SAN DIEGO -- The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on Dec. 1, which means that the big-picture topics being discussed in Major League Baseball take on added weight this summer. The league and the MLB Players' Association began formal discussions about the next CBA in March, and those conversations are of course ongoing.
At a meeting with the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday before the American League defeated the National League, 4-2, in the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard, Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA president Tony Clark separately addressed some of the major points of interest in regard to the CBA and other matters.
Here are the highlights:
The schedule: Both Manfred and Clark acknowledge that 162 games in 183 days is a grind, and Clark said the evolving nature of the game and its off-the-field demands have made it even more challenging. Clark stressed that measures need to be made to put players in the best position to play at a high level every day and to improve the likelihood that a fan attending a game can expect to see his or her favorite player in action. Manfred said that shortening the schedule would of course impact gate revenues and, therefore, should impact salaries.
"If we were going to go down those roads, those economic ramifications are going to have to be shared by all the applicable parties," Manfred said.
Clark countered that if the quality of play is improved, that, in and of itself, is a selling point that could offset the financial impact.
"I'm not talking about raising ticket prices," Clark said. "I'm talking about as a fan coming to the ballpark and I know I'm going to see my guys, as a result of XYZ being done to make improvements to their overall health and ability to be on the field."
Clark said increasing roster sizes from their current 25 in order to improve flexibility is an idea that "would seem to make sense."
Performance-enhancing drugs: The spike in positive tests among Major League players this year has led to a great deal of discussion about the current penalties and whether they are a strong enough deterrent. One oft-stated worry about increasing the penalty for first-time offenders is the possibility of false positives, but Manfred and Clark both lauded the sophistication of the current testing.
"The testing program is remarkably comprehensive, and the tests themselves are remarkably sensitive," Clark said. "As a result, we suggest [to players] how important it is to be aware of what you put in your body, the supplements you take, the food you eat, where you eat it."
Multiple players caught in the teeth of drug testing have claimed not to know how an illegal substance got in their stream.
"All I can say is we are really confident," Manfred said. "I don't know how it got there, I know the player doesn't know how it got there. But I know it's there, and it's against our rules."
Pace of play: The procedures put in place to improve pace of play in 2015 bore fruit early in the season, but Manfred indicated MLB "slipped" at the beginning of this season. The average time of a nine-inning game in the first half was 3 hours, 13 seconds, compared to 2:53:04 in the first half of '15.
"Pace of play for me is like dandelions in your front lawn," Manfred said. "I just can't get rid of it."
Manfred said the league is continuing to work on proposals to improve this issue in '17 and beyond.
Manfred and/or Clark covered some other issues independent of the CBA, including:
Home run spike: MLB is averaging 1.16 home runs per game this year, the highest such rate since 2000.
Manfred stressed that, because of the drug policy in place, there is no way to associate the spike with PED usage. He also dismissed the theory that baseballs themselves have been tampered with.
"We've tested the baseball extensively," Manfred said. "There are certain mistakes in life that, if you pay attention to what's going on around you, you're not inclined to make. There was a scandal in Japan about the ball being changed that cost the Commissioner his job. Whether you want to believe me or not, the baseball is the same as it was last year."
Manfred attributed the home run rise to strategic changes in the game -- specifically, approaches at the plate and even lineup construction that has given power hitters more plate appearances.
Dugout diversity: Both Clark and Manfred agree that diversity is important, with Manfred saying the lack of a Latino manager in the wake of the Braves' dismissal of Fredi Gonzalez is "glaring," especially given the large number of players from Spanish-speaking countries on Major League rosters. But Manfred said that with the help provided by executive search firm Korn Ferry and the MLB Diversity Pipeline project, the league is making every effort to ensure that minority candidates have all of the resources available to them to be considered quality candidates for high-ranking jobs.
"It is crucial that when a minority candidate gets an interview, she or he is as prepared as possible," Manfred said.
Roster diversity: Manfred made a salient point about African-American representation on rosters.
"In the last five Drafts, 20 percent of the first round has been African-American. That is the fruit of specific programs Commissioner Selig put in place that we have made attempts to grow."
Expansion: Manfred said that while the league's first priority is the CBA, next on the list is addressing the Rays' and A's stadium situations.
"Both of those clubs need new Major League-quality facilities," Manfred said. "Until that happens, expansion has to be on the back burner for us."
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.