Rozner: Billions at stake for MLB in CBA talks

  • Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to reporters during a news conference at Major League Baseball headquarters in New York, Thursday, May 19, 2016.

    Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to reporters during a news conference at Major League Baseball headquarters in New York, Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Updated 7/10/2016 8:08 AM

The last work stoppage in Major League Baseball happened more than 21 years ago, but it might as well have been yesterday for those who endured it and have the scar tissue to prove it.

Tony Clark -- the new MLBPA chief -- began his major league career late in 1995, so he wasn't directly involved in the 1994-95 strike, but commissioner Rob Manfred served as outside counsel for the owners during that labor nightmare.


The good news is Clark was a player rep before retiring and served as deputy executive director and acting executive director of the union, ultimately appointed players association boss in 2013 after the death of Michael Weiner.

Meanwhile, Manfred was deeply involved in the CBA negotiations when new agreements were reached in 2002, 2006 and 2011.

They know each other well and have been communicating consistently for the last few years, so the opinion of agents and execs is that there will be a new agreement in place -- or an extension -- before the CBA expires in December.

"We're pleased with the amount of time we've been able to spend (together) already," Manfred said recently in New York. "We're hopeful we can get a new agreement without any problems, disruptions or anything like that."

What's certain is that no one in baseball has an appetite for strife when both sides are breaking their backs carrying bags of money to the bank.

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Things couldn't possibly be better.

The closest we've come to a labor problem was Labor Day 2002, when the players threatened a holiday weekend walkout as a pre-emptive action with the CBA expiring after the season.

But for the first time in 32 years, a new deal was agreed to without a single game lost, and the two sides compromised on revenue sharing while contraction was taken off the table.

Remember contraction? Now they're talking about expansion.

So there seems to be little chance of another work stoppage, something Manfred will be asked about during all-star new conferences this week.

If you need something to worry about, it's that Clark doesn't have near the experience of Manfred, and he may feel the need to show the players he's got the guts to act tough, something Manfred has already displayed in several negotiations.


Clark won't want to be seen as allowing the commish to take advantage of Clark's inexperience, but Clark will have experienced lawyers with him, something the players have always had on their side.

The biggest issue is the qualifying offer and how free agency is tied to the draft. This is not a small issue for both sides, but as usual this is not a fight between players and owners.

It's a fight between small markets and big markets and the owners always want the players to solve their problems for them.

The players hate the qualifying offer because it hurts them in free agency, and they would like to see it go away or altered to remove any ties to the draft.

As it stands, free agents who reject the qualifying offer are tied to draft pick compensation, and most teams will not consider losing a pick, so in recent years players like Dexter Fowler, Nelson Cruz, Justin Upton, Ian Desmond and Stephen Drew have been hurt considerably by rejecting the qualifying offer.

It's patently unfair for a player to serve six years -- or seven in the case of players like Kris Bryant -- and then get squeezed by the system because of a draft pick.

The small market owners will not want to give up draft pick compensation, so maybe the solution is making the qualifying offer higher and keeping it in place until Opening Day.

Right now, the offer has to be made within five days after the World Series and the player has seven days to take it or pass.

It's also far past time to allow teams to trade draft picks, which would make the draft much more intriguing, as is the case in the NBA and NFL. It's also time for an international draft and a return to the days of limitless spending in the draft.

There is plenty of room here for compromise and there's little chance either side is going to jeopardize a $10 billion industry when salaries are so high and owners are raking in profits.

So the two sides will probably keep their negotiations out of public view and continue to talk this summer, reaching agreement before the CBA expires.

No one involved could possibly be foolish enough to kill the game again.

Not when there's plenty of golden eggs to go around.

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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