PORT CHARLOTTE — In briefing managers and officials from the Rays and four other teams Sunday on specifics of the new expanded replay system, a top MLB executive acknowledged that no one will know how certain elements of the plan actually will work until the season starts and that changes might be necessary.
But the league also made it clear that it doesn't want players to be worried about it.
"One thing you have to make sure is that they can't concern themselves with replay," MLB executive vice president Joe Torre said after the three-hour meeting. "They have to play the game the way they normally would play it. The replay is a strategy for the manager, and let it be that. It's tough enough to play the game without trying to factor that part in."
Noting all the time, money, planning and effort that went into the process, Torre said that more than anything they are "curious" how it will actually work.
"It's never been done before," he said. "We're just going to see how (it works) and hopefully we're not going to disrupt the game."
Expanding replay is one of two major rules changes for this season. The other targets home-plate collisions, and — after considerable discussion and speculation about how it could alter the game — it will be announced today.
That change, though, will not be significant, Rays manager Joe Maddon said after being briefed Sunday.
"I didn't really hear something that indicates that play is a whole lot different than it had been," he said. "It's still going to be a difficult play for umpires to call, but the general spirit of it is you don't want a collision intentionally initiated by the baserunner. That's what it sounds like to me.
"But everything else, the catcher can still block the plate if he has the ball in time. And furthermore, I still think it's what we talk to our baserunners about more than our catchers as we progress through that part of it."
The new plan allows for replay to be used on a wide variety of calls, though not balls and strikes, and includes a challenge system for managers, who can request one review during a game and, if they are right, get to use a second. From the seventh inning on, umpires can unilaterally request a review, which will be done at a central location in New York.
Torre said the system is just about finalized, though it won't be used for international opening games in Australia on March 22-23, waiting for the domestic openers.
Among some more details he shared Sunday: MLB officials expect most reviews to be completed in 1-1½ minutes; the new home-plate collision rule will be reviewable; standard monitoring stations are being installed in both clubhouses in all ballparks to ensure teams have equal access to the same video; and communication will be by phone between the bench and a team's video reviewer in the clubhouse, while umpires will don a headset when needed. Also, excessive pace-of-game violations will be more strictly enforced to offset potential replay-related delays.
Maddon said he was impressed with the detail that went into the plan.
"They thought about everything. At least it seems that way on the surface. So we'll just see how it plays out," he said. "It's just about getting the call right. It's not about anything other than that. It's just, how do we get the call right and how do we keep the game moving along, and we'll see. I think it was well thought out, and you've got to play it to find out."
The Rays will get a sampling of the process, with six of their spring games tentatively scheduled to have replay in use, starting March 7 in Dunedin.
Torre admitted that as many scenarios and hypotheticals as they've considered, they know the system might have some flaws.
"Replay is a strategy," he said. "It's a strategy. There are calls that are going to be overturned. There are calls that won't be overturned. There are plays that are not clear to overturn what the call was. There are going to be some calls that are missed. If we concerned ourselves with getting every single play right, the game will never end.
"We gave it a lot of thought, a lot of conversation, a lot of meetings, and we figure this is the best way to start this thing, and we'll see. We'll see at the end of the year what we want to do."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.