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MLB lockout: Rob Manfred outlines where CBA negotiations stand ahead of Saturday’s bargaining session


Thursday morning from Orlando, Fla. at the owners’ meetings, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred held a press conference for the first time since the owner-imposed lockout. The biggest expectation for the press conference was that Manfred would officially announce the start of spring training would be delayed.

Instead, Manfred did not mention spring training until the portion of the press conference where he opened it up for questions from the reporters on hand. When asked about spring training, he said there was no change to the schedule, for the time being.

It is Feb. 10. The owners are expected to present an offer to the MLB Players Association on Saturday, Feb. 12. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training starting the week of Feb. 14. And while the first spring training games aren’t scheduled until Feb. 26, such a truncated timeline suggests there’s at least some optimism coming from the owner side.

Manfred later mentioned he believes it’ll take less than a week from the time a deal is made until spring training is fully up and running and that he’s an “optimist” when it comes to getting a deal in place that ensures the regular season – – Opening Day is March 31 – is not impacted.

In terms of the two sides possibly being far apart in negotiations, Manfred said: “You’re always one breakthrough away from making an agreement.” It would be “disastrous” to miss regular-season games due to the lockout, Manfred added.

Some other takeaways from Manfred’s press conference:

  • We’ve been mentioning for weeks that the players want teams to stop “tanking” – losing on purpose – in order to help possibly build a great team years down the line. In light of this, Manfred said there will be a draft lottery implemented.
  • Something else the players have wanted is higher salaries for younger players who have not yet reached arbitration. Manfred did not give a dollar figure, but did mention that the league is prepared to offer a much higher league minimum salary. He also mentioned there will be some sort of bonus pool for pre-arbitration players to earn more money (for example: Juan Soto finished ninth in MVP voting and was one of the best players on the World Series champions in 2019 and made $ 578,300; ideally under a bonus pool system he’d be rewarded a gigantic bonus – though, again, Manfred did not give specifics).
  • A universal designated hitter has been agreed upon. Say goodbye to pitchers hitting.
  • Draft pick compensation for teams losing free agents is gone. This was a point of contention from the player side because it limited the number of teams bidding on free agents who weren’t on the elite tier.
  • “We’d like to expand the playoffs,” Manfred said. We’ve heard about this before. The owner side reportedly wants a 14-team playoff while the players wanted to go to just 12, for fear that there’s less emphasis on the 162-game regular season and too much emphasis on small-sample playoff games. From the owner side, via Manfred’s comments, they believe fans love more playoff games and this is another way to keep teams away from tanking.
  • There was one, big non-starter on the owner side and Manfred spoke pretty firmly on it. They will not reduce revenue sharing. That is, passing money from the higher-revenue teams (Yankees, Dodgersetc.) to the lowest-revenue teams (Pirates, Marlins, etc.). Manfred’s stance – remember, he’s speaking collectively for the owners – is that without revenue-sharing, the playing field is not fair for the small-market teams. He said getting rid of it was a “pay cut” for these teams. From the player side, they would not even have an issue with this if the teams receiving revenue sharing used it on payroll in an effort to be more competitive. No, the issue is that the players believe those owners far too often pocket the revenue-sharing money instead of trying to improve their product for the fans. Given that Manfred called it a “pay cut” for the owners, it’s difficult to argue this point.

Overall, it seems like there’s a path to a deal here. We need to know how much the minimum salary is going to increase as well as how the bonus pool for pre-arbitration players will work. The players probably would like some sort of guarantee that the revenue-sharing money won’t simply be pocketed by owners of the so-called “poor” teams. If the league is stressing how important this money is for competition purposes, than use the money to be more competitive.

The two sides will need to come together on the expanded playoffs, as well, but those talks surely will not be overly contentious once they get past the other hurdles.

There’s certainly reason for cynicism after everything we’ve seen for the past two-plus months, but it certainly seems like there’s still hope for a deal that will keep Opening Day on March 31. We’ll find out more in the coming days, specifically sometime Saturday after the two sides meet.





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