Dutch team reached the World Baseball Classic final last year.

But MLB officials also are intrigued by London, where the NFL has had success and numerous stadiums (including those from the 2012 Summer Olympics) are candidates for the sort of conversion occurring in Sydney ahead of the games in March. If baseball officials are pleased with Sydney’s atmosphere and logistics, London’s chances to host MLB games will improve.

One key difference in planning: MLB has been able to open seasons in Japan and Australia because of domed stadiums and favorable weather, respectively. Northern Europe is different; a March series in England would be a major gamble with Mother Nature. But a midseason series in London is more feasible than one might think — especially if the games are played right after the All-Star break.

The MLBPA likely would insist on at least one additional day off, and the travel wouldn’t be that arduous if two East Coast teams are involved. After all, the flight from New York to London is only about two hours longer than New York to Los Angeles.

Tagged: Angels, Rangers, Matt Garza

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