Rob Manfred holds court at spring training media day

MLB

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TAMPA, Fla. — Rob Manfred has had enough fun, or so he says.

On Thursday at the New York Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, the divisive commissioner of Major League Baseball offered his most overt statement yet about the end of his tenure. In response to a question about his future, Manfred, 65, indicated that his upcoming term as commissioner will be his last. After the 2028 season, there will be a new top man in baseball.

“I just started a five-year term. That math, right? That makes me 70 years old. You can only have so much fun in one lifetime,” he joked to a room of media outlets. “I have been open with [the 30 MLB franchise owners] about the fact that this is going to be my last term.”

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It was clear, given the nature of his comments, that Manfred did not intend for this revelation to become major news. After his news conference, he appeared taken aback by the attention he’d just generated. This was far from a preplanned announcement. However, Manfred’s admission Thursday was far and away the most definitive timeline the commissioner has given publicly.

Last July, MLB’s 30 club owners voted to extend Manfred’s contract through the 2028 season. Around that time, he told reporters, including The Athletic’s Evan Drellich, that he has “what I regard to be the best job in the world. My current thinking is I’d like to continue to do it.”

Whether something changed Manfred’s mind in the past seven months or this was always the plan or he’s using a lack of public interest as potential leverage with team owners remains to be seen. Much can and will change between now and 2028, but it’s worth noting that Manfred reportedly makes around $25 million annually in his role — not a bag of cash easily left behind.

On the possibility of a free-agency deadline

While his remark about an eventual departure is grabbing headlines, that wasn’t the only notable part of Manfred’s annual spring training address. Asked about the glacial pace of this winter’s free-agent market — reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, Matt Chapman and Cody Bellinger are all still available — Manfred pointed toward the possibility of a free-agency deadline.

“We would prefer to have a free-agent signing period, ideally, probably in December, with a deadline that drove people to make their deals,” he said.

Manfred said the league has made similar proposals to the MLB Players Association, proposals that “were not warmly received.” (It’s no surprise that the union is averse to any type of arbitrary deadline that could remove leverage and drive prices down). While such a deadline could certainly make MLB free agency a more compelling entertainment product, there’s no obvious incentive for players or agents to do so.

On the league’s new jerseys

The free-agent pool remains frozen over, but discussion about MLB’s new uniforms is creating quite a bit of heat. The Fanatics-made Nike duds — officially called the Nike Vapor Premier jerseys — look and feel cheaper than previous versions. Also, with the MLB logo on the back of the uniform larger and moved down a few centimeters, the nameplate fonts are much, much smaller, creating a wonky, disjointed aesthetic that is frustrating fans and players alike.

Asked whether the league is aware of the backlash, Manfred played politician.

“Well, we always pay attention to what people are saying about any new initiative. And with a new initiative, there’s going to be some negative feedback,” he said. “I think after people wear ’em a little bit, I think they’re going to be really popular.”

Lastly, Manfred’s comments about the Oakland A’s impending move to Las Vegas are sure to ruffle some feathers. When asked by Yahoo Sports how the league plans to maintain a presence in Oakland after the A’s leave town, Manfred pointed across the Bay.

“First of all, we do have a major-league team in the Bay Area,” he said. “It’s not like there is not an available option. The Giants obviously still play there.”

While Manfred also pointed out MLB’s community involvement and youth programming in the East Bay as evidence of the league’s commitment to the region, the implication that A’s fans should simply ditch their green and gold caps for black and orange is sure to rub Oakland die-hards the wrong way.

As for where the A’s will play between the expiration of their lease at the Coliseum at the end of 2024 and Opening Day 2028? Manfred’s guess is as good as yours. Multiple deadlines have already passed for the organization to find a temporary home, and Manfred was again adamant that plans need to be finalized by this summer in order for MLB to sufficiently prepare next season’s schedule.

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