3-batter minimum, early trade deadline, DH changes proposed
By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
Thursday, February 7
NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball and its players are discussing bold changes to spark the sport that include a three-batter minimum before a pitching change except at the start of an inning, a single trade deadline set before the All-Star break and expanded rosters.
The union renewed its push to extend the designated hitter to the National League, suggested amateur draft incentives for winning records and penalties for losing records and proposed a change in service-time rules that would lead to faster free agency for top rookies held in the minor leagues early in the season. Management proposed expanding minimum time on the disabled list and optional assignments to the minor leagues to 15 days.
The talks are an expansion of the ones last off-season in which management threatened to implement a pitch clock, then backed off but did institute limits on mound visits without pitching changes. Management made its proposal on Jan. 14, the union responded last Friday and discussions are ongoing.
Details were disclosed to The Associated Press by people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized. Aspects of the proposals were first reported by The Athletic.
Management is concerned about a drop in offense that saw strikeouts exceed hits for the first time last year and the big league batting average drop to its lowest level since 1972. In a season that included an unusually cold and wet April, average attendance dropped for the third straight season and fell below 30,000 for the first time since 2003.
Some of the most interesting changes appear likely to be put off until 2020 at the earliest.
Management proposed that a team not be allowed to bring in a reliever until the previous pitcher has faced three batters or an inning ends. There were 1,145 one-batter outings last season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, up from 1,119 the previous year but down from 1,182 in 2016. The change would have an impact on the use of “openers” for a few batters, a move pioneered by Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash and emulated by Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series, when he removed left-handed starter Wade Miley after one batter and replaced him with right-hander Brandon Woodruff.
Players countered the change should start in the minor leagues this year and reach the majors in 2020.
The DH has been used in the AL since 1973, but the NL has never adopted the rule and Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he supports the status quo. The union proposed the DH start being used in the NL this year, but management in the past has considered the DH an economic issue, and Manfred has said that economic changes must wait for negotiations for a new labor contract that would start ahead of the 2022 season.
Management again has proposed a pitch clock, and the union countered with limitations on its use.
MOUND VISITS WITHOUT PITCHING CHANGES
A limit of six began last season, and management wants to lower that to four this season and three in 2020. The union countered with five this year and, if the average time of a nine-inning game is longer this year than last, then four in 2020.
Players proposed a single trade deadline be instituted before the All-Star break to keep teams from dealing veterans when the clubs conclude their chances of a playoff berth have dwindled. The deadline for trades without waivers was June 15 from 1923 through 1985 and has been July 31 since. Players who clear waivers can be dealt after the deadline, but they must be in an organization by Aug. 31 to be eligible for the postseason.
Many have criticized the roster rules, which generally allow a team 25 active players through Aug. 31 and then 40 until the end of the season. Management proposed allowing a 26-man roster, including a 12-pitcher maximum, through Aug. 31, and then up to 28 for the rest of the season. The union countered that each team should be required to have 28 active from Sept. 1 on and that there be a supplemental roster of four players after the Triple-A postseason ends. No starting pitchers would be allowed on the supplemental roster, and at least two of the four would have to be position players.
Concerned that teams with small or no playoff chances put less of an emphasis on winning to get higher selections in the amateur draft, the union proposed that a team with 90 or more losses in consecutive years have its highest selection in the next amateur draft dropped 15 slots and lose $2 million in international signing bonus pool allocation. A team with 90 or more losses in three straight years would drop 20 slots and lose $3 million in allocation.
Clubs that reach the postseason would be awarded additional draft picks in the competitive balance rounds.
A player in his debut season or with less than 30 days of major league service in the previous season would be credited with a full year of major league service if he finishes among the top three in voting for Rookie of the Year, Cy Young Award, MVP or Rivera/Hoffman reliever award; he wins World Series or League Championship Series MVP; or he is among the top three in Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, defined by the average of the Fangraphs and Baseball Reference calculations. Currently, 172 days during the 186-day season are needed to be credited for a year of major league service. The Chicago Cubs called up Kris Bryant in 2015 to leave him with exactly 171 days, sparking a grievance that remains unresolved.
DISABLED LIST/OPTIONAL ASSIGNMENTS
Management proposed that the shortest disabled list increase from 10 days to 15, its minimum before 2017, and the minimum time before an optioned player can be recalled from the minors also increase from 10 to 15 — keeping the exception that the limit does not apply when replacing a player who is placed on the DL. Concerned about service time, the union is not yet conformable with that plan.
