With two weeks remaining until the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Commissioner Rob Manfred made it clear that he has one goal between now and Dec. 1.
“We remain committed, No. 1 priority, to make an agreement prior to December 1,” Manfred told reporters Thursday at the conclusion of the Owners Meetings in Chicago. “We understand -- I understand -- that time is becoming an issue. That's a challenge.
“We've had challenges with respect to making labor agreements before and we’ve got a pretty good track record of overcoming those challenges. I can tell you from the clubs’ perspective, we're committed to continuing to offer proposals and suggestions in an effort to get to an agreement before December 1.”
On multiple occasions during the press conference, Manfred declined to get into specifics regarding details of the current talks between the league and the MLB Players Association, choosing to keep the particulars of those conversations private.
“I don't think me talking about substance -- what I think can and can't happen -- is helpful to the process right now,” Manfred said. “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.”
The two sides met on Wednesday and have another bargaining session scheduled for Friday. Manfred said the league has told the union it is “prepared to work every single day” between now and the expiration of the current agreement to get a new deal done.
“Can I tell you that it's going to happen every single day? I know it's going to happen tomorrow and it happened yesterday, so there's a pretty good indication,” Manfred said. “We're going back and forth. Believe me, we’re ready to go.”
Should the current CBA expire at 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 1, it’s possible a lockout would go into effect, though Manfred stressed Thursday that no such decision has been made.
“We did not make today, and will not, make a decision, as to what's next,” Manfred said. “We're focused on making an agreement prior to December 1.”
A lockout would not automatically impact the 2022 season, as the two sides would have time to come to an agreement prior to Spring Training. Manfred pointed to 1994-95, the last time the sport experienced a work stoppage, noting, “I don't think ‘94 worked out too great for anybody.”
“I think when you look at other sports, the pattern has become to control the timing of the labor dispute and try to minimize the prospect of actual disruption of the season,” Manfred said. “That's what it's about. It's avoiding doing damage to the season.
“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.
“I don't think there's anybody who understands better than I do that from the perspective of the fans, they don't want a labor dispute, and that's why our number one priority is to make a deal.”
With the CBA situation looming, there has been plenty of speculation that free agency could grind to a halt until a new deal gets done. That hasn’t been the case thus far, as four notable free-agent pitching contracts have already been signed during the first two weeks of free agency.
“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.”
Much has been made of the tenor of the return-to-play negotiations last year after the start of the 2020 season was postponed due to the pandemic. Manfred believes the focus on that “has been excessive,” reiterating his confidence that the two sides are fully capable of working toward a new deal.
“I have been in charge of labor in this industry since 1998,” Manfred said. “Every single time, I have found a way, we have found a way, to make an agreement and keep the game on the field. One sort of midterm negotiation in the middle of a crisis, a pandemic, I just don't put that much weight on it. We’ve had very, very difficult situations in the past, and we found our way through them. We’ve got great people and I think we're going to find our way through this one, too.”