Buster PoseyAP Photo/Lenny IgnelziYou are no longer seeing catchers get run over at home plate.
BOSTON -- In the days ahead, Major League Baseball will likely announce some tweaks and adjustments with the way that rules are being interpreted, including an affirmation of the new regulations attached to home plate collisions.

The catchers probably will be reminded of what they were told in spring training: If they don't possess the baseball and they are standing in front of home plate, then the run will score. This sort of dictum will lead to a lot of head-scratching and a recitation of the gray area and frustration for some players and managers.

But as one highly ranked team executive noted the other day, there is one thing we aren't seeing these days: Catchers getting hammered by baserunners.

We aren't seeing catchers curled up in a fetal position near home plate, knocked out or conscious but senseless, as a dazed baserunner looks over and trainers and managers run out of the dugouts.

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Ryan Flaherty Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsRyan Flaherty's failed double-play turn cost the Orioles a crucial out.
BOSTON -- We can all agree that it would've been better to test the implementation of the replay system over the course of a summer, so that all of the technological and interpretative kinks could've been worked out in all 30 ballparks through the sort of extensive trial and error that is now taking place at the outset of the 2014 season.

But at this point, that's like someone in a lifeboat saying out loud to fellow survivors, "We should've packed more flares and food, and water." That's the guy you want to punch in the mouth.

It really doesn't matter anymore how Major League Baseball got here. What matters is how it reacts, how it adapts, how it deals with what seems like a daily squall of controversy stemming from some of the implemented changes.

And their No. 1 crisis at the moment -- the spot where they're taking on the most water, as we saw at Fenway Park on "Sunday Night Baseball" -- is the interpretation of that precise instant when a player is ruled to have caught the ball: the transfer rule. MLB needs to patch this over as soon as possible, and officials are working to do that, perhaps by the end of the month.

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Adam JonesOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesAdam Jones' prowess in center field is paramount to Baltimore's success.
BOSTON -- There was no batting practice for the Boston Red Sox or Baltimore Orioles here Saturday morning, despite the warm sunshine that enveloped Fenway Park. The warning track around the entire field was filled with fans waiting to take photographs of Red Sox players who slowly rotated toward them.

Meanwhile, the Orioles players lounged in the shoebox-sized visitors clubhouse. Adam Jones picked at some breakfast and chatted about Jack Murphy Stadium, while Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop and others watched television.

This was a rare day when the Orioles would not go through their regular extensive defensive preparation with their infield work and with outfielders working on throwing to a particular spot. It's a practice which isn't always commonplace these days.

Like every other team in the AL East, the Orioles have their issues. Manny Machado is out, although he is making progress. Their starting rotation has been spotty. They've had a flu bug burrow into their ranks in recent days.

But day after day, this is a team that catches the ball. “That’s the key,” Jones said. “Don’t make mistakes.”

Shortstop J.J. Hardy is a Gold Glover, and so is Jones and catcher Matt Wieters. The Orioles acquired outfielder David Lough during the winter largely because they loved the defensive metrics attached to his play, and even as Ryan Flaherty struggled at the plate early this season, Buck Showalter has seen value in his work because of his steadiness in the field.

Going into Saturday’s game, the Orioles had -- remarkably -- made only three errors on the season, the fewest in the majors. They had allowed only two unearned runs. Somebody asked Showalter before Saturday’s game about the Orioles’ almost pristine error total, and Showalter jokingly gawked, in acknowledgment of a possible jinx situation, and asked the reporter where he would be during the game if Baltimore made an error, so he would know where to aim his death stare.

The Orioles made an error in the first inning: Schoop fumbled a grounder in the middle of a Boston rally, and a run scored. The rookie’s defensive skills are exceptional and he has played third base well by all accounts, but he has made three of the team’s four errors, and when Gold Glover Machado comes back, Schoop will play second base.

It was just a one-day hiccup in three weeks of the regular season. No matter the alignment, the defense will continue to be at the core of whatever the Orioles accomplish.

We’ve got the Orioles and Red Sox on "Sunday Night Baseball" on ESPN and WatchESPN, with a special 7 ET start time. Ubaldo Jimenez will be pitching for the Orioles, looking to be more aggressive with his mechanics. Machado played in his first extended spring game.

