Manfred: Moncada deal may renew international draft talk
By Phil Rogers
PHOENIX -- An international draft has long been a subject of conversation among Major League Baseball executives. That remains true, and Commissioner Rob Manfred believes that talk will be louder in the wake of the Yoan Moncada sweepstakes.
Outbidding the likes of the Yankees, Dodgers, Padres and others, the Red Sox agreed to a $31.5 million signing bonus for the rights to the 19-year-old Cuban shortstop on Monday, triggering a 100-percent tax that will cost Boston an additional $31.5 million.
Manfred said the $63 million commitment for the rights to a prospect speaks to the competitive nature of Major League owners.
"The size of the contract for a player of that age and stage, obviously it's a very rich agreement for the player," Manfred said during Monday's Media Day activities. "One thing that's always been clear about our clubs is they are overtly and aggressively competitive when it comes to securing what they regard to be premium talent. We all know, based on reports out there, that there was competition for the player."
Manfred acknowledged the possibility that MLB will renew its efforts to implement an international draft in negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association to replace the Collective Bargaining Agreement that expires after the 2016 season. He hinted that the Moncada sweepstakes could help drive the push.
"In terms of the international-acquisition system, I am of the view that is a topic on which we will continue to evolve," Manfred said. "I think there is a natural symmetry to the idea of having a single method of entry into the game -- a draft or [both] a domestic draft and an international draft, and over the long haul I suspect it will be a topic in 2016. The significance of that topic probably increased by some of the activity we've had recently."
Manfred also acknowledged that the deterrents built into the existing system haven't been "quite as effective as we had hoped for" in holding down bidding for entry-level international amateur players.
During the news conference, Manfred also said:
• The hope is that the recent pace-of-game initiatives will reduce the average time of game to less than three hours. It was a record three hours, eight minutes last season.
"The initiatives will be a success regardless of the outcome because I think they show the game is trying to be responsive to what we're hearing from our fans," Manfred said. "It is crucial at this point in the game's history that we hear what the fans have to say and take measured changes to be responsive to what we've hearing. In terms of quantitative, I certainly want to reverse the trend of increasing the length of the game. I'm really intent on the idea that we're going to have an average game time that's going to start with a two next year."
MLB will closely monitor the use of pitch clocks in Double-A and Triple-A as it considers whether more steps are needed in the future.
"I have said repeatedly that I think pace of play is going to be an ongoing, multiyear evolution,'' Manfred said. "I think there will be a series of changes over a period of time. We were pleased with the experiment in the pitch clock in the Arizona Fall League, pleased enough that we expanded it to Double-A and Triple-A. I have no set position beyond that at this point. The reason we are doing additional experimentation is to make sure we understand it really well before we made a decision. Obviously that's a bargaining topic [with the MLBPA] as well."
• That the increased use of technology in MLB could help baseball retain a younger fan base.
"We view the issues of attracting a younger audience and pace of game as related,'' Manfred said. "I have four children, all in their 20s. I have some passing familiarity with that generation. One thing I can say for sure is their attention span seems to be less than the rest of ours, and it's an issue we need to deal with to keep that fan base. I think there's more to it than just shorter though. You also have to enhance the fan experience in the ballpark and in our broadcasts by using technology because technology is the thing that engages young people most completely.''
• It is too early to conclude that measures like a smaller strike zone are needed to help increase scoring in the game.
"Players are really talented individuals," Manfred said. "Sometimes trends emerge, players adjust and what you think was going to be a problem turns out not to be a problem. We're really in the phase of trying to figure out if the drop in offense is a persistent problem or an aberration that will self correct. We're really nowhere on our preferences, priorities in effect to a solution because we haven't reached a conclusion that we have a problem yet. We have had some internal discussions about ways you might address this problem. We see that as a matter of good planning and foresight and nothing more at this point."
• Manfred looks forward to a time when the spotlight will be on Alex Rodriguez's contributions to the Yankees and not the suspension that cost him the 2014 season.
"I am interested obviously to see how Alex does in his return," Manfred said. "Having said that, I am most anxious to have the focus be on the play of the game on the field. We had plenty of focus on off-field activity with respect to Mr. Rodriguez. I'm hopeful that as the season wears on the focus will be on how he performs on the field."
• MLB will conduct education sessions with both Major and Minor League players this spring on domestic violence. Manfred said it is having ongoing negotiations with the MLBPA on the disciplinary components included in a domestic policy, and that he is hopeful an agreement will be in place before Opening Day.
• In a separate interview, Manfred also discussed the possibility of shortening the season.
"I don't think length of season is a topic that can't ever be discussed," Manfred told ESPN.com. "I don't think it would be impossible to go back to 154 [games]."
Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.