There likely would be fewer disputes about balls and strikes if umpires were given access to the same virtual strike-zone information that every fan can see while watching a game at home. Morry Gash/Associated Press

The clock is approaching midnight on the Major League Baseball labor agreement. The deal expires at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, and unless owners and players can come to an agreement the sport will see its first work stoppage in 26 years.

It’s likely to happen. And that’s OK. A December work stoppage doesn’t really mean a lot in baseball. MLB’s winter meetings probably will be canceled and free agency will be frozen, but the two sides will continue to negotiate as a cold winter descends on everyone in the game.

The real problems won’t begin unless the two sides are arguing into February. Then, with spring training looming, we will begin to ponder what it will mean as camps remain silent and preseason momentum is lost.

That’s a long ways off. For now the hope is the two sides can settle grievances that have been simmering for years. The players want fundamental changes to the current structure of service time, and the owners want more cost certainty when it comes to payroll.

There is much more to it than that, of course. And the devil in any agreement is in the details. As it should, most of these negotiations will center on the financial structure of the game. Yet there are other issues that must be dealt with. Issues that will impact the way the game is played on the field in the years to come.

The most obvious change the game needs is the implementation of the designated hitter in the National League. The universal DH is long overdue, and everyone expects it to be part of any new deal.

There are other rules that have been added to the game in recent years, like the runner placed on second in extra innings. It is a polarizing rule that many fans hate. Anyone watching the Alabama-Auburn football game over the weekend knows how frustrating it can be to see a great game end in a flurry of “speed up” rules that change the essence of the game itself.

Yet the extra-inning rule in baseball added urgency and strategy to extra innings, bringing managers and fans to the edge of their seats with the game on the line. In a sport that is often dismissed as old and stodgy, the jolt of intensity was welcome. The rule should stay.

So should the rule forcing relief pitchers to stay on the mound for a minimum of three batters (or the end of an inning.) No one misses the endless march of lefty specialists entering the game to face a single batter. There were times we watched an inning unravel because a relief pitcher couldn’t get the job done. It added more strategy, and made managers think twice before going to the bullpen. With starting pitchers going shorter than ever before, it was another welcome rule twist that should stay.

Baseball also should agree to a system that would limit the amount of shifting a defense does. My simple fix would feature two infielders on each side of second base, with all infielders standing on the dirt of the infield. That would bring more base hits back into the game, meaning more action on the base paths.

Action is what this sport needs most.

Finally, and most importantly, it’s time to give home plate umpires access to the same information every fan watching at home has. Umpires standing behind the plate should be holding a device that would buzz when a ball passes through the virtual strike zone. The umpire would still have authority to call the pitch a ball or a strike, but at least he would know what the data is showing anyone with a TV or access to

If we know it’s a strike, he should know it’s a strike. There will be a lot less complaining if we can all share in the data.

That’s it. A few simple rules to help the game keep moving. Let’s hope the two sides can figure out how to share the rewards of a $10 billion industry and still have a little time left to work out ways to make the game more enjoyable for the paying customers.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.

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