INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – In between trade talks and early negotiations with free agents, baseball general managers considered some wide-ranging changes that include broader use of instant replay by umpires, changed roster limits for September and protective headgear for pitchers.
On the first day of the GM's three-day annual session, the Colorado Rockies hired Walt Weiss as manager Wednesday and the New York Mets announced they had reached an agreement to terminate outfielder Jason Bay's contract with one guaranteed season remaining. The Los Angeles Dodgers finalized a deal to hire Mark McGwire to be their hitting coach.
Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said he'd listen to trade offers for two-time All-Star right fielder Justin Upton but thought a swap was not likely. And Texas GM Jon Daniels said the Rangers remained interested in re-signing All-Star slugger Josh Hamilton.
During the formal part of the meetings, the GMs talked about instant replay. Video review in baseball began in August 2008 and has been limited to checking whether potential home runs were fair or cleared over fences. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has been saying since early 2011 he wants to expand it to two additional types of calls.
"He was talking about really basically fair-foul, trap plays. But we're looking into more than that," said Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations.
Torre did not detail what types of calls a broader expansion might include.
During tests late this year at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, MLB experimented with the Hawk-Eye animation system that is used to judge line calls in tennis and the TrackMan radar software used by the PGA Tour.
"We still have some questions on the way it is now, if that's going to fit with baseball," Torre said. "I'm not saying it can't be adjusted or they can do something that would make it work for our game."
Depending on what baseball decides, changes might have to be negotiated with the umpires' and players' unions.
GMs also discussed altering the longtime rule allowing active rosters to expand from 25 to 40 from Sept. 1 through the rest of the regular season. Some teams have been reluctant to use the larger limit late in the season. They have cited not wanting to disrupt minor league teams in their playoffs, and those decisions have led to big league games in which teams have differing numbers of available players.
"Each team should have equal number of players available every day," Torre said. "I just think you play the whole season with one set of rules and the most important time of the year, especially for clubs that are in a pennant race, I just don't think it's fair for it to be done (with a) different number of roster people."
Torre said one possibility would be setting a fixed number of players who must be on the active roster for September games.
"We've talked about 28. We've talked about 30," he said. "It was talked about at length today."
The players' union would have to approve the change.
"This was a subject in bargaining in 2011, but no agreement was reached," union head Michael Weiner said. "If MLB has a midterm proposal to make, we will consider it. This clearly is a mandatory subject."
GMs also went over ways to protect pitchers from injuries after two were hit on the head by line drives late in the season. MLB staff have said a cap liner with Kevlar, the high-impact material used by military, law enforcement and NFL players for body armor, is among the ideas under consideration.
"If we settle on something that is going to make sense, and obviously the pitcher has to be comfortable with it, we'll obviously put that in as soon as possible," Torre explained.
Oakland's Brandon McCarthy was hit on the head by a line drive in September, causing a skull fracture and brain contusion that required surgery. Detroit's Doug Fister was hit on the head by a liner off the bat of San Francisco's Gregor Blanco during the World Series. Fister was unhurt and stayed in the game.
MLB medical director Dr. Gary Green is to give a report at next month's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. MLB senior vice president Dan Halem has said protective headgear for pitchers could be in place in the minor leagues for next season.
After the formal meetings ended at the hotel owned by Colorado owner Dick Monfort, the Rockies announced the hiring of Weiss to replace Jim Tracy, who quit Oct. 7 following a last-place finish in the NL West.
The 1988 AL Rookie of the Year with Oakland, Weiss played shortstop for the Rockies from 1994-97 and was a special assistant to O'Dowd from 2002-08. He left to spend more time with his family and last season coached Regis Jesuit High School outside Denver, in Aurora, to a 20-6 record and the 5A semifinals of the state championship. Weiss' son, Brody, is in his senior year at the school.
As for player talks, the Mets' agreement makes the 34-year-old Bay a free agent and allows the team to spread out the remaining $21 million it owes him.
After signing a $66 million, four-year deal before the 2010 season, the three-time All-Star hit .234 in three injury-plagued seasons with 26 homers and 124 RBIs, including a .165 average with eight homers and 20 RBIs this year. Sidelined by concussions and rib injuries, he played just 288 games for the Mets.
"I still feel I have plenty to give to this game and that I can play baseball at a high level. But after serious consideration, both sides agree that we would benefit from a fresh start," Bay said in a statement released by the team.
McGwire, whose 583 homers rank 10th, joined the Dodgers after three seasons as hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals. He was, lured by the chance to spend more time with his wife and five young children.
"It's the first time in my baseball career I have an opportunity to live at home and work at home," McGwire said. "To do what I love, still be in the game of baseball and to be at home, it just fit perfectly."
Daniels hopes Texas remains a fit for Hamilton, a slugger who appears likely to leave after helping the team win AL pennants in 2009 and '10.
"I think there's this perception that we don't want Josh back. That's not accurate. I'd love to have Josh back. It's got to work for both sides," Daniels said. "Whether he ends up here or not, I feel like some need to defend him right now that everyone's kind of throwing out the negatives with him. The reality is like this guy's been a stud for this franchise for the last five years and done some things that have enabled us to reach levels we hadn't previously reached."