MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred Says Union Proposals Would Hurt Small Market Teams

ARLINGTON, Texas – Hours after Major League Baseball’s first work stoppage in 26 years, Commissioner Rob Manfred said the union’s proposal for greater free agency and broader wage arbitration would hurt small-market teams.

The owners blocked the players at 12:01 a.m. Thursday after the expiration of the five-year collective bargaining agreement.

Since 1976, players can become free agents after six major league service seasons. The players association proposed that from the 2023-24 offseason it be changed to six or five years and 30.5 years, and that the age in the second option be lowered to 29.5 from 2025-26.

MLB would keep the existing provision or change eligibility at age 29.5.

“We already have teams in smaller markets that are having a hard time competing,” Manfred said during a news conference at the Texas Rangers ballpark, not far from the hotel where negotiations broke down. “Shortening the amount of time they can control players makes it even more difficult for them to compete. It’s also bad for fans in those markets. The most negative reaction we get is when a player goes through free agency. We don’t see that, make it earlier, available easier, we don’t see it as a positive. “

Baseball is in its ninth work stoppage, threatening the start of spring training on February 16 and opening day on March 31.

“The players association, as is their right, made a number of aggressive proposals in May and they have refused to compromise on the core of those proposals,” Manfred said. “Things like a shorter reserve period, a $ 100 million reduction in revenue sharing and salary arbitration for the entire two-year class are bad for the sport, bad for the fans and bad for the competitive balance.”

An agreement is needed in early to mid March for a full season.

“Speculating about deadlines, right now, is not productive,” Manfred said. “So I’m not going to do it.”

Union boss Tony Clark has a press conference scheduled for later Thursday.

The negotiations have made little or no progress since they began last spring. Manfred said the lockout was the administration’s only tool to speed up the process.

“People need pressure sometimes to come to an agreement,” Manfred said. “We honestly didn’t feel that sense of pressure from the other side during the course of this week.”

In many ways, the core of the dispute is over the union’s desire to have more teams chasing players, leading to more competition on the field and higher wages, and management’s desire to restrict wages in an effort to prevent high-income teams from earning an even higher percentage of stars.

“I have viewed this game as a connoisseur for more than three decades,” Manfred said. “I think most of the people who understand the game realize that, in our smaller markets, it is much more difficult to win than in our larger markets.”