Craig Calcaterra

Rob Manfred

Rob Manfred talks about bat flips, social media and baseball’s demographic challenges

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Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with AdWeek about the promotion and marketing of baseball, particularly to younger demographics. There’s nothing groundbreaking there but it’s interesting to hear Manfred talk about it if, for no other reason, than it’s impossible to imagine Bud Selig ever talking about this stuff in great detail.

All in all Manfred comes off pretty sensible about such things. Asked about the “play the game the right way” debate over bat flips and whatnot, Manfred correctly notes that the players are the ones who decide how the game is to be played, not the league and, specifically, not retired players. Take this as the most polite “thanks for your comments Goose Gossage and Mike Schmidt, but who cares?” opinion you’ll ever see.

More substantively Manfred talks about platforms for rights deals and things and acknowledges that, yes, cord cutting is an issue. It’s one he thinks MLB is well-positioned to survive, however, given MLB Advanced Media and its streaming infrastructure. He was not asked how anyone who actually cuts the cord is ever supposed to be able to stream their local team, however, given that such streaming is still limited to those with cable subscriptions. That remains the single biggest question facing baseball broadcasting today (see below for more on that). Oh, and by the way, Manfred also says that it’s not impossible to imagine companies like Facebook, Amazon or Google as rights partners one day. How that would work is anyone’s guess but he used the term “aggregators” which opens up a number of interesting questions about how one could consume baseball on those platforms.

The one somewhat unsatisfying thing Manfred said came in response to a question about the demographic challenges baseball faces. Specifically: how can baseball get younger fans?

Manfred mentions SnapChat and Twitter and stuff. That’s not really an answer. Those are mediums to deliver certain very small parts of the baseball experience, not means of large scale fan-building. As we’ve noted here in the past, making games themselves more accessible — not players goofing off or MLB engaging in subtle brand-partner messaging — is what will bring in younger fans. Force them to sign up for a $150 cable bundle and you’re not going to get as many young people as you used to.

Which means: maybe acknowledge the link between your streaming and your demographic challenges and you’ll get someplace.

Brewers reliever Will Smith tears knee ligament taking off his cleats

FILE - In this Tuesday, March 1, 2016 file photo, Milwaukee Brewers' Will Smith throws during a spring training baseball workout in Phoenix. The Milwaukee Brewers will start the season without reliever Will Smith, who tore a ligament in his right knee while taking his spikes off after a game, Saturday, March 26, 2016.  (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)
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Brewers’ reliever Will Smith tore his lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. How? Taking his cleats off after a game:

Smith said he was getting ready to shower after pitching in a minor league game on Thursday and was standing on one leg to take off his other shoe when he lost his balance and twisted the knee.

“I pulled hard (on the shoe) and it stayed on,” he said. “My knee just went up and popped. Everyone tells you there is nothing you can do about it, but you still feel like you are letting people down.”

They’re trying to figure out now if he needs surgery. Either way, he’s looking to miss an extended period of time. Which stinks for the Brewers given that he was likely to spend some time closing this year after a pretty fantastic spring training in which he hadn’t allowed any runs in seven outings. Smith has pitched 154 games in the past two seasons.

2016 Preview: Los Angeles Angels

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Angels.

With Mike Trout, all things are possible. Well, not all things, but a whole lot more wins than a team with this many holes and as thin a system as the Angels have might otherwise expect to get. When you start with the best player in baseball — and when you back him up with a declining but still dangerous Albert Pujols — you’re starting out OK.

Beyond those two things get a bit uncertain. The trade for Andrelton Simmons definitely shores up the defense up the middle, but unless he has that breakout offensive season some have figured he has in him someplace (Braves fans waited for four years and it never happened), his bat won’t add much to the party. Yunel Escobar at third base is an intriguing option for some offense if you think his nice 2015 was indicative of a resurgence as opposed to an outlier. Kole Calhoun took a step back last year but is still solid and has some upside. C.J. Cron‘s power is the real deal and he could hit between 20-30 homers. Overall, though, there’s an awful lot of low-OBP dudes on this Angels lineup, minimizing the damage Trout, Pujols and Cron can do with their bombs. And that’s before you figure that Pujols, who is battling some foot problems this spring, is likely to continue to go slowly and gently into that good night. Last year the Angels were close to a bottom-third offense. It’s hard to see them improving dramatically this year.

Garrett Richards tops the rotation. He wasn’t as great in 2015 as he was in 2014, but still has fantastic stuff and is another full offseason and a regular-ramp-up removed from his ugly knee injury from late in 2014. Jered Weaver‘s velocity — or shocking lack thereof — is concerning. Hector Santiago‘s screwballs are fun. Andrew Heaney could truly emerge this year as a solid number two or three starter. C.J. Wilson will start the year on the DL and there is no solid timetable for his return. Matt Shoemaker was a disappointment last year but he’ll fill in for Wilson. Huston Street and Joe Smith in the pen is pretty decent. The rest of the pen is neither great nor terrible.

The biggest issue with the Angels: there’s not a lot of upside to be seen here. Mike Trout is amazing, but you can’t reasonably expect him to get better. You can’t expect most of the rest of this club to get better either, but that’s because it’s less than amazing. They won 85 games last year and it felt like that exceeded their real level of talent by a good deal. Where does the improvement come from this year? Especially given how barren their minor league system is?

Prediction: Third place, AL West.