MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: Nothing surprising about how free-agency has unfolded

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred would prefer any and all collective bargaining or discussion of labor issues between the owners and the players association remain in-house. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t look like there is an easy way to get the toothpaste back into the tube.

Manfred on Tuesday held a news conference in Arizona prior to a media day event at the Glendale Civic Center for all teams participating in the Cactus League, including the Royals, who were represented by manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore.

Several of the topics reporters questioned Manfred about included the potential for a strike when the current collective-bargaining agreement expires in three years, the manipulation of service time by clubs to retain young players and whether the current system of free agency still works efficiently.

Ironically, the conference took place hours after news broke that one of baseball’s top young position players, Manny Machado, reportedly agreed to terms on a 10-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres.

“In 2002, people said you’re not going to be able to make an agreement without a strike,” Manfred said. “We made an agreement without a strike. In 2008, they said you’re never going to make an agreement early without going through the offseason. We made an agreement early without going through the offseason. We’re going to work our way through this one just like we worked our way through those situations.”

Manfred, who took over as commissioner in August 2014, had been MLB’s chief operating officer since 2013 under Bud Selig. Prior to that Manfred served as MLB’s executive vice president from 1998-2013 and oversaw labor relations and conducted all collective bargaining with the MLBPA.

“I do think it would be helpful if we tried not to sensationalize the back and forth on the individual issues,” Manfred said. “I think that the dialogue is best conducted in a room between the bargaining parties.”

Recently, some players have been outspoken about what they feel is a need for change in baseball’s free agency system. Earlier this week, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said in a radio interview that there would be a strike “100 percent” if something didn’t change.

Royals infielder Whit Merrifield, who signed a contract last month that bought out his arbitration-eligible years, tweeted his frustration about an article stating the Toronto Blue Jays would keep their top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the minors to start the season in order to keep him from accumulating service time towards free agency.

For the second straight offseason, multiple prominent free agents have gone unsigned well into the start of spring training.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark released a statement that said, in part, “Players’ eyes don’t deceive them, and nor do fans’. As Players report to spring training and see respected veterans and valued teammates on the sidelines, they are rightfully frustrated by a two-year attack on free agency. Players commit to compete every pitch of every at-bat, and every inning of every game. Yet we’re operating in an environment in which an increasing number of clubs appear to be making little effort to improve their rosters, compete for a championship or justify the price of a ticket.”

While Machado has reached terms with a new team albeit after camps have started, 26-year-old former NL MVP Bryce Harper still has not signed with a team nor have seven-time All-Star relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel nor former AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel.

“I’m not blaming either party to this negotiation, neither the agents nor the clubs,” Manfred said. “The fact of the matter is we bargained for a market system. We have smart, aggressive negotiators on both sides. A completely predictable tactic is to use timing as a point of leverage in those negotiations on both sides. It’s not like this is some unexpected result.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.