PHOENIX — Commissioner Bud Selig and union chief Michael Weiner on Tuesday played down the chances of radical realignment in baseball, and all but dismissed the notion of standardizing the designated hitter rule, but indicated a move to 15 teams per league and the addition of an extra wild card in each league are inevitable and could occur by 2013.
In separate, on-the-record sessions with members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the respective management and labor heads cast baseball’s healthy labor situation — the sides are currently meeting weekly to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, as the current one expires on Dec. 11 — as a contrast to the contentiousness facing the NBA and NFL, both of which are in the midst of lockouts.
“The context is undeniable,” Weiner said, alluding to the standoffs in the other sports. “The opportunity that our bargaining presents in contrast to what’s happening in the other sports is one that both sides benefit from.”
Although neither Selig nor Weiner revealed specifics of the ongoing talks, their shared embraces of the “15-and-15” realignment plan — which would likely retain the current division structure — and the expanded postseason were a strong indication those changes are coming soon.
The 15-and-15 plan, as opposed to the current alignment of 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the AL, was originally proposed by the players’ association out of concerns over fundamental fairness, and would require one current NL team (most likely the Astros or Diamondbacks) to move to the AL.
The plan would also require at least one interleague series at all times, given the uneven number of teams in each league, but Selig said it was unlikely that reality would push the sides to standardize the DH issue.
The sides differed fundamentally Tuesday on some basic issues, most notably the draft — which is widely viewed as the most significant bargaining issue of these negotiations — with Selig reiterating management’s preference for a hard “slotting” system for draft-pick bonuses and the expansion of the draft to include international players, and with Weiner reiterating the union’s stance against either.
“The historical view of the players,” Weiner said, “. . . is that our job is not to reduce the bargaining of any player. That remains the view of the players.”
In other items from Tuesday’s media sessions:
l Selig said he endorsed Derek Jeter’s decision to skip the all-star festivities, after withdrawing from the game in the wake of his 3,000th hit over the weekend. “I completely understand the situation,” Selig said. “And to tell the truth, I probably would have done the same thing myself. . . . Any suggestion that I [am] unhappy with him not being here is false.”
l Selig indicated a “modest” expansion of instant replay, to include fair/foul calls down the lines, could be implemented soon, but that the wholesale use of replay would not occur under his watch. “I believe in the pace of the game,” he said. “If there are things replay can help without affecting that, fine.”
l Selig reiterated his support for tying home field advantage in the World Series to the outcome of the All-Star Game. Selig said both he and Fox TV executives like the World Series link. (“Doing things that help your television partners is not an unconstitutional act,” Selig joked.)
l Selig implied the 2013 All-Star Game would be awarded to the New York Mets at Citi Field.
l Weiner said the players have long favored shortening spring training, though he acknowledged its revenue-generating benefits for the teams and the existence of contractual obligations between teams and various municipalities in Florida and Arizona.
l Selig used the example of the relocation of the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise in 2005 as evidence solutions will eventually be found to the seemingly intractable stadium issues in Oakland and St. Petersburg, Fla. — though relocation does not appear to be on the table. “That took a long time,” he said of the Nationals’ move, “but it’s worked out well. There were a lot of lessons learned.”
l Selig said his plans to retire after the 2012 season remain “firm.”
Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett was scratched after experiencing soreness in his left knee while warming up in the bullpen to pitch the second inning. Beckett also left his final start before the all-star break with knee soreness. He is the only member of Boston’s original opening day rotation that hasn’t been on the disabled list this season.
The New York Mets traded closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers for two players to be named in a deal announced just after Tuesday’s All-Star Game ended.
The Mets also sent cash to Milwaukee. The Brewers are tied with St. Louis for the NL Central lead, helped by closer John Axford’s 23 saves. . . .
The Toronto Blue Jays traded veteran outfielder Juan Rivera to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for a player to be named or cash considerations.