The annual Winter Meetings wrapped up Thursday. In five weeks, Major League owners will gather in Arizona for their quarterly meeting. One of the items on the agenda is expected to be final approval of expanded instant replay. And while many details remain to be finalized, one certainty is that most reviews will be triggered by a manager's challenge.
It is also expected that a manager could be allowed as few as one challenge per game, although he could possibility retain it if his point of view is upheld.
To challenge or not to challenge, that will be the question. It will introduce an entire new layer of strategy to in-game management.
One skipper sketched this hypothetical situation: Early innings of a scoreless game. Two out and nobody on base. The opposing team's runner hits a grounder into the hole at shortstop. It's a bang-bang play at first but the umpire calls the runner safe, but the manager is pretty sure the runner was out. Not wanting to use his appeal too early, though, he lets it stand. "Then there are two bloops and a blast and you're down 4-0 and wishing you had challenged," he said.
Said White Sox manager Robin Ventura: "You have some games where that one play kind of swings the game one way or the other. We're at the point where, technology-wise, we can get it right. And at the end, that's the biggest thing. We just want to get it right. I'm for it."
Most, but not all, plays will be reviewable and the list of which plays can be challenged and which can't is being fine-tuned. So managers -- and umpires -- will have to learn which is which. That will also provide another opportunity for second-guessing.
Despite all that, managers at the Meetings seemed to be generally in favor of widening the scope of replay far beyond the current system that only covers boundary calls involving potential home runs.
"I think that there are some parameters that are set that are definitely going to give managers more tools than we've ever had in the past," said Mike Scioscia of the Angels.
"I think that's all part of managing anyway," said Ryne Sandberg of the Phillies. "I think I stay on my toes on close plays and knowing when a play needs to be looked at or the umpires need to gather up and get a different view. I think that's the way it's been up until now. But to have something in place where we can make some challenges and with that strategy have to learn it a little bit and then be smart with it. That will also go with helping the coaches and everybody making some good decisions on those reviews."
Seattle's Lloyd McClendon was a Tigers coach when pitcher Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game in 2010 with two out in the ninth because of a mistaken call at first base. "I wish [expanded replay] had been used then," he said. "I think this is probably good for the game. The game is so fast, the players are so fast and so strong that things happen so quick. We move on with technology to the point where I think it can make baseball better. I think we need to be careful with how much we bring in and how fast we bring that stuff in."
All understand that the new replay system will evolve over the next few seasons.
"Tactically, we're working on a program that's going to take three years to phase in," said Clint Hurdle of the Pirates. "This is Phase 1. We have a chance to be part of something pretty historic. I think we all need to be like-minded on getting it right. Understanding that everything's not written in stone right now, but this is the way we're going to start. Can we adapt, improvise and overcome throughout this process? We possibly very well could. I'm good with the way the game is trending along those lines. Very good, very comfortable."
Baltimore's Buck Showalter noted that the National Football League had to totally reboot its approach after the first two years of its replay system. "The replays were so bad, there was something about the quality. They said, 'Let's shut it down and get it right,'" he said.
"The bottom line, it's going to make our game better. I think it's going to be a little bit of an entertainment factor for the fans. Can you imagine watching the NFL or a college game without replay now? I think after a year or so we're going to say, 'Why did we wait so long?' I think the reason they waited was to get it right."
Added Colorado's Walt Weiss: "I think the bottom line is that, regardless of how you look at it, I think there is going to be a system in place that allows us as an industry to get the calls right. I think the umpires want that. Everybody wants that. The fans want it."