ARLINGTON, Tex. — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday that although he likes the current design of the playoffs, the league has heard enough complaints and chatter around the format — and whether it does enough to acknowledge regular-season success — that his office will discuss it.
“It will at least motivate a conversation about whether we have it right,” Manfred said prior to Game 1 of the World Series. “I’m sure that conversation will take place in the postseason. Enough has been written and said that we have to think about it and talk about it.
“My own view on this is that our teams play really hard all year long to get into the playoffs,” Manfred continued. “But one of the greatest things about the playoffs in baseball is, anybody can win. And, you know, it’s about the competition that takes place in the postseason. … I don’t think what happened this year is all that out of line with history.”
Manfred noted that most teams that win 100-plus games don’t go on to win the World Series.
“That’s kind of how baseball playoffs are, and frankly, how I think they should be,” Manfred said. “If the die was cast, — meaning, that if I win 100 in the regular season, I’m going to win the World Series — I don’t think that’s as interesting as what we have witnessed over the last month.”
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on Friday noted that the players had proposed alternative postseason formats that the league was not interested in during the last round of bargaining.
Manfred open to dropping maximum pitcher number to 12
Starting pitchers used to be a heavyweight billing. But as velocity has taken over the sport, and starters throw fewer innings because of the effort required on each pitch, the game has lost some of the entertainment value that used to be wrapped up in watching starters on a nightly basis.
“The way that pitching is being used right now has caused a diminution in that star kind of quality for some of our starters,” Manfred said. “And I do think it’s an issue that we should talk about. … There’s a lot of fans who feel like the change from, ‘What’s today’s pitching matchup?’ to, ‘Who’s the opener today?’ has not been a positive.”
Manfred believes that MLB’s 13-pitcher limit hasn’t done enough to encourage teams to get more out of their starters, and he is open to the idea of dropping the limit to 12.
“We went to 13, I don’t think it’s had the desired effect,” Manfred said. “There are a few numbers smaller than 12.”
But that change would not come as soon as 2024. Manfred declined to detail the potential on-field changes for next season, but after a slew of major rule changes this season, he’s often talked this year about wanting to keep next year’s changes smaller. He reiterated that point on Friday.
With fewer pitchers, theoretically, teams and the pitchers themselves would need to be more judicious with every throw, and more innings from each individual would be needed. (Or perhaps alternatively, teams would need to make more roster moves and bring in fresh arms more frequently as a means of compensation.)
A’s stadium on track for November vote
MLB’s owners remain likely to vote at November’s owners’ meetings on the proposed relocation of the A’s to Las Vegas from Oakland.
“It’s my plan,” Manfred said. “First of all, the relocation committee has been meeting on a very regular basis. Three times this week, to give you a feel for the level of activity. Once I have a pretty good sense of where they’re headed — not finalized — I have to consult with the executive council, and then after that consultation, I prepare a recommendation to the clubs.”
Rob Manfred says a vote on A’s relocation to Las Vegas continues to be expected at November owners meetings
— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) October 27, 2023
There are actually at least two votes amongst baseball’s owners that would need to take place.
“I then go back to the executive council for an actual vote on the recommendation,” “That would be followed by a vote of the 30 clubs — 29 (or) 30, I’m not sure I know the answer to that.”
Manfred said he could not answer where the A’s would play after the 2024 season if indeed the move to Vegas is approved. Their lease in Oakland expires after next year.
Unhappy that public funding was going to be used to build the A’s a stadium, teachers in Las Vegas moved to create a referendum that the public could vote on. Labor unions whose members likely would be involved in the stadium construction subsequently tried to block the petition for a referendum with a lawsuit.
An owners’ vote doesn’t appear likely to be delayed because of those issues, however. Funding for the A’s stadium in Las Vegas has already been approved by the state legislature.
“If there was an adverse development with respect to that referendum, that would be a significant development,” Manfred said. “That’s all I can say about that.”
If it moves forward, the A’s plan would be to have the stadium ready in time for the 2028 season. Clark said the union has had an ongoing dialogue with the league over the potential move.
“I do find it interesting that amid the conversation and dialogue around finances, that rather than staying in the sixth-largest market, they’re moving to a market that may very well have them in the perpetual cycle of receiving revenue sharing,” Clark said. “But all of that needs to be remedied sooner rather than later.”
Eppler investigation to conclude by year’s end; MLB unclear if issue widespread
MLB’s investigation into ex-Mets general manager Billy Eppler should conclude no later than the end of the calendar year, Manfred said. MLB is looking into alleged improper use of the sport’s injured list.
MLB does not see a broader issue to tackle with other clubs with that kind of behavior — at least, not yet.
“One of the difficulties is, when you have kind of an anonymous tip, it gives you a leg up one place that you don’t have everywhere else,” Manfred said, referring to the impetus behind the investigation into Eppler. “It’s hard for me to make a judgment on the issue. But one of my directions to the DOI (MLB’s Department of Investigations) people is we need to finish the Mets and we need to figure out whether we have a bigger problem.
“Whenever we have a complaint about an issue that arguably affects the integrity of the competition, it kind of goes high on our priority list,” Manfred said. “It doesn’t seem quite the same as some of the other issues we’ve had — I’m not revisiting that — but it is significant and we are going to follow up on it.”
Major leaguers in the Olympics?
Manfred didn’t entirely close the door on the possibility of MLB players participating in the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, although he didn’t sound enthused about it, either.
“I think everyone appreciates the challenges associated with major-league players playing in a tournament that is in the middle of our season,” Manfred said. “The integrity of that regular season, it’s an important thing for us.
“Having said that, Casey Wasserman has been supportive of getting baseball back in the Olympics, which we appreciate. We think it’s a great thing. And we will continue to listen as to whether there’s some arrangement that could be worked out. And I’m not saying one word about major-league players — some arrangement that could be worked out to make it the best possible tournament.”
Wasserman leads a prominent sports agency and is also the chairman of L.A.’s Olympics effort.
Experiments with ball not passing muster
Manfred said he would grade MLB’s attempts to create a different, pre-tacked baseball as a “C-minus.”
“We thought we had a pretty good model last year, it got gummy when it got hot,” Manfred said. “We went back to the drawing board on it.”
By design, such a ball would not be mudded in the same way as the current baseball. That creates a separate problem: Even if they could get the tackiness right, the hypothetical new ball would likely be bright white, which could be an advantage to hitters.
Padres’ and Diamondbacks’ TV situations
Amidst the bankruptcy proceedings with the Ballys regional sports networks, MLB took over broadcasts for both the Diamondbacks and Padres this season. MLB in 2023 guaranteed that the teams would have at least 80 percent of their revenue, but that promise doesn’t exist from the league office for next season.
Manfred said the Padres had 18,000 subscribers sign up once MLB took over the broadcasts. But at this point, Manfred said it was impossible to project what the Padres and Diamondbacks’ 2024 TV revenues would look like.
(Photo of Rob Manfred: Ron Jenkins / MLB Photos via Getty Images)