Phil Rogers

Manfred shares optimism on labor talks

Commissioner discusses fan safety, Ortiz's farewell among host of topics

Manfred shares optimism on labor talks

CHICAGO -- While negotiations on a new labor contract remain in the early stages, Commissioner Rob Manfred is encouraged by the pace of talks. He hopes a new deal will be in place before the end of the World Series.

"The way I think about the goal is I'd like to get an agreement done while you all are still focused on the play of the game on the field,'' Manfred said on Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field. "A lot of press focus is not real positive for the bargaining process. All of you would rather write about what's going on on the field than what goes on at the negotiating table. That same general timetable would be my goal.''

Manfred served as Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig's top labor negotiator in each of the past three negotiations, all of which were accomplished without a work stoppage. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on Dec. 1.

While Dan Halem has replaced Manfred as the owners' primary representative, this is also the first bargaining process for the Major League Baseball Players Association under the leadership of Tony Clark, who replaced the late Michael Weiner.

Manfred said he plans to participate personally in talks at some point, but he praised the work of Halem and Clark.

"Dan's the chief spokesman, like I was the last three times around,'' Manfred said. "He's done a phenomenal job. I give both parties credit. Despite all the changes and whatnot, they put together a really aggressive meeting schedule, [and] they've met frequently. They've gotten a lot out on the table earlier in the process, frankly, than in some of the last three negotiations. I'm optimistic. I think over time we have built a deep relationship with the MLBPA, and as a result of that deep relationship, I think we will have an effective bargaining process, even though there have been some personnel changes at the top.''

In a wide-ranging session with reporters, Manfred addressed many topics. Among them:

• Advancements in the detection of performance-enhancing drugs, which would appear to have played a role in a series of recent suspensions.

"We don't talk a lot about specific changes,'' Manfred said. "I will say this: We have made improvements in the program in terms of lengthening the windows of detection. Those improvements are ones that apply across programs. It's not baseball-specific. It's just that the science is getting a little better. That may be part of the issue.''

• How teams and players are adjusting well to new rules regarding slides into second base.

"Whenever you change a rule with respect to the play of the game on the field, there's going to be a period of adjustment,'' Manfred said. "There's certainly been one with respect to the slide rule. But I'd focus on [that] I do think the rule serves a really important and fundamental purpose, that is protecting player safety. I think even in the last couple of weeks, you've seen us more getting to the sort of equilibrium we reached with respect to the home-plate rule, and quite frankly, we got there faster at second base than we did with home plate.''

• Reaction of fans to the increased netting at ballparks after changes to the sport's guidelines.

"Interestingly, the comments I have received, and this is not scientific, [but] I have not had a lot of comments from people suggesting we need more netting,'' Manfred said. "I have had a lot of comments, calls and e-mails from fans saying, 'You know, we understand what the risks are; we like the game without nets in front of us.' So we're trying to balance those two things, the desires of our fans and our concerns for fan safety. We're going to evaluate how this year goes, and I'm sure it will be a topic we'll revisit with the owners in Spring Training.''

• Manfred's limited level of concern about teams targeting a weak record to improve their positioning in the following year's Draft.

"It's interesting, people were talking about the National League in particular,'' Manfred said. "Looking at the standings today, two of the alleged tankers have records above .500. A third is 3 1/2 games out of first place. What people think is happening is not always what happens, No. 1. And No. 2, that particular phenomenon, there's no doubt in baseball a trend emerges, people get on the bandwagon or whatever, with this particular strategy of not playing well to get Draft picks. The more people that adopt that strategy, the less likely it will be successful because only one team can get the first pick.''

• A decision on a possible suspension for Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes due to a domestic abuse incident will be made soon.

"I think we are in the home stretch on the Reyes case,'' Manfred said. "I'm waiting for one thing, one piece of information that the union is going to provide. I think we'll make the decision very soon.''

• Manfred's respect for retiring Red Sox first baseman David Ortiz.

"I had an opportunity to spend some time with David in the offseason,'' Manfred said. "He actually came in and told me this was going to be his last season. He's been a great Red Sox [player]. He's been a great ambassador for the game. He's one of those individuals who has an engaging smile he wears most of the time, good or bad. Those are the kind of athletes that I know people in Boston have come to love. He's really had a great career, and I wish him all the best.''

Phil Rogers is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.