On the first day of Major League Baseball’s lockout, Commissioner Rob Manfred reiterated his belief that there is a deal to be made with the MLB Players Association.
Manfred addressed the media on Thursday morning to discuss the league’s decision to implement a lockout following three days of negotiations between the two sides in Irving, Texas.
“We made a proposal yesterday that if it had been accepted, I believe would have provided a pretty clear path to make an agreement,” Manfred said.
“You're always one breakthrough away from a deal. That's the reality … It's my hope and expectation that the parties will get back to the table and get an agreement done.”
Manfred said he was not “frustrated,” but rather “disappointed” that the two sides were unable to work out a deal prior to the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement late Wednesday night.
“I think we're in a process,” Manfred said. “I'm prepared to continue that process and I'm optimistic that we're going to get a deal.”
The lockout brought the Hot Stove season to a grinding halt, as Major League transactions – meaning those involving players on 40-man rosters and others considered members of the union – are not permitted. Union members and clubs will not be allowed to communicate with each other until a deal is reached.
All 30 clubs supported the decision to institute the lockout after this week’s talks failed to bring the two sides closer to a deal.
“We came to Texas to make a deal; we committed to the process, we made proposals and it just did not happen,” Manfred said. “After the owners meeting in Chicago, I made clear the rationale for an offseason lockout. It's the norm in professional sports, and we feel it's the best strategy to protect the 2022 season for the benefit of our fans.
“We made the mistake of playing without a Collective Bargaining Agreement in 1994 -- and it cost our fans and our clubs dearly. We will not make that same mistake again.”
Manfred noted that the lockout is a part of the process designed to move the parties toward an agreement.
“People need pressure sometimes to get to an agreement,” Manfred said. “Candidly, we didn't feel that sense of pressure from the other side during the course of this week. The only tool available to you under the [National Labor Relations Act] is to apply economic leverage.”
By locking out the players, Manfred said the league will be less vulnerable to a strike like the one that shut down the sport in August 1994, ultimately canceling the entire postseason and the World Series.
“It’s not a good thing for the sport,” Manfred said of the work stoppage. “It’s not something that we undertake lightly. We understand it’s bad for our business. We took it out of a desire to drive the process forward to an agreement now.
“We wanted to move the process now because we want an agreement now for our fans.”
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark spoke with reporters following Manfred’s press conference, responding to the Commissioner’s comments.
“The lockout won't pressure or intimidate players into a deal that they don't believe is fair,” Clark told the group. “Players are committed to the negotiation process. Players are more than willing to be available now and every day moving forward to continue that process.”
Manfred terms the players’ set of proposals, first made in May, as “aggressive,” specifically pointing to a shortened reserve period for players before reaching free agency, a $100 million reduction in revenue sharing, and cutting salary arbitration down to two years of service time.
“The issues that the players are interested in engaging on has been the same leading up to bargaining, throughout bargaining and will continue to be the same moving forward: a fair contract that maintains a market system and addresses the competitive-integrity issues that we've highlighted for some time,” said Clark.
MLB proposed a number of concessions to address some union concerns including an increase in the minimum salary, the elimination of Draft-pick compensation for all free agents, an NBA-style Draft lottery, an increase in the competitive balance tax threshold, and the universal designated hitter.
“We are willing to continue to commit to the process to get to a fair agreement,” Manfred said. “If that involves making further concessions, it involves making further concessions. Just as a matter of perspective, we proposed the elimination of Draft-choice compensation; this industry had a strike over that issue in 1985. That is a major concession that has been the source of friction as to how the free agency system has operated. We have made concessions.”
“The goal remains the same,” Clark said. “To get a fair deal.”
Much has been made of the contentious nature between the two sides last spring during the return-to-play talks, a perception that has continued into this offseason’s discussions. Asked whether the relations will hinder the road to a deal, Manfred rejected that notion.
“I think people put way too much emphasis on that issue,” Manfred said. “At the end of the day, it's about the substance. We're here, they’re there; we need to find a way to bridge the gap.”
Manfred declined to put a firm deadline by which a deal would have to be reached in order to guarantee a full 162-game season in 2022, saying that speculation of that type would not be productive.
“Despite the lockout, we remain ready to bargain whenever the Players Association wants to bargain,” Manfred said. “And we are steadfast in our desire to get a new agreement.”