GOODYEAR, ARIZ.: When Cactus League spring training games start at the end of the month, Major League Baseball will conduct a dry run for new expanded replay set to begin in the regular season.
The league could also test a new rule currently being written banning home-plate collisions, but only if the rule is approved soon. If the debate over the language of the rule goes much longer, it might have to wait until next season.
In the meantime, MLB team executives, managers, coaches and players are bracing themselves for the possible drastic change, along with the debate it would bring.
Last month at baseball’s annual owners’ meetings, both subjects were brought in front of the group. Expanded replay passed. But the rule seeking to eliminate the kind of violent home-plate collisions that have led to leg injuries and concussions hasn’t yet.
Indians fans will remember the collision in August 2010 when Ryan Kalish of the Boston Red Sox plowed into Indians catcher Carlos Santana. The collision ended Santana’s season and required left knee surgery. But it wasn’t until San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments in a home plate collision the following season that talk of a ban really began to pick up momentum.
Central to the rule will be language that bans catchers from blocking the plate and charging base runners from plowing into stationary catchers leading with their shoulder.
Details of the language are holding it up and then it will need ratification by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“If there’s going to be a rule change, you would like to be aware of it and ahead of it,” Indians manager Terry Francona said recently. “It can’t be Opening Day. It has to be soon.”
If agreement on language isn’t made this spring, the rule could be tabled until next season. Former Tribe catcher Sandy Alomar, who currently serves as the team’s first-base coach and catching instructor, appeared on MLB Network on Wednesday and provided a unique perspective as to why he’s not in favor of banning all collisions.
“Runners need to know how to slide when a catcher’s blocking the plate,” Alomar said. “I would not change it [because] injuries are part of the game. I understand guys getting hurt and you don’t want to see a catcher getting hurt, especially a guy like Buster Posey, [who means] so much to the franchise. The thing I would change is during throws from right field. That’s impossible because the catcher doesn’t know where [the runner is] if the ball is up the line and the guy’s coming at the same time. That’s the gray area I see.”
Reliever Cody Allen quickly became Francona’s go-to guy whenever Indians pitchers found themselves in a jam late in games last season. Allen was so good at extracting his team from sticky situations, he could have become a top candidate to replace former closer Chris Perez.
“Whenever we were in a bind, we went to Cody,” Francona said.
Just because the club signed John Axford to be the closer, it doesn’t mean Allen couldn’t have done the job.
“You want to leverage your best pitchers when the game’s on the line,” Francona said. “No doubt Cody could handle being the closer. So could [Bryan] Shaw. But you can win and lose games before the ninth.”
When the Indians signed free-agent infielder Elliot Johnson to a minor-league deal with a nonroster invitation to big-league camp, the thought was he could be a another versatile player who could give Francona the ability to mix and match.
“He’s going to play everywhere, including the outfield,” Francona said after Johnson took reps at second base Tuesday and shortstop Wednesday. “What’s so nice about Elliot is his ability to pinch run. Whoever he pinch runs for, he can go into the game and play very solid major-league defense. That’s a valuable commodity.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.