As is custom during the Baseball Winter Meetings, the MLB commissioner -- Rob Manfred in this instance -- held a press conference and addressed all manner of issues presently confronting the sport. To give a better idea of the head honcho's mindset at the moment, let's have a quick look at his remarks on an issue-by-issue basis. Onward.

Expanded netting at ballparks

This of course has been a matter of much discussion in recent years. Because of a number of high-profile injuries to fans due to foul balls, several teams have expanded the protective netting behind home plate to span the dugouts and even all the way to the foul poles. Heretofore, teams have been strongly encouraged to expand netting, but there's not been a uniform mandate to that end. Here's what Manfred on Wednesday had to say about this issue: 

"In advance of the 2018 season, the Commissioner's office worked with the individual clubs on the issue of netting, and as a result of that effort, all 30 clubs decided to expand their netting at least to the far end of the dugout.

"During this past season a similar dialogue between my office and the clubs began again. Once again, that process of working with the clubs has produced action by the clubs. I'm really pleased to report that for the 2020 season all 30 clubs will have netting in place that extends substantially beyond the far end of the dugout.

"Seven clubs will have netting that extends all the way to the foul pole; 15 additional clubs are expanding netting for the 2020 season. There is some variation in this group of 15 but, in general they are extending netting past the end of the dugout to the elbow in the outfield where the stands begin to angle away from the field of play."

To summarize, all 30 teams in time for the 2020 season will expand protective netting beyond the far edge of each dugouts, and seven teams in total will have full protection -- i.e., netting that goes from foul pole to foul pole. 

The possible plan to de-affiliate 42 MiLB teams

Back in October, it was reported that MLB is considering consolidating the affiliated minor league system, which in essence means that 42 teams would no longer receive financial support from MLB or be associated with MLB franchises. These teams would not necessarily go away, and MLB floated at least a theoretical framework for survival. It's an open question, however, whether the teams in the crosshairs would be able to make it without MLB support. Needless to say, this idea received a great deal of pushback from fans and even politicians. 

On Wednesday, Manfred was asked about the plan, and he responded thus: 

"I'm not going to get into individual teams. Let me say this: this has been portrayed as a decision that has been made. The fact of the matter is at the point in time this became public, we had precisely three negotiating sessions. It is by no means a fait accompli as to what the agreement is going to look like.

"Major League Baseball has been and will remain flexible in its negotiating position. I hope that Minor League Baseball, which has taken the position that they're not willing to discuss anything but the status quo or any changes that would provide for upgrades in adequate facilities, better working conditions for our players. That they move off the take-it-or-leave-it status quo approach and come to the table and try to make a deal."

The takeaway here is that, per Manfred, nothing is final, and negotiations with Minor League Baseball on what their next working agreement will look like are still ongoing. In terms of leverage, though, if MLB wants this restructuring to happen, then it probably will.

Possible rule changes for 2020

Earlier this year, MLB and the Players' Association (MLBPA) agreed to a number of rules changes for 2020. The most notable ones are: 

  • Expanding the minimum stay on the injured list from 10 days to 15 days; 
  • Expanding active rosters from 25 to 26 players; and
  • Instituting a new rule that required relief pitchers to face at least three batters or finish the half-inning. 

Manfred was asked about the status of these rule changes. He responded: 

"Yeah, all of those rule changes that you just referenced are in the agreement that we made with the Players Association last year at the owners' meeting. They were approved by the owners, and I fully expect all those rules will be operational in the 2020 season."

So, yes, get ready for the end of one- and two-batter relief appearances, unless said one- or two-batter appearance results in the third out of an inning.

Investigation into Astros' alleged sign-stealing

MLB is formally investigating credible allegations that the Astros used an electronic setup to steal signs from the opposing battery, possible during their championship season of 2017 and beyond. Manfred on Tuesday addressed that ongoing probe, and our own Katherine Acquavella has more on where that investigation stands and what Manfred said about it.