Rob Manfred

If Rob Manfred is Bud Selig’s heir apparent, why are there three finalists?

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We learned last night that there are three finalists to succeed Bud Selig as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. They are Rob Manfred, MLB’s chief operating officer; Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business; and Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner.

However, most people playing close attention to all of this say that (a) Rob Manfred is Selig’s hand-picked successor; and (b) he is the favorite to get the job, by far. If so, why are the other two candidates hanging around?

One possible answer is that the owners really haven’t decided on Manfred yet. I sort of doubt that. The people reporting that Manfred is the guy tend to know what they’re talking about. Another answer is that the owners want to make it look like they are considering a lot of options if, for no other reason, than for the optics of it all. I doubt that too. For one thing the owners have never really cared about optics. For another, they also don’t want to waste unnecessary time on this, and putting up p.r.-driven candidates is a waste of time. Plus, there are better p.r. candidates than Brosnan and Werner if that’s what they were thinking. That’s not it.

What I think is really going on here is that a message is being sent to Manfred. A preemptive one and possibly even a friendly one, but a message all the same. And that message is this: you work for us. You are not a king and you will not be crowned. You will be selected.

This is sort of important to the owners, I’d assume. While Bud Selig started out on shaky ground as commissioner, he has grown into a pretty powerful force in the game. That, combined with the (mistaken) public impression that the Commissioner is baseball’s leader  and/or dictator, likely gives the owners pause. They know what the commissioner’s job really is: to work for them and to make them money and not to do things they don’t want. Maybe they worry that a guy who is not from their ranks — like Manfred — may forget that at some point. Maybe they want him to be grateful that he was chosen as opposed to feeling as if he assumed the job by divine right and Bud Selig’s grace.

And, while this three-man finalist thing may have an element of hazing to it, it may be useful all the same. Bud Selig was successful as Commissioner — with success being defined as getting done what he wanted to get done — because he never forgot who he worked for. He rarely if ever launched an initiative that he did not feel had the support of the owners and he never aired disputes publicly. To the extent commissioners have run into trouble — Fay Vincent comes to mind, but many others do too — it’s because they think they’re organizing the entire trip when they are really merely driving the bus.

I predict that Rob Manfred gets the job next week. And I think, when he accepts it, it will be with the acknowledgement that a message has been sent by the guys who really run baseball.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.