CHICAGO — While acknowledging that a lockout is “bad for our business,” Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said owners imposed one “out of a desire to drive the process forward to an agreement now.”
Manfred spoke with reporters Thursday morning in Arlington, Texas, a few hours after the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players association expired and the owners locked out the players.
It’s the first MLB work stoppage since the strike that led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and a shortened 1995 season.
“Despite the lockout, we remain ready to bargain whenever the players association wants to bargain, and we are steadfast in our desire to get a new agreement,” Manfred said.
Asked how exactly a lockout would move the process forward, Manfred said, “People need pressure sometimes to get to an agreement. Candidly, we didn’t feel that sense of pressure from the other side during the course of this week, and the only tool available to you under the (National Labor Relations) Act is to apply economic leverage.”
In a statement shortly after the lockout began, the players association said: “This shutdown is a dramatic measure, regardless of the timing. It is not required by law or for any other reason. It was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure the Players into relinquishing rights and benefits, and abandoning good faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not just Players, but the game and industry as a whole.”
The lockout puts a freeze on transactions such as free agency. Coaches and front-office personnel are not allowed to communicate with players on the 40-man roster, who are part of the union. Players on the 40-man roster also cannot use team facilities.
“Since MLB chose to lock us out, I’m not able to work with our amazing team (p)hysical (t)herapists who have been leading my post surgery care/progression,” wrote New York Yankees starter Jameson Taillon on Twitter.
Taillon reportedly had surgery in late October to repair a tendon in his right ankle.
Taillon, Chicago White Sox starter Lucas Giolito and Cubs outfielder Ian Happ were among the big leaguers to change their Twitter profile pictures to a generic baseball player photo, which MLB is using on roster pages after scrubbing team websites of current players. Manfred said the changes to the sites were a legal issue.
Many teams, including the Cubs, posted Twitter messages addressing the lockout. The Cubs’ post includes “We are confident there is a path to an agreement and both sides will work together to protect, grow and strengthen the game we all love.”
Tony Clark, the first former player to head the union, accused Manfred of “misrepresentations” in a letter to fans explaining the lockout, and said “it would have been beneficial to the process to have spent as much time negotiating in the room as it appeared it was spent on the letter.”
“It’s unnecessary to continue the dialogue,” Clark said of the lockout. “At the first instance in some time of a bumpy water, the recourse was a strategic decision to lock players out.”
Manfred said the players’ proposals included, among other items, five-year free agency and MLB’s proposals included eliminating draft-choice compensation, using a universal designated hitter and creating a draft lottery. According to The Athletic, after a year in which free agency remains at six years, the union’s proposal includes two years in which players with five years of service time and were at least 30 1/2 could become free agents and two more years in which players with five years who are least 29 1/2 could become free agents.
According to the Associated Press, MLB favors keeping the “existing provision or changing eligibility to age 29 1/2.”
On-field changes, Manfred said, were “the topic of discussion at the table. We did make a proposal early on about a joint process with respect to on-field changes. We did not make any specific rule-change proposals.
“We are in the process of still evaluating changes, and frankly, based on the discussions at the table, we saw it as another contentious issue and tried to put it to one side in an effort to get to an agreement on the theory that we could deal with it midterm of the next agreement.”
Manfred did not want to speculate on a “drop-dead” deadline to have a deal in place to avoid missing games in 2022. And while saying it was his “hope and expectation that the parties will get back to the table and get an agreement done,” Manfred said no meetings are scheduled.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t get to an agreement,” Manfred said. “I think we’re in a process. I’m prepared to continue that process, and I’m optimistic that we’re going to get a deal.”
As for the relationship between MLB and the players association, Manfred said, “The whole relationship issue, I think people put way too much emphasis on that issue. 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.”
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