Commissioner Rob Manfred sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports earlier this week, discussing everything from the need to make baseball more accessible to younger generations and marketing the sport's biggest stars, to the issue of PED's and what might possibly have been a subtle dig on Bud Selig as someone who relied more on politics than facts or deep knowledge. If you missed the airing on Wednesday night you can find a highlight clip of the interview, along with the full transcript, linked here on the FOX Sports website.
Among the topics addressed were Manfred's two reported meetings with Alex Rodriguez as he attempts to reintegrate himself into baseball after his year-long suspension. Manfred declined to get into the specifics of those discussions, but it certainly seems like any apology Rodriguez might have issued had the intended effect. Manfred essentially confirmed the widely rumored episode where A-Rod cursed and stormed out of an arbitration hearing, but played it down as a single heated exchange and instead talked about the relationship between the two that apparently still exists. Manfred went on to say that, having served his punishment, A-Rod will be welcomed back by baseball to resume his career. No mention of his contract with the Yankees certainly, and the milestone bonus clause, but no suggestion of A-Rod's scorched earth tactics when arguing the Biogenisis suspension leaving any lingering resentment, in the Commissioner's office at least.
Add this to the Player's Association being willing to defend Alex Rodriguez's right to receive those bonus payments and all of a sudden the New York Yankees could find themselves on the unpopular side of this dispute. While this might not stop the Yankees from pushing to void the milestone markers in A-Rod's contract ahead of having to pay him the first $6 million installment - for passing Willie Mays on the home run list - it likely rules out Rodriguez simply choosing not to contest for fear of further alienating any remaining support. Unless the Yankees clearly feel they have strong legal merits for their case, this might factor into a decision on the value of taking on a protracted legal challenge without any allies. After all, look how well that served A-Rod last year.
Another interesting question was Rosenthal's follow-up to Manfred's previous mention of banning defensive shifts. The commissioner was careful to frame his previous answer as one topic on which he would be willing to have a conversation. Manfred suggested not to read too much into his previous comment, going as far as to suggest it might not even be needed should hitters naturally adapt towards hitting against defensive shifts. While the commissioner didn't rule out the possibility banning the shift, he gave no indication that the idea had moved beyond the conversation stage. It seems likely that any push to introduce a rule restricting defensive movement is a ways away, if it is introduced at all. He certainly seemed very aware of the reaction he received to his previous comments, leading to a more measured tone on the topic.
What seems much more likely to be introduced in the near future are pitch clocks. Commissioner Manfred appeared to treat the idea of cutting down average game times as a high priority, if for no other reason than the symbolism of proving to be listening to fans who have raised the issue. When asked about introducing pitch clocks at the MLB level, the commissioner clearly stated that it will be a topic for negotiation with the players union, as he did regarding the international draft. A sign perhaps that his own mind on both topics are very much made up.
Among other topics that were addressed, was international expansion. Manfred didn't appear to push it forward strongly, but he didn't rule out further international expansion - the MLB is of course already a multi-country league with the Toronto Blue Jays franchise - in the next 10 years. While expansion into South America would appear to make the most sense given existing demand, Manfred chose to refer to the whole Western Hemisphere as a possibility, It didn't seem to be anywhere as high a priority as the NFL's current efforts to build a market in London for example though, probably reasonable given the unique travel pressures of playing games daily.
I thought Commissioner Manfred came across as a measured reformer. Some of his ideas might generate strong debate, though I expect he'll get strong agreement behind his primary goal of maintaining labor peace. No strikes or lockouts during his tenure would likely make for a solid enough legacy all by itself.