Rob Manfred talks Pete Rose letter, FTX partnership, MLB rule changes and more

NEW YORK — Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday afternoon he was “absolutely confident” that the Mets and Yankees were above board in their communications about Aaron Judge.

The Athletic reported on Wednesday night that the Players Association reached out to MLB following a Nov. 3 story on SNY, the Mets television network’s website, that said the Mets and Yankees “enjoy a mutually respectful relationship, and do not expect to upend that with a high-profile bidding war.” Per the collective bargaining agreement, clubs cannot work in concert to keep free agent prices down.

“I’m absolutely confident that the clubs behaved in a way that was consistent with the agreement,” Manfred said at MLB’s headquarters, where he held a press conference following the league’s quarterly owners’ meetings. “This was based on a newspaper report. We will put ourselves in a position to demonstrate credibly to the MLBPA that this is not an issue. I’m sure that’s going to be the outcome. But obviously we understand the emotion that surrounds that word (collusion) and we’ll proceed accordingly.”

MLB is looking into the matter, but Manfred said he isn’t personally involved in the league’s investigation at this point in the process. The MLBPA has the right to file a formal grievance if it chooses.

Here’s more from Manfred’s comments to reporters, which also included the announcement that Globe Life Field in Arlington will host the 2024 All-Star Game.

Pete Rose’s recent letter

Manfred’s position on Pete Rose has not changed after Rose recently sent a letter to the commissioner asking for forgiveness for betting on the sport.

“I believe that when you bet on baseball, from Major League Baseball’s perspective, you belong on the permanently ineligible list. When I dealt with the issue, the last time he applied for reinstatement, I made clear that I didn’t think that the function of that baseball list was the same as the eligibility criteria for the Hall of Fame. That remains my position. I think it’s a conversation that really belongs in the Hall of Fame board. I’m on that board, and it’s just not appropriate for me to get in front of that conversation.”

Wrote Rose in his letter: “I am writing today for three reasons. First, because at my age I want to be 100% sure that you understand how much I mean it when I say that I’m sorry. Second, to ask for your forgiveness. And third, because I still think every day about what it would mean to be considered for the Hall of Fame.”

Playing rule changes beyond 2023

MLB is considering potential rule changes for 2024, but Manfred did not want to float ideas at this stage. It sounds possible, though, that potential changes for 2024 might not be as heavy as those for next year. MLB next season is banning the shift, instituting a pitch clock, restricting the number of times pitchers can throw over to check runners, and changing the size of the bases.

“I will say this,” Manfred said, “I am aware — cognizant may be the best word — that we’re doing a lot next year. And sometimes you need to make sure you see how — it’s a lot of big changes next year. And I think they’re really important. I think they’re gonna make the game better. But we need to watch carefully how they unfold. That’s an important variable in terms of what’s next.”

FTX partnership, patches

In June 2021, MLB announced that the first sponsor of umpire patches would be FTX, which was also established as the “Official Cryptocurrency Exchange brand of MLB.”

Following the high-profile collapse of FTX and the ensuing controversy around the head of the company, cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, Manfred said MLB would be more cautious moving forward.

“Obviously, the FTX development was a little jarring,” Manfred said. “We have been really careful in moving forward in this space. You know, we’ve tried to — we’ve been really religious about staying away from coins themselves, as opposed to more company-based sponsorships. We think that was prudent, particularly given the way things unfolded. We will, I think, proceed with caution in the future.”

Manfred declined to specify how much money MLB is losing in the FTX arrangement.

“The FTX deal was a meaningful deal for us. I don’t really want to go into more detail beyond that,” Manfred said.

Said Bankman-Fried in MLB’s press release announcing the partnership last year: “It’s an honor for FTX to be the first cryptocurrency exchange to be associated with the history and tradition of America’s national pastime. FTX.COM and FTX.US are excited to enter this first-of-its-kind partnership with Major League Baseball. At FTX, we strive each day to make a positive global impact, and there is no better partner for us to achieve this goal with than with MLB and its international fan base. We look forward to announcing further details of our long-term partnership throughout the remainder of this year.”

Manfred said it was “probably a pretty good bet” FTX patches would not be used next year.

Minor league bargaining

MLB and the MLBPA have made early proposals in minor league collective bargaining. Manfred said he hopes a deal, which will be the first for minor leaguers, will be done by the time the season starts.

“The natural timeline would be to try to get it done during the offseason,” Manfred said. “We always do better negotiating in the offseason. So I think that sort of the natural expectation would be to try to get something done before opening day.”

Centralized viewing destination for games

Where you can watch your favorite baseball team sometimes varies from night to night, and the variety of destinations can be frustrating to fans. The goal, Manfred said, remains to create a service where fans would have to do less bouncing around between channels, or streaming services.

“Ideally, we will get to a situation where there is a destination, either baseball-specific, or more than one sport, where people can go to know they’re going to be able to get games,” Manfred said. “That’s what I mean, when I say deliver to your fans, on a digital basis, the ability to watch games where they want to watch them, when they watch to watch them.”

A’s, Rays’ never-ending stadium drama

Rays owner Stu Sternberg told MLB’s executive council that the Rays continue to have conversations about building a new stadium “across the Tampa Bay region,” Manfred said. Manfred provided no update on the A’s stadium quest or the potential of a move to Las Vegas.

(Photo: Eric Hartline / USA Today)

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