ATLANTA – Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred recently put a happy face on the negotiations between the management and the Players Association.
This is despite the fact that lots of people on both sides privately believe that these talks will not result in anything other than a strike on 2 December.
“Have you ever heard me say that I’m anything but optimistic about getting a deal?” said Manfred. “I believe in the process. We meet on a regular basis and I hope we find a way to get an appointment before December 1.”
Manfred and Tony Clark, CEO of the Players Association, both spoke on the field before Game 1 of the World Series in Minute Maid Park.
The pair shook hands and chatted briefly – and it turned out kindly – before each of them conducted separate impromptu media sessions, Clark behind the home plate near the backstop towards the third-base side and Manfred near the Astros’ dugout on the first-base side (where he stayed hampered by some Houston fans over the discipline given in January 2020 regarding the sign theft scandal).
“It’s hard to characterize progress,” said Manfred, a business lawyer who previously served as MLB’s chief negotiator before being elected commissioner in 2015. “Progress is that you go into a room you have conversations. It’s not moving in any measurable way that I’ve ever figured out, at least, and I’ve been doing it for a long time … The most important point is that I know our clubs are 100% committed to the idea that they want an agreement by 1 December. “
Clark characterized himself as a “glass-half-full guy,” but he did not characterize the negotiations.
“Dialogue is underway on a number of moving pieces,” he said. “Meeting in person has been a plus. We look forward to that kind of opportunity to continue. In addition, we seek to take advantage of as many days as the schedule allows over the next five weeks or so to continue that dialogue.”
A myriad of issues have been covered, but by all accounts when it comes to the most important ones – those relating to direct money, of course – the exchange of proposals that are considered realistic to be accepted by both sides is still not started in earnest.
That’s why a player agent – and he’s hardly alone – called the offseason, which usually takes place, “the longest of long shots.”
This is also the reason why many in the industry expect – and even plan – a lockout if a new agreement is not reached when the current one expires.
Among the most significant and controversial issues is the luxury tax, whose current iteration started in 2003. In a dream world, players want the luxury tax to disappear; they see it as a mechanism to suppress wages. In its own dream world scenario, management would like to see it lowered.
Although some speculate on a barrage of activity in November when the World Series ends – free agents can start signing with any team on the sixth day after the end of the series – big signatures are taking place in such a short time frame , unlikely.
Teams that are expected to be strongly to moderately involved in the free agent market, and the Yankees and Mets both fit into that category, will be affected, not to mention some of the biggest names in the market – Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Trevor Story , Max Scherzer, Corey Seager and Anthony Rizzo, just to name a handful.
There has been no work stoppage in the sport since 1994, when a labor dispute eventually wiped out that year’s World Series and shortened the 1995 season to 144 matches.
The respective parties have mostly managed to do nicely in public since then, although the players have had the buyer’s remorse largely non-stop over the soon-to-expire agreement reached in 2016. The mutual mistrust and general antipathy between players and owners bubbled up – very much publicly – during the 2020 negotiations, which resulted in the pandemic-shortened season of 60 matches.
The ugliness of these conversations has not yet emerged. Despite the latest rhetoric from Manfred and Clark, the story is perhaps the best guide in the matter.