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Twins Follow Potential MLB Changes

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May 15, 2022

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Everyone who cares about Major League Baseball knows the game has flaws in the 21st century that merit review. And that’s exactly what commissioner Rob Manfred and his competition committee is working on, with changes perhaps coming as soon as next season.

Already in place is an audio communication system enabling catchers to give signals to pitchers. A high percentage of the 30 MLB clubs, including the Twins, are using the system that improves pace of play. There is no confusion about what pitch the catcher is calling.

“Yeah, we think it is great,” Twins’ president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners. “We think it adds more pace. We think it allows our pitchers to get into more of a rhythm.”

MLB is challenged to speed up its game both in pace and duration. Games are almost always over three hours long and commonly clock in past four hours. Last season MLB fans waited on average four minutes and seven seconds to see the baseball put in play, according to the May issue of Sports Illustrated.

There is a rule on the books that says the pitcher is to deliver the ball within 12 seconds when the bases are empty, but the rule isn’t enforced. Adding a visible pitch timer like a shot clock in basketball would get players and umpires on board. It’s speculative as to how much time would be stipulated—perhaps 15 seconds with no base runners, 20 with runners.

Dave St. Peter (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins)

“We’re in favor of pitch timers,” St. Peter said. “We’re in favor of anything that is going to create more pace to our game, move games along so that players, staff and ultimately fans maybe spend a little less time over the course of any given game.

“We’ve seen it work well in the minor leagues. Almost all of our players have experienced it in the minor leagues and viewed that as a good thing.”

Analytics provides sophisticated data that has changed the game including infield shifts that position defenders in the most effective spots to take away hits. It’s been speculated that today’s .280 hitter would have a .300 batting average years ago, with shifts contributing to the decline.

St. Peter likes the proposed change of mandating only two fielders on each side of second base. He said there is data showing the change will boost offense: “That more balls will find green grass and ultimately more runners will be on base—and running maybe from first to third, or from second to home, and that should create more exciting plays in our game and allow our athletes to be athletes. I think that’s really the goal here.”

St. Peter is enthusiastic about the possibility of making the bases larger, thereby shortening the distances between bases. The art of base stealing is fading in MLB and this change could help reverse the trend. “I think it’s a player safety thing as well for infielders to get around the (the larger) base and avoid runners,” St. Peter said.

An automated ball-strike system, robot umpires if you will, could be coming soon. Advantages? Fans won’t leave the ballpark thinking their favorites got a raw deal on a crucial called third strike when replay showed it was ball four. Umpires don’t always make accurate calls but “Robo” will. An automated consistent strike zone may force pitchers to more often throw strikes, resulting in more balls in play.

Fan entertainment and enjoying the ballpark experience is very much on the mind of MLB leaders including St. Peter. He needs look no further than the state capitol where proposed bills about legalized sports betting are being debated. The future possibility of fans wagering on their phones at venues like Target Field could become reality, and soon.

It’s younger fans who will determine MLB’s future popularity. The interest, or absence of, is already in debate. They have different entertainment expectations than younger fans of even 10, 15 and 20 years ago. Those generations will become “ghost” fans if MLB doesn’t improve its product, making the game shorter, more lively and fun to watch. Technology can help on multiple fronts, including making games interactive for fans wagering at the stadium.

St. Peter expects the competition committee, that includes player representatives and MLB leaders, will make recommendations later this year regarding potential rules changes for 2023.

Worth Noting

Probably the best team in Wild history couldn’t advance in the postseason. The Blues made adjustments that worked and their players performed better than the Wild. Down 2-1 in the series, the Blues outscored Minnesota 15-5 in the final three games.

A hockey insider predicted the Wild will try to improve the roster in the offseason by adding veteran forwards who are physical. The Blues are a physical team and the Wild’s lack of muscle showed in the series including when Minnesota’s forechecking stalled.

The source predicted the Wild will find the salary cap room to re-sign forward Kevin Fiala who was second in points during the regular season but didn’t score a goal in the playoffs. Salary cap juggling could result in the Wild moving on from defenseman Matt Dumba who is signed through next season and expected to earn about $5.2 million.

Fiala reportedly made $5.1 million this season and as a restricted free agent this summer could command a three-year deal at perhaps $7 million per year.

Knowledgeable about the Wild since the franchise’s inception over 20 years ago, the source predicted it’s “50-50” whether the front office brings back 37-year-old unrestricted free agent goal Marc-Andre Fleury. A deal could hinge on whether Fleury is willing to accept an incentive-packed deal because the Wild are unlikely to commit big money to two goalies. Cam Talbot reportedly earns $3.6 million and Fleury makes almost double that sum.

Talbot, BTW, can’t be happy about sitting on the bench and watching Fleury play all but one game in the playoffs against the Blues.

Word is, per the source, the Wild will raise ticket prices for next season. The Wild finished the regular season with a franchise-best ever 53-22-7 record.

The USHL’s Madison Capitols, the lowest seed in the league’s playoffs and owned by former Wild star Ryan Suter, is in the Clark Cup Finals against the Sioux City Musketeers that start Sunday afternoon.

Given his age and preference for the highest profile of tournaments, it could be that 46-year-old golf legend Tiger Woods will never compete in the 3M Open in suburban Blaine. The British Open will be played this year July 14-17 and Woods is committed. The 3M Open is July 18-24.

Wayzata High School alum Karl Gregor is the New England Small College Athletic Conference men’s tennis Coach of the Year after his Tufts team went 17-2 and qualified for the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection for the first time since 2017.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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