Chicago Tribune

The Rob Manfred era of Major League Baseball is entering its final years. On Friday, Manfred announced his current five-year contract will be his last as MLB's commissioner, and he will retire in 2029. Manfred, 65, has been commissioner since officially succeeding Bud Selig in Jan. 2015. He will be stepping away at age 70.

"You can only have so much fun in one lifetime," Manfred said Friday. "I have been open with (the owners) about the fact that this is going to be my last term."

Manfred is deeply unpopular with baseball fans -- he's booed each time he appears publicly -- though the fact of the matter is the next commissioner is very likely to operate the same way. Maybe that person will be a better public speaker than Manfred and not come off as condescending, but the job itself will not change.

With the caveat that a lot – A LOT – can and will change over the next five years, here are five potential candidates to replace Manfred come 2029, listed alphabetically.

1. Theo Epstein

Minority owner and part-time advisor, Fenway Sports Group

Epstein, the man who ended historic World Series droughts with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, has been speculated as a future commissioner for years now. He joined MLB in 2021 and consulted with the commissioner's office on on-field matters until leaving to join Fenway Sports Group earlier this month. If nothing else, Epstein would command instant respect in a high profile role. His track record speaks for itself. Whether the owners feel he's cutthroat enough to accomplish their goals – and whether Epstein even wants the job – is another matter.

2. Noah Garden

MLB's deputy commissioner, business and media

Baseball's media landscape is changing and the future of streaming and direct-to-consumer packages might be the biggest matter facing the league in Manfred's final years and his replacement's early years. Garden oversees critical departments such as broadcasting, corporate partnerships, sports betting, etc. The sport's core money-making ventures, basically. His experience in the media and broadcasting world could work in his favor when the time comes to name Manfred's replacement.

3. Dan Halem

MLB's deputy commissioner, baseball administration

The early favorite to succeed Manfred. Halem started with MLB in 2007 and has been the league's chief labor negotiator since 2014, when he replaced Manfred upon Manfred taking over as commissioner. Halem was at the table with the MLBPA during the 2021-22 lockout. Manfred began his career as outside counsel and then became MLB's chief labor negotiator under Bud Selig. Halem is ostensibly being groomed to replace Manfred the same way Manfred was groomed to replace Selig.

4. Morgan Sword

MLB's executive vice president, baseball operations

Sword works primarily in the world of on-field matters. He was a central figure in getting the sport back up and running amid the pandemic in 2020, and he's also working on various rule changes. Stricter enforcement of the foreign substance role, an overhaul of the minor leagues, the pitch clock, larger bases, etc. Sword played a role in making all that happen. Also, Sword is not yet 40, so he is a young executive who could potentially step in as commissioner and hold the job for a very long time, providing stability.

5. Tom Werner

Chairman, Boston Red Sox

Werner was the runner-up to Manfred in 2014, when Manfred needed six rounds of voting to get approved. That was MLB's first contested vote for a new commissioner in almost 50 years. Werner, who has a background in broadcasting, could again be a candidate this time around, though he is several years older than Manfred. Manfred is planning to retire at 70. Werner is 73. It seems unlikely the owners would approve a commissioner who may be only a few years away from retirement himself. Never say never, but Werner would appear to be a long shot candidate to replace Manfred.