Worried baseball may lose athletes such as Oakland outfielder Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, players proposed two-sport athletes be able to sign major league contracts. Since 2012, all amateur free agents must sign minor league contracts.
STARTING EXTRA INNINGS WITH A RUNNER ON SECOND BASE
Players are generally amenable to management’s proposal to start the 10th and subsequent innings of spring training games and the All-Star Game with a runner on second, although in the All-Star Game they want a player who already has left the game to be eligible to be one of those runners.
STUDY ON LOWERING PITCHER’S MOUND
The pitcher’s mound was dropped from 15 inches to 10 for the 1969 season, and management wants to establish a committee to study whether it should be lowered again. The union wants the committee to include active players.
Players are willing discuss whether inning breaks can be shortened. Among the ideas suggested include using split screens that include commercials on broadcasts at the start of half-innings.
EXPANDED PLAYOFFS AND REALIGNMENT
Players are willing to discuss.
Players propose better fan engagement by allowing additional broadcast microphones on players, possibly including two-way microphones.
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NCAA selection committee starts work with new ranking system
By AARON BEARD
AP Basketball Writer
Thursday, February 7
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The selection committee that chooses the NCAA Tournament field is getting its first use of a new rankings formula that uses factors such as offensive and defensive efficiency when evaluating teams.
The committee is holding orientation meetings this week in Indianapolis. The work includes using the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings to help choose the top 16 seeds to this point ahead of a Saturday reveal, which comes about a month from Selection Sunday on March 17.
“The main thing about this tool is it’s current,” committee chairman Bernard Muir said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters. “We want to remain current. Over the years, I’m sure future committees will continue to look at the tool . For right now, we feel like this is a great first start and we’ll see in the off-season whether we need to review the tool at all.”
The NCAA announced in August that it was moving to the more analytical NET incorporating factors such as game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin and net efficiency at both ends of the court. That came after using the RPI since 1981, which focused on winning percentage, strength of schedule and opponent’s strength of schedule.
Still, there’s a feeling-out process with the change.
For example, NET caps victory margin at 10 points to avoid teams running up the score. And Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said after his No. 11 Hokies lost Monday to No. 16 Louisville that the rankings formula was one reason he called a timeout down 11 with 21 seconds left.
The Hokies got a late 3-pointer to fall 72-64.
“According to all the research I’ve found, if you win by 10 or more, that helps,” Williams said. “If you lose by 10 or more, that hurts. So 21 seconds left, you’ll see a lot of that. It’s been going on. I think it’s just now kind of coming to the surface. … The basket at the end, it was in a losing effort, but decimal points maybe it matters even though we don’t know the formula.
“But some of the smart people are hinting that it does matter.”
Muir, Stanford’s athletics director, said the committee has “heard some coaches express some concern” but said one possession wouldn’t have that significant of an impact.
“It’s a new tool, something that will probably be tweaked down the road,” Muir said, “not sure how soon that will be.”
SORTING OUT: Muir heard the criticism that followed the first NET rankings in November with Ohio State — ranked No. 16 in the AP Top 25 at the time — as No. 1. This week’s NET is led by Virginia, Gonzaga, Gonzaga, Duke and Tennessee. “We also knew as part of this new NET, as time went on … that it’s starting to sort itself out,” Muir said.
THE TOP LINES: Muir said the committee is “pretty much” certain which teams will fill the lines for 1- and 2-seeds in Saturday’s reveal of the top four seeds in each of four regions. While only the top 16 will be revealed, he said the committee will go as far as seeding teams 1 through 24.
PREDICTABLE: Muir said 15 of 16 teams from the February 2017 reveal were still in the top 16 that March. Last year 13 of 16 teams stayed in that top group, with Muir noting two that fell out ended up as No. 5 seeds.
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Hendrick vows rebound from worst season in team history
By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
Wednesday, February 6
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Rick Hendrick worked too hard building NASCAR’s top organization to tolerate mediocrity. If his teams had simply been average last season he might not rate it as one of the worst in team history.
