MIAMI -- Many of Major League Baseball's stars have been on display this week in Miami, but nobody has stood out more than Aaron Judge, the Yankees' rookie sensation who put on a show in winning Monday night's T-Mobile Home Run Derby.
During separate exclusive Q&A sessions with the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday afternoon in advance of the 88th MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark both expressed excitement about the prospects of Judge and other young players emerging as faces of the game.
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"Aaron Judge has been absolutely phenomenal," Manfred said. "There is no other word to describe it. He is a tremendous talent on the field, a really appealing off-field personality -- the kind of player that can become the face of the game."
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Monday's event marked the highest-rated Home Run Derby since 2009, with dynamic young stars such as Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Cody Bellinger and Miguel Sano putting on impressive power displays.
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"We sort of take the Home Run Derby for granted because we've done it for a long time, but it is a unique event for baseball," Manfred said. "The great thing about the Home Run Derby, it's the one thing we do on a national scale where you go out there and it's about you as an individual player. [Judge] certainly stepped up last night, but he wasn't the only one. There were some unbelievable performances."
Clark believes the game "is in a pretty special place right now" with the current crop of players.
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"I think we have an opportunity with the guys that we have to really move our game forward in that regard," Clark said. "You guys saw it last night, even some of the guys that were participating in the Home Run Derby. There's talent and personality there that is waiting to have its story told. I think we'll get there."
Manfred and Clark touched on a number of other subjects during their extensive Q&A sessions. Here are some highlights:
Home runs, home runs, home runs
Manfred admitted that while he doesn't know the exact reason for the game's uptick in power, he believes the idea of a juiced ball or an increase in the use of performance-enhancing drugs is not the culprit.
"This is one of those situations where I can't tell you that I know the answer," Manfred said. "Let me tell you what I do know: I do know that we have done more testing of the baseball in the last couple of years than ever has been done historically. I do know with absolute certainty that the baseball falls within the tolerance of the specifications that have existed for many years."
Manfred noted that the way the game is being taught and played has changed, with more of a tolerance for strikeouts and a greater emphasis on homers as the primary offensive tool than at any point before.
"The more important question for us is to figure out as much as we can about what's going on, and maybe even more important, to think about what it means to our fans and whether we need to do something to manage the change that's taking place organically," Manfred said.
While much of the national focus has centered on the state of the baseballs in use, Manfred introduced another potential theory, one that MLB is beginning to look into.
"One thing we're thinking about is bats," Manfred said. "We've kind of taken for granted that the bats aren't different, so we're looking at the issue of bats."
Clark said the increased quality of the wood used in bats has helped reduce the multi-piece fracture issues that previously existed.
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The deal with the DL
The introduction of the 10-day disabled list this season has been a major change for clubs, some of which have been aggressive to use it as a roster flexibility tool.
"I think the concept of the 10-day DL was a good one," Manfred said, "in the sense of, A, the clubs wanted it, and B, it gave clubs additional flexibility to deal with injuries and minimize the amount of time that great players may be outside the game to the detriment of fans. All those are positives.
"Unfortunately, and we saw some of this right around the All-Star break, any new rule, our guys figure out a way to manage it. I don't like some of the activity that's gone on in terms of the use of the 10-day DL, and we're having conversations about that internally."
In Clark's view, the 10-day DL has essentially been employed as expected, with the flexibility offered by the reduction from a 15-day minimum DL stint benefiting injured players.
"Oftentimes, that 15-day window -- having an injury that spans that entire window isn't often the case," Clark said. "But playing one man down for an extended period of time becomes a challenge for the club as well. Those five days make a difference, whether it's a strain or an ankle or any other tweak. Being able to come back sooner while not having the club play down has a benefit."
Pace of play
The discussion of pace of play continued on Tuesday, and while MLB and the MLBPA continue to discuss options, neither Manfred nor Clark offered any specifics regarding possible improvements.
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"If any one thing has been true about my career in baseball, it's that I'm a deal guy at heart," Manfred said. "I would much rather have an agreement than proceed unilaterally. That is particularly true when it comes to changes that affect the play of the game on the field, because only the players are in between those lines, not any of us."
Manfred suggested that while a surge in strikeouts hasn't hurt the game, the increase in bullpen usage has slowed the pace in many situations.
"Where it gets troubling from a fan perspective is tons and tons of strikeouts, no action, lots of pitching changes," Manfred said. "That combination is troubling to me."
Clark said players are willing to discuss changes to the game with the goal of making the sport better, though some would be hesitant to implement any radical changes.
"It's a delicate balance that you try to strike in improving the game while not changing it so much that even the current baseball fans don't recognize it," Clark said.
Passing the test
The baseballs aren't all that have been subjected to stringent testing, as Manfred and Clark each spoke on the league's Joint Drug Prevention And Treatment Program.
"It's absolutely clear that we have a state-of-the-art testing program," Manfred said. "And there is dramatically more testing going on than there ever has been in the past."
Clark expressed a similarly positive sentiment about the program.
"This is one of those areas where players have continued to push to make sure that we have the best testing policy around," Clark said. "At this point in time, they're being tested so often during the season, where there are testers in the stadium every day, nearly. Add to it the idea that you don't know when you're going to be tested or how many days in a row you're going to be tested. Our program is very good from that standpoint. The guys appreciate it."
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MLB has announced that the next two All-Star Games will take place in Washington, D.C., (2018) and Cleveland ('19), but Manfred said several cities are vying for the right to host the event in 2020 and beyond.
"We have a group of clubs that are interested [in the 2020 All-Star Game]," Manfred said. "We've moved into a much more competitive evaluation of those various bids, taking into account things like the cities' involvement. Have they built a new stadium for their club? Have they done particular things that are helpful to the club? The availability of key venues, convention centers and what not. The Cubs are certainly in the mix for that next up. I'll probably do three at once, is my current thinking. They're certainly in that mix, but there are way more than three clubs in that mix."
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.