Rob Manfred talks pace of play, expansion, gambling, realignment and a reduced schedule

Rob Manfred
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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic sat down for an exclusive interview with Commissioner Rob Manfred. They talked on most of the hot-button issues of the day. As it’s an Athletic story it is behind a paywall, but as we’ve noted around here many times lately, there’s a lot of good baseball content over there, so if you’re going to pay for a subscription to anything, that’s a petty good choice.

Anyway, Rosenthal asked Manfred about all kinds of things and, as is his wont, Manfred didn’t really commit himself to much of anything. He’s happy with what the pace-of-play changes have done — game times are about 4-5 minutes shorter — but characterizes those changes as “low-hanging fruit” that never could have reasonably made massive differences. I think that jibes with everyone involved said at the time, even if the changes have often been overplayed or oversold by others. Asked about the possibility of a pitch clock, Manfred seems like he wants it, and cited the union’s resistance to it, which is again, much of what he’s said in the past. I suspect he implements a pitch clock unilaterally next year.

Asked about the lack of action in the game — too many strikeouts, too many homers, shifts taking away hits, etc. — Manfred talks about how while the league had hoped that such things would even out over time, as they usually have, they don’t seem to be taking care of themselves now. He talked broadly about having to do something to deal with the lockstep “innovation” of analytical front offices which have led us here, but doesn’t say what. I think he’s being realistic: he knows there is not much that can be done without radically altering the game, which no one wants, but he knows people want baseball to be concerned. Sort of a Clinton-esque “I feel your pain” response, which is probably as good as he can do.

Manfred does not appear concerned about competitive balance. A lot of teams are on pace to lose 100 games this year, but Manfred notes, not incorrectly, that there are still division races and having one or two extra teams lose 100 games is not some seismic shift. Again, correct, though something that we can’t really have happen every year for, like, a decade I don’t think.

Manfred talks about an automated strike zone. He seems more amenable to it now than ever before, talking up the advances in technology about it. He worries that, even if you can take balls and strikes away from umpires on a technical basis, does that not undercut the ump’s authority and ability to manage the game? Eh, hard to say. If anything I tend to think that many umpires’ sense of “control” of the game is too great and is based on some mini God complex stemming from their handling of balls and strikes. Tennis umpires don’t seem to have lost control of that which is still in their bailiwick even if technology has taken responsibilities from them.

Rosenthal asked Manfred about the recent finding that the spike in homers since 2015 is due to a changing baseball. Here is the first place where Manfred’s answers kind of ticked me off. Manfred:

The report says something happened that reduced drag. Whatever it was, there was no purposeful or known alteration of the baseball. (People wanted to test) whether the specifications were too wide (in range) or not. The report says they’re within a much narrower range than the actual specifications.

They don’t know what the drag change is. Maybe it’s global warming, who knows? (The committee determined weather is not a factor). We’re going to continue to test and hopefully we will get to the bottom of that.

For the past year, whenever someone brought up the possibility that the ball hand changed, Manfred reacted sharply and defensively, citing the fact that the ball was “within parameters” and ignoring the fact that the specifications were so wide as to be meaningless. Now he’s crowing about how the alteration in the ball was within the limits the specifications allowed but still led to a massive increase in homers. Maybe just say “our specifications are meaningless when it comes to this issue” and, perhaps, acknowledge that you were snippy and petulant every time someone outside of the game brought up the possibility that the ball was the culprit?

He’s similarly eyeroll-worthy when it comes to legalized gambling, continuing to talk about all of the “integrity” challenges the game will face now that gambling has been legalized. As we have discussed on many occasions, however, the references to “integrity” are code for “we’re going to try to take as big a cut of the action as we can. Here’s Manfred’s response to Rosenthal saying, perhaps, state gambling commissions can monitor integrity just fine:

” . . . people who say you can leave it to state regulators — no thank you. Nice offer, but we will take care of our own integrity.”

But with the state’s money, of course. No word on whether baseball also can take care of its own stadium financing.

Finally, Manfred talks about realignment, expansion, reducing the length of the season. Seems that he’s open to anything as long as the money is right and it makes logical sense in terms of travel and scheduling, which is a pretty sensible attitude to have about it. The only definitive thing he said was that he’s in favor of a single season instead of any split season kind of scenarios which (a) good; but (b) uh, who has suggested split season scenarios? Probably someone.

Anyway, it’s pretty good as a state-of-the-game speech. Worth a read if you have a subscription, worth a subscription if you don’t have one.

Brian Cashman signs 4-year contract to remain Yankees GM

Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

SAN DIEGO — Brian Cashman has signed a four-year contract to remain the New York Yankees Senior Vice President and General Manager. The announcement was made during the first day of baseball’s Winter Meetings.

Cashman, New York’s GM since 1998, had been working on a handshake agreement since early November, when his five-year contract expired.

The Yankees were swept by four games in the AL Championship Series and haven’t reached the World Series since winning in 2009. It is the franchise’s longest title drought since an 18-year gap between 1978-96.

Cashman’s main goal during the offseason is trying to re-sign AL MVP Aaron Judge.

Judge hit an American League-record 62 homers this season with a .311 batting average and 131 RBIs. He turned down the Yankees’ offer on the eve of opening day of a seven-year contract that would have paid $213.5 million from 2023-29.

While Judge remains on the market, Cashman was able to re-sign Anthony Rizzo on Nov. 15 to a two-year contract worth $40 million after turning down a $16 million player option.

Cashman has been the Yankees general manager since 1998. He has been with the organization since 1986, when he was a 19-year old intern in the scouting department. In his 25 seasons as GM, the Yankees have reached the postseason 21 times, including four World Series championships and six American League titles.