When Major League owners convene in Chicago on Wednesday for their quarterly meetings, collective bargaining will take center stage in the formal and informal discussions.
The current labor agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association is due to expire on Dec. 1. Commissioner Rob Manfred said at the annual General Managers Meetings last week in Scottsdale, Ariz. that he was optimistic an agreement will be reached before then.
"I think we're going to make a deal before the expiration of the agreement," Manfred said. "[But] collective bargaining is one of those processes where it's difficult to predict with certainty when things are going to take place.
"I think what I've said is there are a couple of natural deadlines. One is the beginning of free agency, the other obviously is the expiration date. We missed deadline one, so we're looking at deadline two."
Among the topics being negotiated are finding ways to insulate players from the effects of playing a 162-game schedule in 183 days and the institution of an international draft. While Manfred said he could not speak to the specifics of the latter issue while talks are ongoing, MLB has made it clear that it favors an international draft.
There will certainly be continued talk about instant replay and pace of play. After new pace initiatives yielded encouraging results in 2015, the average time of a game crept back over three hours this season.
"Pace of play is one of those topics that is going to be a constant, ongoing, year-after-year challenge for us," Manfred said. "I really mean this. I think our players' hearts are in the right place. But because we play [so often], it's easy to lose focus on that issue.
"We are going to look at all of the issues that relate to pace of game. I don't want to single any one out. On each and every topic, there's some limiting factors. You've got to weigh those things and figure out what set of changes you can make over a period of time to get the sort of result you're looking for."
At the previous Owners Meetings, in Houston in August, Manfred began what is expected to be an extended look at the changes baseball has made over the past 40 to 50 years. The goal is to know where the sport has been in order to make better decisions about possible changes moving forward.
"You take a snapshot of that and you say, 'Wow. Here's what it looks like. Here's what it used to look like. And should we be thinking about what has occurred and whether we want to allow it to continue to go on the path it's on?'" Manfred said.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.