Rob Manfred's Biggest Obstacles, To-Do List as Next MLB Commissioner

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2014

Rob Manfred's Biggest Obstacles, To-Do List as Next MLB Commissioner

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    After much deliberation, Major League Baseball has officially named current chief operating officer Robert Manfred as its successor to retiring commissioner Bud Selig.

    Manfred was named to his current position last September, but prior to that he served as executive V.P. of labor relations. In that role, he ran point on the last three collective bargaining agreements, helping to avoid another work stoppage.

    That gives him a good working relationship with the MLBPA, and that may well have been the single biggest chip in his favor when it came to choosing a replacement for Selig.

    This is not meant to be an in-depth look at who Rob Manfred is, though. Instead, it's an overview of what the new commissioner will be dealing with when he officially steps into his new position once Selig's contract expires in January. 

    Think of it as a to-do list of sorts, for what he'll be looking to accomplish/deal with in the months and years to come.

Biogenesis 2.0

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    With the arrest of Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch and a handful of his associates, it has come to light that there are more players with ties to PEDs through the now-defunct health clinic.

    A grand total of 14 players were originally suspended for their ties to Biogenesis, led by the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta.

    Now, according to T.J. Quinn of ESPN, the DEA has informed the league that five new names are linked to the clinic.

    From the ESPN article:

    One source said five players have been identified during the investigation, although it is not clear whether all five are on major league rosters. Two law enforcement sources said the evidence that the players received banned substances was compelling and that they expect MLB to suspend the players.

    There is obviously a precedent set after 12 of the 14 previously suspended players received 50-game bans, but this is still something that Manfred may be forced to confront shortly after taking office.

Tweaks to the Replay System and Pace-of-Play Concerns

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    One of the biggest stories last offseason was the implementation of the new replay system, and it's something that will likely be addressed once again this winter.

    For the most part, the new system has been a welcome addition, helping to eliminate some of the human error that led to a number of games end in controversial fashion during the 2013 season.

    That being said, some issues still need to be ironed out, and chief among them is how a manager goes about challenging a play.

    Under the current rules, managers are free to amble out to the umpire while they await word from the dugout on whether they should challenge. They are then free to simply return to the dugout if they're told not to request a replay.

    The other major issue is the length of the reviews. While many are quick decisions, there have been several occasions where replays exceed five minutes this season, and that has to change.

    For anyone that has ever spoken ill of the sport, "too slow" and "too boring" generally top his or her list of detractions. This isn't helping.

    Even die-hard fans of the game can admit that there are pace-of-play issues at times, and in a game that already routinely exceeds three hours, the added time from manager field visits and lengthy replays is a legitimate issue.

    It's also a simple fix.

    If a manager leaves the dugout, he has to challenge the play. End of story. No more exploratory visits to the field.

    And cap replays at something like three minutes. If the guys in New York haven't seen anything by then, it's fair to assume there is not conclusive evidence to overturn the call.

    This all sounds easy enough, and there's no reason to think it won't be, but it's nonetheless something that Manfred will need to address in his first offseason at the helm.

Find a Way to Interest the Next Generation of Baseball Fans

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    Attention spans are shorter than ever these days, and that goes double for what will be the next generation of sports fans.

    We are living in the social media age, and that is something that Major League Baseball will need to fully embrace as it looks to hook the young audience that will make up the core of its fanbase in the next 10-20 years.

    That means making baseball more accessible and getting creative when it comes to marketing the sport to kids.

    While that may not come across as the most pressing issue for the new commissioner, there is no question it's something he will have to address if MLB is going to continue to grow and flourish.

    "Baseball needs to become more social media relevant and connect to young sports fans. They need to pull a Bleacher Report, so to speak," Bleacher Report's deputy MLB editor Stephen Meyer said.

    Love or hate what is done in sports media today, those that have been most successful have been quick to adapt to the rapid changes of the digital age of sports coverage.

    My point being, if Major League Baseball is going to maintain its current level of popularity and perhaps even build on it, it will need to do whatever it takes to cater to the young sports fans that will make up the fanbases of tomorrow.

Pitcher Safety

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Dan Jennings has been one of the breakout relievers of 2014, posting a 1.03 ERA in 38 appearances for the Miami Marlins.

    He also became the latest pitcher to suffer a scary injury, when a line drive struck him in the head Aug. 7 in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

    The reported speed of the ball off the bat? 101 miles per hour.

    According to William Weinbaum of ESPN's Outside the Lines, Jennings was the seventh pitcher in the past two years to be hit in the head by a line drive.

    Tampa Bay Rays starter Alex Cobb missed 51 games in the middle of a breakout year last year after being on the wrong side of a liner, while Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman wound up needing a titanium plate inserted to stabilize a facial fracture above his left eye after a gruesome spring training injury.

    Things have not quite reached epidemic proportions, but there has certainly been a spike in the number of occurrences of late, and that should be enough for the league to begin seriously exploring ways to improve pitcher safety.

    "Our hopes are that they come up with something that pitchers can use without interfering with their mechanics," MLBPA assistant general counsel Bob Lenaghan said, per Weinbaum.

    San Diego Padres reliever Alex Torres was the first in the majors to try out a padded hat, something that has become a bit more commonplace at the youth level. But there is still a ways to go in finding a viable answer for protecting pitchers across the league.

Globalization of the Game

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    The "globalization of the game" is something that gets talked about a lot in the NBA, but not so much when it comes to Major League Baseball.

    That's due in part to the fact that baseball is already fairly widespread.

    There are already highly competitive professional leagues in Japan, South Korea and Cuba, while countries like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Colombia continue to serve as pipelines on the international market.

    However, untapped markets still remain, and with that in mind, we could soon see regular-season games being played in Europe.

    Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Journal shared that news via Twitter: "Selig also is hopeful for an announcement soon of a MLB reg season game in Europe. Lg has eyed, London, Netherlands, among other areas"

    After opening the regular season with a two-game series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers in Australia this year, a showcase somewhere in Europe definitely makes sense as a next step.

    Cricket is wildly popular in London, so there would seem to be an obvious market for baseball there. Really, though, any first step toward bringing baseball to Europe would be a nice feather in the cap for Manfred.

Continue to Grow What Has Become a $9 Billion Industry

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    Major League Baseball reached the $8 billion mark in revenue for the first time last year, per Forbes' Maury Brown, up from $1.4 billion in 1995 following the strike-shortened 1994 season, and it could top $9 billion this season.

    "I have hopes for $9 billion. I don't know that we'll make that this year, but we may," Selig said in a conference call at the beginning of the year. "How high can it go? If this sport continues to make the progress at all levels, international and everything else ... it can go a lot higher."

    A big chunk of that revenue comes from TV deals, with the league's current national broadcast deals with ESPN, Fox and TBS alone accounting for roughly $1.5 billion of that income.

    Then you have the local TV deals that have been signed in recent years, including the massive 25-year, $8.3 billion deal the Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to with Time Warner Cable prior to the 2013 season.

    Given the current upward trend for local TV rights, that may very well wind up being a bargain five years from now, and if nothing else it's a sign of the moneymaking business that baseball has become just a decade after the strike.

    At the end of the day, baseball is a business, and priority No. 1 for the new commissioner will be overseeing that business and making sure it continues to be highly profitable and grow.