The Hendrick cars were pretty bad —seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson failed to win for the first time in his Cup career — and it took 22 races for the organization to get its first victory. The final tally showed just three Chase Elliott victories and the organization with 12 Cup titles was locked out of the championship-deciding finale for the second consecutive year.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Hendrick guaranteed this year will be much improved.
“Last year sucked. I ain’t gonna do that no more,” Hendrick said. “I’m too competitive to do that and our organization is too good to be doing that.”
The season was not entirely surprising considering the upheaval to both the driver lineup and the behind-the-scenes operations. The roster was stacked just three years ago with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Johnson but looks dramatically different as Hendrick begins its 36th season in the Cup Series.
Gordon retired after the 2015 season, Earnhardt was sidelined most of 2016 because of concussion-related ailments and he retired the next year. Kahne was released for underperforming and Hendrick suddenly had two high-profile rides to fill. Elliott had already replaced Gordon, and the newest vacancies were filled by William Byron, a rookie last season, and Alex Bowman, who had bounced around looking for a competitive ride until he filled in for Earnhardt in 2016.
Bowman is 26, Elliott is 23 and Byron celebrated his 21st birthday during the offseason. Johnson is entering his 18th fulltime Cup season and turns 44 this September.
Johnson was surrounded by inexperienced newcomers at the same time Chevrolet made a body change to its Cup entrant and switched to the Camaro. Although Bowman won the Daytona 500 pole in the Camaro’s debut, and Chevy driver Austin Dillon won the race, that was the lone highlight for most of the season. Chevy didn’t win again until Elliott’s first career victory in August and Camaro drivers totaled just four victories. Ford won 19 races in its outgoing Fusion and Toyota scored 13 wins in its Camry.
Hendrick completed a massive restructuring before the 2018 season and its resources were stretched thin as all four teams were moved into one shop for the first time. The teams had previously been split in pairs, and the consolidation put everyone in the same building with the crew chiefs working as a quartet.
So much change at one time had an impact on performance.
“We really looked like we were out to lunch most of the year,” Hendrick said. “Until Chase won, it didn’t even look like we were in the same ballpark. But we started to close the big gap toward the end of the year and now we’ve turned the page.”
Hendrick had built his team from nothing and weathered the tightest of financial situations. All-Star Racing barely made it through the first two months of its inaugural 1984 season.
Hendrick had a 5,000-square-foot shop with eight employees and a legendary crew chief in Harry Hyde. But he didn’t have a driver, a sponsor or solid prospects. A deal with Richard Petty to run the Daytona 500 didn’t materialize and the seat was offered to Tim Richmond. Hendrick pulled the offer when Geoff Bodine stopped in the shop one day and offered to wait in the lobby until Richmond made his decision.
Hendrick figured he had five races to find the sponsorship needed to stay in business and Hyde later talked him into stretching it another three weeks. He was just about out of money when Hendrick allowed Northwestern Security Life to put its logos on Bodine’s car for free at Martinsville Speedway, the eighth race of the season and probably the last unless Hendrick stumbled upon serious financial intervention.
That race at Martinsville was the moment that saved what is now Hendrick Motorsports. Bodine pulled off a near-miracle and won the race, and the overjoyed Northwestern executives agreed to fund the rest of the season.
That 1984 season was always the one Hendrick considered his most difficult in NASCAR.
Then came 2018 and uncharacteristic struggles across the board.
“It was the toughest year I had in racing that I can remember,” Hendrick said. “There were dark days before that, the year we almost closed, but after you’ve won as much as we have, it was rough to go through. I knew it was going to be tough, but I didn’t know it was going to be that tough. The reorganization, bringing on two young drivers and we were just behind when we started the season. And when you are that far off, nobody else is waiting for you to catch up.”
The worst is behind the organization, Hendrick said, and he’s encouraged about this season.
He split Johnson and longtime crew chief Chad Knaus at the end of the year and has tasked Knaus with building another team around Byron the same way he did when he launched Johnson’s team in 2002. A new racing package for this season should benefit both Bowman and Byron because neither had much experience under the old rules.
Hendrick was not as visible last season as years past, perhaps because fishing in Florida was more enjoyable than watching his teams struggle. It led to speculation that Gordon, who owns a stake in Hendrick is poised to take over, a move the boss doesn’t see happening soon.
