Manfred was in town as part of tour of MLB cities and stadiums.
Making his season-long tour of stadiums and organizations throughout baseball, the latest stop for Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, was Safeco Field on Wednesday.
Manfred spent a considerable amount of time with Mariners ownership, specifically Chief Executive Officer John Stanton and Chris Larson, a high-ranking ownership group member. He also talked extensively with general manager Jerry Dipoto and even spent a little time with manager Scott Servais.
Want to bet the World Baseball Classic and the injury issues of Drew Smyly and Felix Hernandez were discussed with Dipoto and Servais?
Manfred held a press conference where he addressed the usual topics of pace of play, a pitch clock (that’s going to happen), growing the sport in the U.S. and internationally, the preponderance of homers this season, the perceived changes to the baseball, the posting of Shohei Ohtani and the problems of having an expanded 40-man roster in September.
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He started by complimenting Stanton.
“John Stanton has become a really important addition to our ownership group,” Manfred said. “Unbelievable insights with respect to the media portion of our business in particular. He’s become an important member of the business and media board that oversees the operations of MLB.com and oversaw the BAMtech transaction. It’s particularly good to spend time with a newer owner that has brought a lot to the game.”
Beyond the typical macro topics, the conversation went micro to a few things directly involving the Mariners. Manfred was asked if the Mariners had contacted him about hosting a future All-Star game. Sources told the Times in July that the Mariners had put in a formal bid to host.
“John Stanton has made me aware that Seattle is interested in an all-star game,” Manfred said. “I was here the last time they had an all-star game and it was a great host city. I’d love to do it again. I will say this: we have unprecedented levels of interest in All-Star games right now. It’s really become a fantastic event. The re-invigoration of the home run derby has helped. We have a lot of teams interested, but Seattle is certainly one of the ones that is in the mix.”
Stanton confirmed the conversation with Manfred and Seattle’s interest, which goes beyond the one conversation. But admitted that their interest isn’t in the immediate future.
Unlike past decades where there was more of a rotation of the host sites, and a reward for organizations with a new stadium, the process now is more like a presentation of why the city and stadium would provide optimum success for the events and fan interaction. MLB wants places that best showcase its marquee midseason event that is now a three-day affair.
The Cubs and Dodgers are also known to have made bids to host in the near future while the Braves’ new stadium SunTrust Park and the yet-to-built new stadium in Texas will also factor in for selection. The 2018 game will be held at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., while Progressive Field in Cleveland will host 2019. Upcoming sites beyond could be made public soon.
“The timing of an announcement is largely driven in making sure we have commitments in place that will actually allow us to stage all the events and host all the people that want to attend in a way that is first class,” Manfred said. “I’m hopeful that I announce two, maybe three, this offseason.”
The WBC and the injuries to Smyly and Hernandez were once again addressed. Manfred was asked about the situation at the All-Star Game and seemed less than enthused about the insinuation of a correlation between the two, saying the “data doesn’t’ support that” and that he’d had conversations with Mariners’ ownership about the situation.
It was answer that many people within the Mariners organization simply refused to agree with.
When asked on Tuesday, Manfred gave a similar answer to the All-Star game.
“I know what the data shows in terms of participation on the WBC,” Manfred said. “In summary, it shows that players that play in the WBC are no more likely to be injured than players who don’t. That’s a fact. The Seattle situation was unfortunate. I think it was sort of an outlier in terms of the overall statistical picture. They had a number of players that were affected.”
And the discussions with Mariners’ ownership?
“All I will tell you about the conversations with Mr. Stanton, as with every topic I can think of going back 20 years, the Seattle Mariners thought about the industry on this topic,” he said. “And when you think about the industry on this topic, you have to realize we need to internationalize our game. Given the sort of uncertainty of Olympic participation, the WBC remains the principle vehicle by which we combine nationalism and the play of our game to grow it internationally. I can tell you 100 percent that Mr. Stanton was not particularly happy with the way things worked out. But (the Mariners) are industry focused and remain supportive of the WBC in general.”
Manfred seemed unconcerned about the possibility of teams’ urging/telling players, specifically pitchers, not to participate in the WBC in the future.
“Well, players have a right under the basic agreement to play in the WBC,” he said. “We work with the teams to make sure we don’t take players with some special risk of injury, like they were coming off injury from the prior year or something like that. But the fact of the matter is, the players have a right to participate under the basic agreement.”
Also of note
*** When the subject of possible expansion to 32 teams arose, Manfred confirmed that a team in the west would need to be a part of it and the biggest city in Oregon would be a candidate.
“Portland would be on the list,” he said. “I think Portland is a possibility. You can think about the prospects on the West Coast probably as effectively as I can.”
That possibility would likely be met with opposition from the Mariners. It would cut directly into the Mariners’ television market, something they wouldn’t prefer. The organization has long counted Oregon and Portland as part of their fan footprint.
*** Manfred confirmed that he’s pushing regular season games being played outside the U.S. borders in the future, including in Mexico in 2018 and Europe in 2019.
“We would like to play abroad as much as possible,” he said. “We continue to believe an important of growing the game internationally is taking our regular season internationally. I think an opener in Japan is another one that will be on the board in the relatively near future.”