Many challenges for Manfred as MLB commissioner

Rob Manfred was elected as the next Commissioner of Baseball by MLB owners and Max Scherzer struck out 14 in a Tigers win over the Pirates.

Winning the support of baseball’s owners is no easy task, but it’s just the beginning for Rob Manfred, officially MLB’s next commissioner as of Thursday.

A massive collection of challenges await Manfred (MLB’s chief operating officer), who defeated Tom Werner (part owner of the Boston Red Sox) after Tim Brosnan (MLB’s executive vice president for business) withdrew his name from consideration.

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Manfred’s to-do list begins with the obvious. A commissioner isn’t much good to his employers – the owners – if he can’t generate revenue and increase franchise values. That’s why Selig pointed to “the changing of the economics of the game” when asked for his greatest accomplishment last month. Teams enjoy record revenues and relative parity, and Selig’s rightfully proud of those developments.

But while continued economic growth is necessary for the new commissioner’s success, it’s not sufficient — not even close.

Manfred will have to grow the game domestically and internationally, overseeing its well-being in ways that might at times infuriate the very owners who pay his salary. The commissioner must also be a visionary who can make tough calls for the good of the game regardless of whether they please all owners in the immediate term. Like Selig, he must be a consensus builder capable of bringing together big egos with competing interests.

It’d be an understatement to suggest that the job comes with a ton of challenge. Here are the big ones:

Stay profitable
MLB owners have differing views on many subjects, but they can agree on this: Manfred must continue generating revenues from television and multimedia ventures, find ways to fill the seats in stadiums across the country and ensure that owners and players find ways to split the game’s revenues fairly.

Grow the game internationally
The World Baseball Classic has been a positive step for baseball, which must continue encouraging international growth in South America, Asia and Europe. Baseball’s not a global game to the extent that basketball and soccer are, but increasing its reach would improve the talent level on the field and increase revenue opportunities off of it.

Find common ground with the MLBPA
While baseball has enjoyed unprecedented labour peace in recent years, negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement will have a distinctly fresh tone. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark has yet to oversee a CBA negotiation, and while Manfred has extensive experience in labor talks, he’ll still be a rookie commissioner. Owners will undoubtedly fight for every dollar possible, yet the commissioner must prioritize labour peace and good relations with the MLBPA to avoid a potentially harmful work stoppage.

Among the issues both sides must consider: how to ensure that star young players aren’t held in the minor leagues for service time reasons and how to ensure that draft pick compensation rules don’t have a disproportionately large impact on a handful of unfortunate free agents.

Improve the pace of games
If there’s a way to shorten baseball games without compromising the spirit of the game, Manfred should go for it. Under Selig, Joe Torre worked to keep the pace of game crisp, and those efforts must continue. Whether it’s limiting mound visits, condensing the replay process or cutting down on the time between pitches, the game needs to be tightened up.

Refine the amateur draft
Selig has advocated for an international draft, and while the logistics would be complex, it still seems like a possibility. More immediately, MLB and the MLBPA should work with the NCAA to ensure that drafted players are allowed agents and to create pre-draft medical reports for amateurs whenever possible.

Find long-term homes for the Rays and Athletics
Neither the Tampa Bay Rays nor the Oakland Athletics have an appealing long-term stadium (the Athletics’ recent lease extension notwithstanding). Manfred will aim to establish new homes in their current markets and silence rumblings about potential moves to cities like Montreal or Nashville (places that warrant serious consideration if MLB decides to expand beyond 30 teams).

Honourable mentions
Is there any way of preventing pitching injuries? How can MLB work with the players to keep performance-enhancing drugs out of the game? Should MLB expand to 32 teams? Can MLB finesse the current replay system to maximize accuracy and minimize delays? Why not have the Futures Game on the day following the All-Star Game? Would some sort of draft lottery discourage tanking?

It’s a tough job, no question about it. The reward for gaining the support of MLB’s owners? Not only does the commissioner have the power to shape the future of the sport, baseball’s owners reportedly paid Selig upwards of $20 million per year.

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