“I don’t think Jeff will ever want to do the day to day, every single day,” Hendrick said. “But I would hope one day that if he wants to, when I am done, and I don’t know when that day will come for me because I’ve still got a lot I want to do. But he has input, we talk about drivers and plans. But I am 69, I feel good, I still love this, I grew up racing and it was all I knew. This was all I always cared about and the dream about starting by building a car in a bathroom, to riding in here today and looking at this place (Hendrick Motorsports), I get excited like a kid.
“Last year fires me up and is a reminder ‘This is not who we are and how we run and we need to get after it right now.’”
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Michigan lands Big Ten’s top class for first time since 2007
By ERIC OLSON
AP College Football Writer
Wednesday, February 6
Michigan finished the football recruiting cycle with the top class in the Big Ten, and four other conference programs were ranked in the top 25 in the nation Wednesday.
Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh added one player on the second letter-of-intent signing day to a 26-man class that was No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 8 nationally, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings. It was Michigan’s first top ranking in the Big Ten since 2007.
Penn State coach James Franklin assembled a 23-man class made up of players from 11 states, including three from Florida and one from Oregon. The Nittany Lions were ranked No. 2 in the conference and No. 13 nationally.
Ohio State, which had been No. 1 in Big Ten recruiting eight years in a row and in 10 of the last 11, slipped to No. 3 during the coaching transition from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day. The Buckeyes’ No. 14 national ranking was their lowest since 2010 and ended a streak of eight straight classes ranked seventh or higher. The drop is partly attributable to the 17-man class being Ohio State’s smallest since 2007.
Nebraska and Purdue had the top two classes in the Big Ten West, coming in at Nos. 4 and 5 in the conference and Nos. 20 and 25 in the nation.
Four-star safety Quinten Johnson out of St. John’s College High in Washington was the only player to sign with Michigan on Wednesday. He’s drawn comparisons to ex-Wolverines star Jabrill Peppers, who played both defense and offense in 2015-16. Johnson has said he would be willing to do the same.
Kansas City-area three-star athlete Amauri Pesek-Hickson de-committed Monday over a disagreement about Harbaugh’s request that he delay his enrollment and go to prep school. Pesek-Hickson signed with Kansas.
Penn State went all the way to Germany to bring in defensive tackle Joseph Darkwa. The 6-5, 270-pounder, whose mother moved from Ghana about 30 years ago, comes from the Dusseldorf Panthers’ U-19 team in the German Football League. He also had offers from UCLA, Georgia Tech and Colorado, among other schools.
LOSE ONE, GAIN TWO
Ohio State, which must replace four of its five starting offensive linemen, beat out Southern California for four-star guard Enokk Vimahi of Kahuku, Hawaii, and three-star tackle Dawand Jones of Indianapolis. The signings cushioned the blow of the Buckeyes losing four-star offensive lineman Doug Nester of Huntington, West Virginia, who flipped to Virginia Tech.
Vimahi and Jones completed a strong class of offensive linemen. The Buckeyes in December signed five-star center Harry Miller of Buford, Georgia, and four-star tackle Ryan Jacoby of Mentor, Ohio.
“O-line was an area of concern for us,” Day said. “We had to go out there and kind of uncover all the stones. Flying out to Hawaii, staying for three hours, getting on a redeye back to Columbus was part of that plan. We wouldn’t just go over to Hawaii if it wasn’t a good fit. It was.”
The recruiting tide continues to rise for Jeff Brohm at Purdue. The Boilermakers signed four four-star prospects in December, including two who will join a receiving corps that includes Big Ten freshman of the year Rondale Moore. Over three years Purdue has gone from 14th to 11th to fifth in the conference recruiting ratings and from 72nd to 51st and 25th nationally.
MARYLAND’S FAST FINISH
Maryland was the most active team in the Big Ten on Wednesday, adding 11 members to new coach Mike Locksley’s 17-man class. The most notable signing was Lance LeGendre, a quarterback from New Orleans who chose the Terrapins over Florida State. The addition of the four-star LeGendre helped move the Terrapins from 14th to 12th in the Big Ten — still a long way from the No. 5 class brought in last year by former coach DJ Durkin.
“I feel real good about the team we have coming back. These 17 individuals will add to it,” Locksley said. “We feel like we hit home runs with the guys we signed.”
WHO NEEDS STARS?
