BRADENTON, Fla. -- Players union executive director Tony Clark remained optimistic Sunday that the Major League Baseball Players Association and MLB could agree on regulations regarding collisions at home plate in the coming days.
"We're hopeful here literally in the next 24 or 48 hours, next couple of days, that we may have common ground enough to try to put something out there for everybody," said Clark, who visited Pirate City Sunday to meet with the Pirates and give them a state of the union.
Clark, who took over for the late Michael Weiner in December, will visit all 30 teams in 22 days because the season opener in Australia between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks compresses the spring training schedule.
Clark said the union has kept in contact with catchers this spring regarding potential rule changes and that the concept behind the proposed changes -- to enhance player safety -- remains the same. Teams still have time, he said, to instruct their catchers and baserunners in the nuances of updated regulations if indeed the two sides can agree on the changes.
"It depends on how complex the system is," he said. "Obviously we have had an offseason where we have had a number of different items that we have had to work through. As a result, the time frame is not ideal. We are very aware of where guys are at and when games are going to be played. You start talking about habits being changed or guys paying attention to different things, you want to give guys as much time as possible to adapt and adjust."
The World Umpires Association does not need to approve any rule changes for home plate collisions, Clark said, but the two sides have considered input from the umpires.
Clark said the union continues to pay attention to the plight of free agents attached to draft pick compensation, but he anticipated that changes would not come until the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement in 2016.
"It appears that the combination of the changes to the draft pick compensation in relation to the amateur draft and how teams now appear to be valuing the draft picks has put a strain on those free agents that carry that draft pick compensation," Clark said.
Right-hander Ervin Santana, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Kendrys Morales, all of whom declined $14.1 million qualifying offers and will cost the team that signs them a draft pick as a result, remain unsigned. Outfielder Nelson Cruz and right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who were also tied to draft picks, did not sign until recently, when the Baltimore Orioles grabbed both. The Pirates, still investigating the first-base market, reportedly have had some interest in Morales but would forfeit the 24th pick in the draft by signing him.
Though the rules governing draft pick compensation likely won't change until the next CBA is negotiated, Clark said he hoped the union and MLB could address players' concerns regarding drug testing and punishment soon. The joint drug agreement allows for a period of discussion of proposed changes, and Clark said the conversations had begun.
"I am very hopeful that the concerns that we have brought to the table with respect to where players are and the beliefs that they have related to how the program could be improved are going to be part of the program going forward," Clark said.
Thirteen players accepted suspensions in 2013 due to their involvement with Biogenesis, a now-closed Miami area anti-aging clinic that reportedly provided the players with banned substances. A 14th, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, appealed his 211-game suspension. An arbitrator later reduced the suspension to 162 games, meaning he will miss the 2014 season and playoffs.
Grapefruit starters selected
Francisco Liriano will start a Grapefruit League opener Wednesday against the New York Yankees at McKechnie Field, manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday, and pitch one inning.
Charlie Morton will start Thursday against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., and pitch two innings, followed by two-inning stints from Jeff Locke and Brandon Cumpton. Gerrit Cole will start and pitch two innings Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays, and Wandy Rodriguez will pitch two innings Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG.