With the MLB Winter Meetings coming to a close, the lackluster number of big signings have left MLB fans with yet another off season of relatively slow activity. Key free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who are likely to get large nine-figure paydays, remain unsigned. The MLB free agency period dulls in comparison to the NBA and NFL, who usually have a faster free agency signing period. Five weeks into MLB free agency, 20 teams have still not signed a major league free agent, according to The Athletic’s Jayson Stark.
Not only has MLB free agency been slow, but pace of play in game has been an issue the MLBPA and Commissioner Rob Manfred have been working on. Manfred was recently given a five-year extension from team owners and MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark was given a four-year extension. Manfred and Clark look to be the head of talks not only for the 2019 baseball season but also for the new labor agreement, with the current CBA ending in 2021.
This past season, MLB’s attendance fell to its lowest level since 2003, and Manfred has acknowledged the critical stakes at hand. “We operate in a really competitive entertainment market, and it’s incumbent upon us to make every effort to make our product as good as we can,” Manfred said.
Accelerating pace of play both on and off the field is one of the most important topics on Manfred’s agenda. Policies over the past few seasons have been implemented to speed up the game, such as the no-pitch intentional walk, time limits for managers to invoke challenges, and shorter in-game commercial breaks, according to SportsBusinessJournal. Other pace-of-play changes that are still on the table, include implementing a pitch-clock.
With Clark now extended through 2022, both leaders are now fully in place for the next round of labor talks. Last summer, the union hired veteran litigator and labor attorney Bruce Meyer to a newly created role of senior director for collective bargaining and legal. Meyer who has previously counseled other players’ unions and worked for the NHLPA, will lead the baseball player’s bargaining efforts.
The new labor agreement will be critical in shaping the future of the sport. With Major League Baseball competing for consumers’ time, not only from other sports leagues but from all modes of entertainment, it is important for baseball to continue to adapt its product.