Commissioner Manfred Speaks: “Business as Usual”, Negotiation Timing, Pitch Clock, Tacky Baseball, More

The Commissioner of Major League Baseball spoke at the end of the owners meetings about a variety of things, but, I mean, we all know the primary focus. He essentially told the world that a lockout was coming, but it not necessarily a bad thing, and we all kinda groaned. So it goes for a sport where the relationships between owners and players are so frayed, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in just two weeks.

You can read Rob Manfred’s comments here, here, and here, among other places, and I wanted to note some of the things that stood out to me …

⇒ One thing Manfred dismisses is the idea that the ugly negotiations last year about the pandemic season (for which the players have filed a grievance, mind you) have any bearing on how the current negotiations are going/will go. “The focus on 2020, I think, has been excessive,” Manfred said. “I’ve been in charge of labor in this industry since 1998. Every single time, I have found a way, we have found a way, to make an agreement and keep the game on the field. You know, one sort of mid-term negotiation in the middle of a crisis of pandemic — I just don’t put that much weight on it. Like I said, we’ve had very, very difficult situations in the past. We’ve found our way through them. We’ve got great people. I think we’re gonna find our way through this one, too.”

⇒ Manfred said all the obligatory stuff about getting a deal done being a priority, and that if a lockout happens only in the offseason and moves the negotiating ball forward it’s not a big deal. Other sports, he noted, have locked out during the offseason in these situations and it has worked out. What you want to avoid is a shutdown that impacts games.

⇒ I disagree with him on the implication of this point: “I can’t believe there’s a single fan in the world who doesn’t understand that an offseason lockout that moves the process forward is different than a labor dispute that costs games.” First off, I think there are probably TONS of more casual fans who do not see that as a meaningful distinction. Secondly, any kind of lockout is going to stick in the minds of some fans as they think about merchandise they want to buy this offseason, trips they want to plan, tickets they want to buy in advance for next season. Thirdly, the offseason in baseball is unique in that it provides opportunities to keep the sport in the news and in the minds of fans for months at a time. Changing that into a labor war being the only headline for multiple months in the offseason is a lost opportunity. To act like a lockout during the offseason would have no impact is strange, in my view. It might be “worth” it to the owners, but let’s get real.

⇒ I didn’t realize that labor law in this situation explicitly requires teams to conduct business as usual in the lead up to an expiration, so no wonder every single front office executive had the same party line (at least publicly) about what they’re doing right now: “The law is you should continue to operate as normal even during the negotiating period,” Manfred said. “In free agency, that means clubs making individual decisions as to what’s best for them. That’s what they’re doing.” So if you admitted that you were holding back and waiting *OR* trying to push a player for a deal before December 1, you’d be opening up MLB and its owners to liability. This makes so much sense now.

⇒ If you were hoping Manfred would talk about the specifics in the negotiations, he’s not going to do that. Which, as a fan, I find disappointing, but I also really do understand that it would cause more harm than good: “I don’t think me talking about substance — what I think can and can’t happen — is helpful to the process right now. I’m not trying to be unhelpful; I understand [the media has] a job to do. I hope you can respect the fact that I have one to do, and I just don’t see that as productive. Getting into the specifics of what’s being discussed at the table truly isn’t helpful right now. I’m not going to do it.”

⇒ There is apparently another bargaining session scheduled for today, and the plan is to try to work on this every single day between now and the expiration. All you realistically want at this point is to see them starting to chip away at the vast chasm between their positions on the core economic issues. A deal prior to December 1 seems implausible at this point, but *maybe* they could get close enough that a deal within a couple weeks of a lockout is possible? Again, not betting on that either (I’d set the over/under on a deal at February 1), but it’s your most realistic hope.

⇒ The pitch clock continues to get love, with Manfred indicating the owners are on board with how it worked in the Low-A West this year, and how it’s working in the AFL right now. You can expect it’s coming one way or another, either in the new CBA, or as a rules change unilaterally implemented a year or two down the road.

⇒ When asked about the RSN situation across the country (primarily the financial woes of Sinclair’s RSN division), Manfred again highlighted the need/opportunity for MLB and its teams to take more control of streaming going forward. We’ve discussed this topic at length, and every month it becomes more clear that MLB would love to have its own national streaming service with no blackouts.

⇒ No meaningful updates on the status of the two-city plan for the Rays (Tampa and Montreal) or the possible A’s move out of Oakland to Las Vegas.

⇒ The league is hoping to be able to test the new pre-tacked baseballs in Spring Training (they have been considered a success in the AFL, it seems), but it’s a question of timing on whether everyone will be comfortable enough to have them in place for the 2022 MLB season, or if that’ll have to wait until 2023. Can we just not do the changing-the-baseball-mid-season thing again?

⇒ From ESPN’s write-up on the diversity issues in the game: “After the meeting about diversity, equity and inclusion, Manfred said he planned to empower Michael Hill and Tony Reagins — two former general managers now working for the league who are Black — to push initiatives in a league whose ownership and executive ranks are almost exclusively composed of white men.”

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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