BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — The large number of free agents still looking for jobs with spring training under way is due to supply and demand, according to baseball commissioner Rob Manfred.
Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said in early February he was disappointed so many players still were searching for teams.
"It was a big free-agent class this year," Manfred said Friday at his first spring-training media availability. "One of the things that the PA has always wanted is a market-based system. It's been a long time since I took Economic 101, but my recollection is that when you have a lot of supply in relation to relatively fixed demand, the market's going to operate differently than one might expect. So it's not a surprise to me, given the size of the class."
Among the several dozen players still seeking jobs are pitcher Yovani Gallardo, shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Dexter Fowler, who all turned down $15.8 million qualifying offers from their former teams in November. Because the qualifying offers were made, a team signing them to a major league contract before June 9 would lose a top selection in this year's amateur draft.
"I do expect that during the next round there will be conversations about the topic of draft-pick compensation," Manfred said, looking ahead to collective bargaining. "Draft-choice compensation has been an aspect of the Basic Agreement that is generally pro management, and it's been in there a very, very long time."
While Manfred was management's lead day-to-day negotiator in the last three agreements, that role will now be taken by Dan Halem, MLB's chief legal officer. An agreement was reached in 2006 during the World Series and in 2011 in November, both times ahead of the expiration of the previous deal.
"Without getting into specifics, I think it is safe to say we're going to try to follow the calendar that has been successful for us the last three times around," Manfred said. "That is starting early in spring training and in the season and hopefully have an agreement before the end of the year or in that fall timeframe."
He defended the right of teams to rebuild by jettisoning many of their veterans as they restocked their farm system. He rejected the notion that clubs "tanked" in order to get higher draft picks.
"In 20-something years in the game I have never ever had the sense that a team, any team, was doing anything other than putting itself in a position to win games on the field," he said.
"The issue arises with respect to time horizon. Sometimes fans want to see winning come a little quicker than it can come. And given the significance of entry-level talent, sometimes it takes a period of years before you can get a group of players that's necessary to be real competitive. But I don't think any team starts out the season saying: 'I want to lose 100 games, whether it's to get a No. 1 pick or not.'"
On other topics
"I am a status-quo guy with respect to the DH," he said. "League differentiation matters to us, and the DH is the principal thing that separates the two leagues. I think I would be reluctant to give up that differentiator.
"Second thing is evidenced by the fact that you get asked about this almost everywhere you go. The DH debate makes people talk about the game."
EXPANDED SEPTEMBER ROSTERS
While active rosters expand from 25 to 40 each Sept. 1, teams in a game often have an unequal number of players, leading some managers to complain. The union does not want players who otherwise would have been called up to lose out on service time and experience.
"September rosters are an issue," Manfred said. "They will be an issue in this round of bargaining. They were in the last round. We had extensive discussions about it. It is unusual to play the vast majority of games with one number of players and then play maybe the most important games of the season with a different number. It's something we will discuss with players' association and get to something the clubs are more comfortable with."
PACE OF PLAY
MLB instituted clocks last year to count down between-innings breaks: 2 minutes, 25 seconds for most games and 2:45 for those on national television.
"The inning break clock will be shortened — exactly how much I'm not prepared to say," Manfred said. "There will be a focus on the number and length of visits to the mound.
"I also do expect there will be change with respect to plays at second base," he said. "Conceptually, I think everyone is in agreement that it would be good to have a rule that focuses the player on making a slide where he could actually slide to the bag or stay on the base."