Major League Baseball officially announced a series of rule changes Thursday that were agreed to by the Major League Baseball Players Association for implementation during the 2017 season.
MLB Communications provided the full list, which is highlighted by no-pitch intentional walks and a time limit for replay reviews:
MLB Communications @MLB_PR
MLB & the MLBPA today jointly announced a series of modifications that have been approved and will be in place in the 2017 regular season: https://t.co/IjVboUSCGd2017-3-2 16:10:09
A majority of the changes focus on MLB's effort to improve the overall pace of play.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today passed along comments in early February from commissioner Rob Manfred, who expressed the importance of shortening games.
"I will say that pace of play is an issue that we need to be focused on," he said. "And the 'we' there is players, owners, umpires … everyone who is invested in this game."
Manfred added: "I don't think there's a magic bullet that is going to come one year and that's going to be the solution to pace of play. It's going to be an ongoing effort to make sure our game moves along in the way in the way that is most attractive to our fans."
Many players around the league have been less than receptive to the efforts to change the game in order to improve its overall speed. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said they are "very sensitive to significant changes," per Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution provided thoughts from Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman about the hot-button topic early in spring training.
"My thoughts are, I'm a young guy, but I like old-school baseball," he said. "I don't think we should have instant replay. I don't think we should be changing the game at all. It's a beautiful game the way it is. They're always talking about pace of play, but I think instant replay made the game longer."
Freeman also doesn't believe changing intentional walks is a net positive: "Taking away 10 seconds [for each pitch in an intentional walk]—they're still going to have instant replay take five minutes when we're just standing around. It [intentional walk] is part of the game. I've seen a lot of people score on wild pitches on intentional walks."
The players' public stance and efforts at pushback may not matter, though.
An "angered and frustrated" Manfred told reporters, including Nightengale, that he possesses the power to make changes without the approval of the union. If players aren't willing to negotiate further alterations during the season, he may act alone before the 2018 season.
All told, ESPN Stats & Information noted last July the average MLB game lasted three hours and four minutes. It was a four-minute increase from 2015, when the league was more forceful in keeping players in the batter's box between pitches, and a 15-minute increase from 2005.
It's unlikely the changes announced Thursday will have a major effect on reducing the length of games during the 2017 season. The question will then become what Manfred plans to do before 2018 in order to see a more sizable decrease.