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Rob Manfred says a lockout ‘could move the process forward’

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It’s starting to look like baseball will shut down after December 1.

Al Yellon

Here is a remarkable quote from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, made after the conclusion of the owners meetings Thursday in Chicago:

Manfred, essentially, said the quiet part out loud. At face value, the statement is absolutely correct. Lockouts are different than “labor dispute(s) that cost games” — the latter, of course, referring to a player strike.

What Manfred is saying here is that owners want to control the process of negotiating a new labor agreement. If, for example, players and owners went into the 2022 season without a deal and agreed to keep playing while they negotiate, players would then have the leverage of a possible strike, which would shut down games and put pressure on the owners to make a deal. In this article by Evan Drellich of The Athletic, Manfred is further quoted:

“I left a pretty good job with a pretty good future to try to get this industry to the point where we can make deals without labor disputes,” Manfred said. “I don’t think there’s anybody who understands any better than I do, that from the perspective of the fans, they don’t want a labor dispute and that’s why our No. 1 priority is to make a deal.”

Manfred was referencing his involvement in the labor negotiations during the sport’s last work stoppages, the 1994-95 strike and a lockout in 1990.

That strike is a large reason owners would immediately move for a lockout if December arrives without a new deal. Technically, the owners do not have to lock out the players in that scenario. The sides could keep negotiating and allow the offseason and free agency to proceed as planned. But Manfred on Thursday made clear that he and his owners are unlikely to wait. In large part, that’s because owners do not want players to have the weapon of going on strike if a deal is not done prior to the start of play.

So that’s where we stand, less than two weeks before the current MLB/MLBPA labor agreement is due to expire at 10:59 p.m. CT Wednesday, December 1. Nothing’s been stated along these lines yet, but I think you can read between the lines of Manfred’s statement in the tweet above to know that we are 99.9 percent certain that MLB will have a lockout beginning at that time.

As Manfred stated, no games will be lost if the sport is locked out in December. This is likely one reason MLB/MLBPA collective bargaining agreements are now set to expire in the offseason, to avoid messy strikes during the season. It is still possible, I suppose, that players and owners, not wanting to lose money for the second time in three years (after the pandemic losses in 2020), might agree to play one more year under the current deal to give themselves more time to come to an agreement.

According to Drellich:

Despite Manfred’s stated interest in getting a deal done in time, proposals have not come at a fast pace. The players made their first round of core economic proposals in April and May. MLB responded with a core economics proposal of its own in August. Players in late October countered with a proposal that was very similar to their first. MLB has since made a revised proposal on one area of core economics, the reserve system, in which it proposed using Wins Above Replacement as a means of determining player pay in place of the current arbitration system.

None of this sounds good, and the WAR proposal replacing the current arb system is a non-starter with the players.

As always, we await developments, but I also want to tell you about a few things noted by Manfred in this article by ESPN’s Jeff Passan about possible changes that could be coming to baseball in various areas.

  • The pitch clock could be coming soon to a ballpark near you:

The adoption of a pitch clock in major league games appears increasingly inevitable after a presentation by the league’s competition committee highlighted how it shaved more than 20 minutes off of games while leading to increased offense.

“The pitch-timer experiment in the Cal League was one that the owners remain very interested in because of the success,” Manfred said, “and frankly, we’ve seen some of the same outcomes in the Arizona Fall League.”

COMMENT: This is a good thing, as I noted here earlier this month. I have attended two Fall League games and have definitely noticed the faster pace of play.

  • Baseball is concerned about financial difficulties surrounding regional sports networks.

“We see what’s going on with respect to the RSNs as a problem that needs to be solved but an opportunity that needs to be seized as well,” Manfred said. “And clubs [are] really supportive of aggressive action to make sure that we are reaching our fans in the most effective way possible.”

COMMENT: The future of baseball broadcasting appears to be in streaming and making game telecasts accessible to more people. There are a lot of moving parts here, but Manfred does appear to understand the need to move with speed on this issue.

  • The Tampa Bay Rays “made a proposal to the league’s powerful executive committee on its split-city plan that would have it spend half the season in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area and the other half in Montreal,” per Passan.

COMMENT: Last month I wrote that this is a bad idea. This month I wrote that this entire proposal is really about leverage to get a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area and if that fails, say “We tried,” and move the team to Montreal full time. The “split-city plan” would never work without MLBPA approval, and that’s not likely to happen.

  • Regarding another team’s stadium situation:

The Oakland Athletics continue to look into Las Vegas for potential relocation while pursuing a simultaneous path toward staying in Oakland with a new stadium.

“If the industry could speak,” Manfred said, “I think the industry is satisfied with the effort that’s being put forth both places.”

COMMENT: More leverage is being done here. The Vegas thing, in my opinion, is more to try to pressure the folks in Oakland to build the A’s a new stadium than a real thing. We will see. One thing is clear: MLB wants the Rays and A’s situations solved before expansion, and owners definitely want expansion since existing owners would pocket billions of dollars in expansion franchise fees.

  • Manfred says the league will experiment with “pre-tacked” baseballs:

“I think we will be far enough along that there will actually be, I’m hoping, live-game testing in spring training,” he said. “We could be in a position to use a new ball next year. Maybe it’s going to be ‘23 instead, but we’re continuing to work on that project and had made real progress. The trick is tackier but not so tacky that it’s Spider Tack.”

COMMENT: Sounds good to me.

That ought to be enough discussion topics for a Friday morning. Have at it.