Commissioner favors stronger presence in Canada, September callup changes
By Paul Hagen
TORONTO -- Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope that negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement can conclude before free agency opens, and he added that he'd favor changes in the rule that allows rosters to be expanded in September.
Manfred, speaking Tuesday night before the American League Wild Card Game at Rogers Centre, also affirmed the importance Major League Baseball places on having a strong presence in Canada, and he said he believes Montreal is a strong candidate for potential expansion.
"I don't think 18 pitchers in a game is a good thing," Manfred said, noting that any changes must be bargained. "September callups were a non-controversial item for many, many years. I think that the controversy has arisen because of the changes that have taken place in the game and the way the game's played, particularly the use of so many relievers, so many matchups, has made the presence of the extra players so much more visible.
"It's brought attention to the pace of our games, and I do believe that a reform of those rules, while protecting the benefits that are available to players [makes sense]. I'm not looking to take away service time or anything like that. But I do think it would make sense to get to a situation where we played our September games closer to the rules that we play with the rest of the year."
Another issue that must be discussed during collective bargaining is free agency. Until there's a new Basic Agreement, Manfred said it's unclear what rules will govern free agency. As it stands, players who file for free agency can sign with other teams five days after the World Series ends. A week after that is the deadline for players to accept a qualifying offer, a decision that impacts whether or not the former team gets a compensatory Draft pick if the player signs elsewhere.
"I do think that there's a natural deadline there," Manfred said. "The idea of operating under the new agreement is an appealing one. So let's hope we do it."
In the meantime, the postseason is under way in Toronto, which has seen a baseball renaissance in recent seasons. The Blue Jays made it to the postseason for the second straight year and led the AL in attendance.
"The idea of having Toronto, the market here, buzzing again is a huge boost for Major League Baseball," the Commissioner said. "I saw some survey information today that fan avidity in Canada for the Blue Jays is the highest of any of our markets. I know during the All-Star Game some of the best ratings we had was all across Canada. And those are just tremendously positive stories for baseball. We want a strong Canadian franchise in Toronto."
Manfred pointed out that Montreal was also once home to a vibrant franchise and that there are reasons to believe it could be again, although expansion won't be on the agenda until after Tampa Bay and Oakland resolve stadium issues.
"The idea of a broader international footprint, another team in Canada, is appealing to us," he said.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.