MLB's Rob Manfred pushes for more star pitchers in next WBC

Japan walks it off to set date with Team USA in the WBC final (1:00)

Munetaka Murakami rips a walk-off, two-run double to center field as Japan defeats Mexico 6-5. (1:00)

MIAMI -- The World Baseball Classic, which has produced a string of exhilarating games and enthusiastic crowds, will "100 percent" return in 2026, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday, moments before Team USA and Japan squared off in the championship game from LoanDepot Park.

Before then, Manfred said, he would like to see more stars playing in the tournament, particularly on the pitching side.

"It's great the guys that we have," Manfred told a small scrum of reporters, "but I'd like to see pitching staffs that are of the same quality as our position players."

A long list of star position players decorated rosters throughout the World Baseball Classic, but a lot of the sport's best pitchers either did not participate or faced tight restrictions regarding their usage, especially in the late stages of the tournament.

The volatility of pitcher health, coupled by the timing of an event that is playing its most important games at a time when pitchers navigate strict schedules in preparation for the season, has made it difficult for national teams to deploy arms at appropriate times. MLB hopes to convince major league teams to be more cooperative with their pitchers in future events.

"It's not lobbying," Manfred said. "It's having facts to support it -- that pitching in high-leverage situations like these are, that actually helps players develop."

Moving the event, either to the middle of the regular season or the end of it, is unlikely, a stance both Manfred and Tony Clark, head of the MLB Players Association, agree on.

"We have talked about timing until your head hurts," Manfred said. "It's just no perfect time. We can't really do it during the playoffs because so many players would be down. We have talked about something in the middle of the season. I think on balance, although it's not perfect, this is probably the right place for it."

The World Baseball Classic has featured several thrilling games, including, most recently, a dramatic comeback from Mexico against Puerto Rico, a back-and-forth contest between the U.S. and Venezuela, and an exhilarating walk-off by Japan in Monday's semifinal. Fifteen games have been played at LoanDepot Park, site of the late stages of the tournament, and 11 of them were sold out.

Manfred said the excitement around the event has been "beyond my expectations."

As for whether it can ever rise to the level of the World Cup?

"I don't foresee or actually want the tournament to be bigger than our traditional format," Manfred said. "The World Series is always gonna be the World Series, and I don't see it as an either or proposition. This is a different kind of competition. We do it to grow the game and internationalize the game."

This year's World Baseball Classic did not incorporate the rules introduced by MLB for the 2023 season, including a pitch clock, shift restrictions and bigger bases, largely because they're new and other leagues throughout the world don't utilize them. The next event could incorporate them, but that will depend on the style of play in Japan, South Korea and elsewhere by that point, Manfred said.

First, though, MLB has to solidify its own.

The league will announce what Manfred called "a series of clarifications" to the new rules in the coming days. The adjustments aren't expected to constitute rule changes; it will largely involve tweaks to when the pitch clock will begin based on specific in-game occurrences, part of which has been expressed by players through the MLBPA, sources said.

"On one hand, we are prepared to make adjustments based on input," Manfred said. "On the other hand, we wanna give it a chance to see how it plays out exactly over a period of adjustment in some regular-season games before we make any significant alterations."