Northwestern hasn’t cracked the top 10 in the Big Ten recruiting rankings since finishing eighth in 2014. Now consider the Wildcats went unbeaten against West Division opponents while reaching the conference championship game last season. The 2019 class is made up of 19 three-stars and was ranked 11th in the Big Ten. Since 2015, coach Pat Fitzgerald has signed just two four-stars and has gone 26-9 in Big Ten play, including 19-5 against the West.
AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg contributed from Maryland.
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Florida State, Miami try to flip narrative on signing day
By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
Thursday, February 7
Florida State and Miami were hoping signing day could help put to the negativity of 2018 to rest and provide a push toward better times.
Coming off a 5-7 record in their first season under coach Willie Taggart, the Seminoles landed a top 20 class but struck out on a much-needed quarterback Wednesday
Miami, coming off a 7-6 season and coach Mark Richt’s surprising retirement, managed to finally provide some good news for Hurricanes fans. New coach Manny Diaz bolstered the ‘Canes recruiting class with some high-profile transfers.
This is the second year for college football’s early December signing period and it’s made the traditional signing day in February something of an afterthought. More than 80 percent of the scholarships in FBS were scooped up in December, and the vast majority of the highly touted prospects were off the board.
Still, the usual suspects made some noise, especially in the Southeastern Conference. Alabama, which had already pretty much locked up another recruiting national title, had a couple of four-stars flip to other schools, but the Tide also pulled 330-pound defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher out of Louisiana and away from LSU.
Georgia had the day’s biggest surprise, getting five-star receiver George Pickens to drop his Auburn verbal commitment to sign with the Bulldogs.
Florida State didn’t make that big of a splash, but the Seminoles held on to their commitments, including defensive end Quashon Fuller from Fort Myers, Florida. Nick Cross, a four-star defensive back from Maryland, put off his signing but didn’t flip to another school.
The ‘Noles bolstered an offensive line that desperately needed depth with three more signees on the offensive front. Taggart’s class of 22 players has five offensive linemen, plus the ‘Noles added a transfer from Northern Illinois.
Year one under Taggart produced the first bowl-less season at Florida State since 1981, and the Seminoles are trying to keep pace in their own division with national champion Clemson. Heading into his second season, Taggart is already facing pressure in Tallahassee.
“We’ve got young men here that believe in our vision and understand what we’re trying to build,” Taggart told reporters. “I think that’s more important than anything.”
The problem was at quarterback. Lance LeGendre selected Maryland over Florida State, leaving the Seminoles with no quarterbacks in the signing class and only one eligible on the roster this season in James Blackman. Deondre Francois was dismissed from the program last week. Taggart hopes Louisville transfer Jordan Travis will be granted a waiver to play immediately.
That could lead Florida State to look at the transfer database some more. Diaz has done plenty of work in that area.
The former ‘Canes defensive coordinator and Miami native has re-energized a program that was looking bleak when Richt stepped down in January.
On signing day, the big adds from the high school ranks for Miami were cornerback Christian Williams, an Alabama product who was also considering the Crimson Tide, and quarterback Payton Matocha from Texas. Miami’s recruiting class is likely to land in the upper 20s in the 247 Sports composite rankings, but transfers have a chance to make an immediate impact.
Former Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell needs a waiver to become eligible this season, and the Hurricanes also announced the additions of defensive back Bubba Bolden from Southern California, defensive lineman Chigozie Nnuroka from UCLA and defensive end Trevon Hill from Virginia Tech.
“We did not sit down and say, ‘Let’s go hunt these guys from other schools,’” Diaz told reporters. “We had to fix our roster.”
Miami also signed maybe the most interesting punter in the 2019 class in heavily tattooed Australian Louis Hedley.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
Alabama will finish with the No. 1 class, according to 247 Sports’ rankings, for the eighth time in nine seasons. … A couple of highly touted signees have a Kyler Murray-type decision to make in the next few months. Jerrion Ealy, a five-star running back from Mississippi, picked Ole Miss after a late push from Clemson, but he is also a talented baseball player who could be drafted by Major League Baseball in the first round. LSU defensive back Maurice Hampton also is a top-notch baseball prospect who could take that route. … Oregon had the top class in the Pac-12 locked down in December. On signing day, Washington moved into the second spot and top 20 overall, landing linebacker Daniel Heimuli from California. The Huskies ended up with nine of the top-50 players from California.
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