MLB's new investigation

Last week, a document retention memo was issued to all 30 teams by Major League Baseball, as it began its investigation of the article posted here April 9, and positioned itself to examine the history of communication of the hundreds of folks employed by the clubs: text messages, phone records, etc. Here's a look at the situation from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

The investigation was prompted by a strongly worded statement from new union chief Tony Clark on April 11:

“I am angered that numerous, anonymous baseball executives have blatantly and intentionally violated our collective bargaining agreement by offering to ESPN comments about the free agent values of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. These statements undermine the free agent rights of the players and depress their market value. Today, I have called upon the Commissioner’s Office to investigate immediately and thoroughly the sources of these statements and to take appropriate action to enforce our agreement.”

It’s the responsibility of Clark and MLB to protect the integrity of the collective bargaining agreement, of course. But if this is really about the CBA -- which binds club employees and agents from leaking details of negotiations to reporters, or passing on imaginary offers -- then presumably the union will also begin a corollary investigation of the communications of agents and their text messages, emails and phone records to track the interaction with specific reporters, and cross-reference those documents with subsequent reports.

When an agent informs a reporter that a player has drawn interest from a team or teams when in fact there is none, as part of an effort to artificially bolster the player’s market value, that’s a CBA violation. When a report comes out that a player has offers from X number of teams, where is that almost certainly coming from? Yes, the agent. And this has been happening for years and years, and Clark knows it.

When an agent leaks the terms of a deal before the full deal is completed, that’s a violation of the player’s rights under the CBA. But it happens all the time, and MLB and the union know it. Some of the particular reporter-agent quid pro quo relationships are so ingrained and such a consistent stream of seeming disinformation that they've become Baghdad Bob punch lines within the industry.

Similarly, if Major League Baseball is devoted to protecting the sanctity of the CBA, then it will investigate the cases of when club-operated websites have reported news of a contractual agreement -- before the completion of a physical exam, in some cases -- which is a blatant violation of the agreement.

But in all likelihood, the ongoing investigation of the April 9 piece will be an isolated exercise, because in fact this isn’t really about a CBA violation.

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videoThe best part of Leon Roberts’ job happened again Tuesday night, when George Springer was summoned into the manager’s office in Colorado Springs. Springer probably had some idea of what was to come, said Roberts, the hitting coach of the Oklahoma City RedHawks.

The word passed down from the Houston Astros’ front office reached Oklahoma City manager Tom Lawless late in the game, and Springer was pulled out for the ninth inning. On Tuesday he was 3-for-4 with four RBIs and four runs scored -- in other words, just another day for Springer, who had batted .353 with an OPS of 1.106 for the RedHawks.

When players are told they’re going to the big leagues, Roberts said, they usually react in one of two ways: Either they break down and cry, or they are speechless. Springer, Roberts said, was “more shocked and subdued. But he was playing like his hair was on fire.”

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videoEarly-season numbers that catch your eye:

51.1
That is the ground ball percentage of Prince Fielder this season, a significant increase over past seasons. Fielder hit his first home run of the season Tuesday night, but it goes without saying that if he is generating ground balls, the Rangers are not going to get what they banked on.

His ground ball rate is higher than that of Jimmy Rollins and 138 other hitters currently qualified for the batting title.

Fielder's home run Tuesday was his longest since last May, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

2.110
That's Mike Trout's OPS in the first inning this season.

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"Sunday Night Baseball" felt like a screenplay that would've been rejected because of implausibility, with all its elements and characters and plot twists crammed into one evening, in one of the most interesting regular-season games you will ever see.

Before the first pitch, a future Hall of Famer was held out of the lineup for the second straight day, and then word broke that Dustin Pedroia, who played almost the entire 2013 with a torn thumb ligament, has a bad left wrist that will be tested in Boston today.

After the first pitch, there was all of the incredible defensive play by superlative outfielders, with Jackie Bradley Jr. throwing out Jacoby Ellsbury to Brett Gardner throwing out Bradley to Daniel Nava's catch to Ichiro Suzuki's Spider-Man impersonation.

Because Francisco Cervelli got hurt, Carlos Beltran had to play first base for the first time in his career, and because Pedroia is hurt, Mike Carp had his first-ever game action at third. John Farrell became the first-ever manager ejected while challenging replay, after a call was overturned (more below).

