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MLB 'open' to team expansion, Commissioner Rob Manfred says

For the first time in nearly two decades, Major League Baseball might consider expansion.

"I'm open to the idea," Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday.

Manfred, speaking to the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, said the league is evaluating the feasibility of cities interested in hosting a major league team. He declined to identify those cities.

"I think we are a growth business," Manfred said.

Whether the league truly intends to add teams -- or just wants to explore potential relocation options amid stalemated searches for new ballparks in Oakland and Tampa Bay -- remains to be seen. 

In February, Manfred told The Times that there had "not been a lot of talk about expansion" and that the best available markets in North America might be in Canada and Mexico.

Montreal's mayor has actively courted MLB to return to his city, and close to 200,000 fans have attended two exhibition games there in each of the last two springs, but Manfred alluded Tuesday to the fact the city has yet to determine where to build a new ballpark and how to pay for it.

"It's a long way from two exhibition games to 81 home games in a facility consistent with major league standards," he said.

MLB expanded to 30 teams in 1998, adding the Arizona Diamondbacks and the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Of the two runner-up location then, northern Virginia since has been served by the move of the Montreal Expos to Washington, and Orlando would not be considered because the Florida market largely has been a disaster for the league.

On other topics, Manfred said:

-- The average time of game is down nine minutes from last year, the largest annual decrease since 1965.

-- The league would not mandate any fan safety improvements before next season, but clubs are free to add netting before then if they choose.

-- He would be open to shortening the season but the loss of ticket sales and television revenue would make a schedule with fewer games problematic.

-- The league expects to announce a long-promised domestic-violence policy "shortly."

-- Instant replay will be made better quicker, but not by using robot umpires behind home plate.

"We are a ways away from the technology to call balls and strikes," he said, noting that the league reviews umpires with advanced technology not used on telecasts.

"The strike zone is adjusted for every individual batter, which is not the case on TV."

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