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Matt WilliamsChuck Myers/MCT/Getty ImagesSaturday's game was not the first time Matt Williams was upset with a call this season.
As managers discussed instant replay prior to the season, they were generally circumspect, understated in their public comments. You got some eye rolls, and privately, some expressed concern, particularly with the challenge system.

But less than two weeks into the start of the regular season, frustration with the system is beginning to boil over, as it did with Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams on Saturday.

Williams challenged an out call of Nate McLouth on a throw to first base, and the replay on the Nats’ broadcast appeared to indicate that the ball wasn’t quite in Freddie Freeman's glove when McLouth’s foot hit the base; in other words, McLouth appeared to be safe. You can see it here, over and over, because the challenge decision lasted four minutes. And McLouth was called out.

Williams was befuddled, as James Wagner of the Washington Post reported. From his story:

“I’m extremely frustrated by the process at this point,” Williams said. “Because if they’re seeing the same feed that we’re seeing, I don’t know how he’s out. I don’t know how Nate is out if they have the same feed that we have, so that’s frustrating because I thought he was safe. We’ve looked at it 100 times since then, and we believe he was safe. And if that is a safe call, then we maintain our challenge. … Again, I’m frustrated by the first one, though, because I see him as safe. And we have the same technology and the same video. I don’t know about that one. That frustrates me.”


Earlier in the day, in New York, the Red Sox challenged a call on Dean Anna, and while Boston appeared to be right, the Sox's challenge was rejected. MLB acknowledged later that the call was wrong.

Boston manager John Farrell was perplexed. “We had probably five angles that confirmed his foot was off the base, and when the safe call came back, it certainly raises questions on if they're getting the same feeds we are, the consistency of the system," Farrell said. "Yeah, it makes you scratch your head a little bit on why he was called safe."

What the managers want, above all else, is reliability, some degree of predictability. They don’t want to feel as though there is a roll of the dice when they’re issuing a challenge, and that they have no idea what the replay officials are looking at. They want to know that each challenge will be treated in the same way, with an expected outcome.

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Kyle Lohse, Carlos Gomez, Khris Davis Getty ImagesKyle Lohse, Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis have all been major contributors this season.
Last September, Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin stood and watched the remnants of the 2013 Brewers take batting practice on a Saturday. No Ryan Braun. No Aramis Ramirez. No Jean Segura. But what Melvin conveyed, amid the tatters of a lost season, was hope.

He liked the projected lineup for 2014, he said, with Khris Davis probably moving into a starting role. He thought Yovani Gallardo -- who seemingly never really recovered from the WBC in 2013 -- would bounce back. Melvin seemed intrigued by what the Brewers could be, and so far, that vision has been borne out.

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John FarrellAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJohn Farrell didn't make any issue of questions about a substance on Michael Pineda's hand.

The Red Sox have been there and done that with the accusations of pitchers using foreign substances, from Clay Buchholz's shiny forearm and game-day wet look to the green stuff seemingly wedged into the leather of Jon Lester's glove last October. They were probably disinclined to cast any stones at Michael Pineda Thursday night, as Pineda pitched the first innings with his right palm covered by something that looked an awful lot like leftovers from George Brett's bat three decades ago.

Pineda wasn’t alone in substance scrutiny Thursday: An Astros pitcher sprayed his arms before his start Thursday, as Evan Drellich writes. At the very least, pitchers should and probably do know that they are being watched in high definition in the way that golfers are being scrutinized for rules violations. This is a pitchers' version of jaywalking in 2014, and while a whole lot of folks may cross the line, they might want to strive for subtlety.

But another reason the Red Sox may have not said much is

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Matt MooreAP Photo/Orlin WagnerRays starter Matt Moore left Monday's game early with elbow soreness.
The Rays aren’t sure whether starter Matt Moore will need surgery, as Marc Topkin writes. But given what we saw the other night, with Moore recoiling from a pitch the way that Braves starter Kris Medlen did in March, it would surprise no one if it turns out he faces Tommy John surgery, and an uncertain future.

Looking back, it’s a good thing Moore signed that $14 million deal back in 2011.

Many of baseball’s best young players have been taking deals that buy out their first or second years of free agency, with an option year or two attached. Chris Archer did this recently, locking himself into a six-year deal that could become an eight-year deal and guarantees him $25.5 million. So did the Pirates' Starling Marte, who signed a six-year, $31 million deal.

This has spurred a lot of debate within the industry if the players are conceding too much, if they are leaving money on the table.

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Stephen Drew and Kendrys MoralesGetty ImagesStephen Drew and Kendrys Morales will need a few weeks to get ready after they sign.
Vin Mazzaro could be a useful reliever for a lot of teams, but he cleared waivers Tuesday and a couple of executives speculated that part of the reason for that is Mazzaro makes more than minimum wage -- $950,000.

"Once you go to spring training, you’ve spent almost all the money you’re going to spend," said one GM. "There aren’t many teams with a lot of extra money lying around."

Maybe the Dodgers have a big budget, or the Yankees. But most teams have little wiggle room in their budget. Which brings us to Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, two veteran free agents who remain unemployed.

To review: Both players -- represented by agent Scott Boras -- rejected $14.1 million qualifying offers from the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners, respectively, and continue to wait. And wait. And wait.

There might be one small upside to waiting this long. Now that the season has started, neither can be given another qualifying offer by the next team he signs with, which means each could be a free agent without restriction after the 2014 season.

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Matt HarveyAP Photo/Jeff RobersonShorter games could help prevent injuries to star pitchers like Matt Harvey.
LOS ANGELES -- A high-ranking executive melded all of the lingering issues of the era into one conversation, as if listing a recipe for change.

The games are often played too slowly, he noted. The audience of Major League Baseball is aging, with polls indicating that the youngest generation expects faster and fastest in what it consumes.

At the same time, the exec said, teams are struggling to find enough good pitching -- and, at the same time, the number of injuries is skyrocketing. If oblique strains were the prevalent injury two years ago, ulnar collateral ligament strains are the ailment du jour. Top prospect Jameson Taillon of the Pirates is the latest pitcher to be headed for Tommy John surgery; maybe he'll bump into Bobby Parnell along the way.

The executive went for his punch line, a thought so far outside the box that it either represents the absurd, or the future.

"I think they ought to change the games to seven innings," he said.

Seven innings? You mean, in each game? Seven innings instead of nine?

"Seven innings," he said again, and he went on to explain that if baseball adopted this, it could represent a tonic for all the problems he sees.

Seven innings instead of nine would mean the games would finish closer to two-and-a-half hours than three hours or longer.

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DodgersStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig serve as spark plugs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez attends the meetings that the Dodgers hold for the hitters at the outset of every series to go over scouting reports, but he does this to be respectful and polite of the process and not because he actually gleans information. He does not study video, either.

“None,” he said Saturday as he waited his turn in batting practice.

He does not care to know the identity of the opponent's starting pitcher, Ramirez said, until he is preparing for his first at-bat -- and even then, as he watches the pitcher throw to the first batters of the game, what Ramirez only wants to know is how hard the pitcher is throwing, and how much his fastball moves.

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Tropicana FieldAP Photo/Chris O'MearaThe Rays have drawn big crowds to Tropicana Field for certain games, but that hasn't been the norm.
On one side of the country, the mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., met with Tampa Bay Rays president Matt Silverman to discuss the team’s lingering unhappiness with the current ballpark situation, as detailed by Christopher O'Donnell. On the other side of the country, the Oakland Athletics postponed a game, despite the fact there was no rain falling and no rain in the forecast: The field had been left uncovered the night before and was deemed unplayable, as John Hickey writes.

The Athletics’ situation could have happened in just about every other park in the sport. In the time I covered the New York Yankees, I remember a similar situation developing at Legends Field before a spring training game, with the groundskeepers scrambling to prepare the dampened field early in the morning before George Steinbrenner arrived. They had left the tarp off the field overnight, and a passing shower had thoroughly drenched it.

But between this and the ongoing sewage issues, and the field conditions that develop when the NFL's Raiders start playing games, Oakland’s park situation continues to be an embarrassment for all of Major League Baseball, not just the Athletics. As Bill Shaikin noted on Twitter on Friday, it’s now been five years since commissioner Bud Selig formed a committee to study Oakland’s ballpark options, and nobody -- not the other owners, not the commissioner -- have deemed it important enough to make it a priority item for the industry.

Which is their prerogative. If baseball’s owners and Selig don’t feel the need to strong-arm the Giants into making the best possible territory deal they can make and carve out a home for the Athletics in San Jose, Calif., that’s their choice. Until Major League Baseball -- the teams and the central office -- places the Athletics’ status at the top of its to-do list and prepares all the necessary horse-trading, nothing will change.

But when stuff like this happens -- when sewage is running under the feet of players, coaches and umpires -- the fault lies with the whole of MLB, not just plumbers or groundskeepers. This is a glaring case of benign neglect.

The Rays’ situation with St. Petersburg is like a marriage that is all but over besides the legal union. After their Opening Day spread of 31,042 fans, the Rays have drawn crowds of 11,113, 10,808, 9,571 and 14,304 in keeping with the recent tradition of support. Some small-market and mid-market teams have seen their attendance rise and fall according to how much the fans believe in ownership's investment in the team -- the Padres are a perfect example of this -- but the Rays have been a model of consistency in their incredible and improbable success, and yet the attendance continues to drift downward.

The franchise vies with the St. Louis Cardinals for the title of best-run baseball operations department, having won at least 90 games in all but one of the past six seasons, despite working on a shoestring budget while maintaining residence in the hyper-competitive American League East. The team has tried to reboot the fan experience at Tropicana Field, repeatedly. The Rays have tried to make the marriage with St. Petersburg work, but it’s not working.

From O’Donnell’s story:

The Rays are under contract to play at the Trop through 2027 but say they need to explore sites for a new stadium because of low attendances at the city-owned facility. The city has so far refused, saying it has to protect the investment of taxpayers who paid millions of dollars to bring Major League Baseball to St. Petersburg.

“I think we made good progress today,” Kriseman said. “We’re having very open and honest dialogue with each other.”

The hourlong unannounced meeting, the second Kriseman has had with the team since taking office in January, was at the Trop ahead of the Rays’ game against the Texas Rangers.

Kriseman said both sides have agreed to keep talks confidential. Talks in 2013 between the Rays and former Mayor Bill Foster stalled after city leaders claimed that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had instructed the Rays not to offer the city any compensation if it broke its contract.

“Both sides have agreed we are going to keep our conversations in confidence and private so we can continue to have a solid element of trust in each other, so we can make progress,” Kriseman said.

Despite a winning team in recent years, the Rays’ average attendance of just more than 18,000 was the lowest in the league in 2013.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has suggested several times in recent years that baseball’s other 29 owners were growing restless with the Rays’ lingering stadium problem. Richer teams such as the New York Yankees have to subsidize less profitable teams, including the Rays, through revenue-sharing payments.


Maybe there’s a more tenable site in the Tampa area. Maybe Montreal could be an option. Maybe Portland, or Nashville.

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Bobby ParnellElsa/Getty ImagesMets closer Bobby Parnell is expected to miss considerable time with a torn elbow ligament.
The Pirates' Jameson Taillon, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, is the latest to go through the process of having his elbow checked. The Mets, who have been models of restraint in the handling of their young pitchers, announced that closer Bobby Parnell has a partially torn elbow ligament.

From Tim Rohan’s story:
The Mets are often asked what reasons they have to be optimistic. Lately, their unequivocal response has been starting pitching. It is their obvious strength, now and for the future. They consider Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero precious assets. The Mets plan to be cautious with them, bring them along at the right pace and eventually ride them to relevance.

Much depends on how the Mets develop these promising pitchers.

That was why it seemed particularly concerning when the Mets announced Tuesday that Bobby Parnell, their closer, had a partly torn ulnar collateral ligament. Parnell will try rehabilitation to avoid Tommy John surgery, but if he has the operation, he will be the third Mets pitcher to have it in about nine months, following Jeremy Hefner and Harvey. Jenrry Mejia had it in 2011.

Every case is different, but general manager Sandy Alderson indicated that the Mets would review how they handled pitchers and their rehabilitation programs. He called the pitching injuries an "industrywide problem." Several top-flight pitchers had the operation during spring training this year, including the Atlanta Braves' Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who each had it for a second time.

"It's something we constantly look at," Alderson said Wednesday. "But I don't think we have -- or the industry has -- any solid answers. That’s for sure."


Alderson speaks the essential truth: The industry has been trying to find solid answers and they don’t have much to show for it. They’ve been constructing pitch counts and innings limits and adhering to them closely, doing everything they can to develop pitchers while protecting them at the same time, and pitchers continue to break down.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it's possible that the constricted pitch counts have made little to no difference. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s possible that the innings limits have made little to no difference.

The one conclusion that a lot of general managers have reached is that there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules, no magic formula.

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