Change can be fun, or financial sucide. Here are some changes for MLB to consider.

    Fixin’ What Ain’t Broke
by Jim Silva
    So you know how sometimes people freak out because not every moment in a game, nor every game in a season, is like hanging by your fingernails from a cliff above a cove full of great white sharks sporting uzis? It appears that baseball is looking at how they can add some sharks and some uzis to the game to attract millennials. But let’s just say for the sake of argument that it’s a real thing – that maybe the stakes in baseball need to be raised so that the tension in every moment of every game of the entire season could be raised. Here are some areas that could be changed, and some fixes to play with that could make the game even more intense than it already is.
    One problem that people point to is the very long regular season, which one might refer to as the “regular season that disappointingly doesn’t go on for 365 days a year”. The reason many games are meaningless (in terms of the post-season) for some teams is that if you are out of the race for a playoff spot then all you have to play for is a shot at a better draft pick, and currently you earn that by losing. Trying to lose doesn’t make for good baseball. Right now the standings are based on the won-loss record of each team in the division to which you are uttering a collective, “duh”. For example, let’s say the Nationals are currently 19 games ahead of second place Miami in the National League East. With just over 20 games left in the season there is no suspense to any Nationals game, unless perhaps you care whether or not they catch the Dodgers for best record in the NL. Furthermore, aside from a slim chance to play a single wild card game, the Marlins aren’t really playing any meaningful games from here on out, so what does that say about the Braves, Mets, and Phillies who are behind the Marlins? That’s a lot of meaningless baseball and that’s only one of the six divisions!
    It’s great that the wild card race has added suspense for so many teams. Watching the Rockies chase down the Padres then beat them in a play-in game was one of the more exciting baseball fan experiences in recent memory. So that is one way in which baseball has made it worth it for teams to remain competitive if they aren’t in a position to win their division. But for teams who aren’t in a position to chase down a wild card spot there is no reason for them to compete in the second half, and in fact they are incentivized to tank because it rewards them with better draft picks if they finish lower. MLB rewards teams for being awful. I understand the reason for giving the worst teams the best position in each round of the draft, but it means dump trades will happen near the deadline and stars will leave teams that aren’t competitive and the transient nature of rosters hurts baseball. At a recent Rockies game you could see jerseys of many players who no longer play for the Rockies and their roster has been relatively stable. If you are A’s fan then you might have a Josh Reddick, Rich Hill, Sonny Gray, or Stephen Vogt jersey hanging in your closet – all players who have been sent packing in the last two years. For a good portion of baseball’s history, players stuck with one team for a decent chunk of their careers and that just doesn’t happen so much anymore. When you try to promote a player for fans to get behind and then the guy gets traded to the Dodgers, then signs as a free agent with the Yankees, then gets traded at the deadline to the Indians, fans aren’t gonna grow attached. It’s like when you were in your dating heyday and your married friends didn’t want to get too close to your new girlfriend because in three months – well you get the idea, but apparently MLB doesn’t get it because they haven’t done anything to address the problem, and in fact they have made it worse. So it’s a two-part problem – meaningless games and roster instability – with both parts needing to be addressed.
    Without trying to pile on poor (ridiculously rich) Major League Baseball, the idea that teams can have such disparate payrolls is just crazy. There are five teams with payrolls under $100 million, three teams with payrolls above $220 million and the other twenty-two teams sit in between – above $100 million, but below $200 million. Nobody would expect two businesses putting out the same product to try to compete playing by the same rules but with less than half the resources. That disparity contributes to the roster instability and makes it hard for casual fans to stick with their team through the hard times. So to summarize, Major League Baseball needs to address dump trades, payroll disparity, and making individual games matter more in order to increase the level of competition so that casual fans will be more invested in the regular season and willing to wed themselves to a team other than the freakin’ Yankees, Dodgers, or Cubs. Let’s start with tanking.
    Who doesn’t hate freakin’ dump trades! Grr! It’s hard not to feel bad for the fans of the dumping team, and bitter with the team that is the recipient of the dump for getting major league talent without giving up major league talent – a cow for some magic beans. Not that cows are necessarily better than magic beans, but the best case scenario has the cow pushing his new team to the playoffs while the magic beans take time to grow, or just flat out wilt in the heat of the Southern League. As a fan why should you go watch your team after they give away all their talented major leaguers when the stars of the future are playing in the minors? Why should you spend $175 for an authentic jersey with your favorite dude’s name and number on the back and then watch him play in the playoffs for some other team while your team fields a quad-A guy in his place? There are many implications to dump trades, but in the current atmosphere of MLB, they make total sense if you are a team clearly destined to finish out of the playoffs for the next handful of seasons. There is currently no reason for a team to finish in third place in their division when they can finish in last, pay much less in salary, and get a top draft pick. In fact it could be argued that Billy Beane and David Forst have done the A’s a disservice for failing to tank for the last several seasons. What are they doing trading away two of their top 20 prospects for Steven Piscotty when they could sign 53 year old Rafael Palmeiro for the minimum? So how to fix this abomination?
    The draft – that’s where it has to start. The primary reason teams tank is to allow them to build back up with the top prospects from the draft. Look at what the Astros did by ditching all their players with any value. Losing over 100 games in each of three straight seasons (2011 through 2013) and then losing another 92 games in 2014 allowing them to choose first in 2012, 2013, 2014, and second in 2015. If MLB wants to create more competitive races and create stability on rosters they need to stop rewarding teams for failing to compete, while also ceasing the practice of incentivizing dump trades. Sounds obvious, no? MLB should make it so that the regular season isn’t just a competition for pennants – teams will also play for their draft picks, making it just plain stupid to fail to finish as close to the top as possible. If a team traded away stars for really young players then they had better be planning to sign some free agents because otherwise they will be spiraling downward for a long time. Let’s assume there are 32 teams after expansion happens. The top group could consist of 10 teams since those will be clubs who are in the playoffs (if you include the wild card teams) and you don’t need to worry about them intentionally giving up a playoff spot to game the draft system. Playoff revenue is too much to give up as is the chance of making it to the World Series – even for a Wild Card team. Teams should be rewarded for sinking resources into chasing down the teams ahead of them.
So the 10 playoff teams would likely, but not necessarily,  pick at the bottom of each round because they would have so few ping pong balls. They would get a number of ping pong balls inversely correlated to their final position in the standings – so the playoff team with the fewest wins gets 10 while the team with the most wins in MLB gets 1 – simple. The picks after that would ordered by win totals, and the gap between the number of ping pong balls would increase by their position in the win total standings. So the worst team by wins starts the non-playoff group with 13 balls, the team with the second lowest win total 17, the team with the third lowest gets 22, etc.. Obviously, after a team has a pick in a round, the rest of their ping pong balls are voided from the system until the next round. The ping pong seeding method could be repeated for every round of the draft. Imagine how fun it would be to watch on TV if the draws for each round were live. MLB could market the live and televised draft and it would excite fans on draft day. They could even hold the draft during the All Star game week. And while they are at it why not make draft picks or ping pong balls tradeable commodities? “Hey, Brian, throw in three ping pong balls in the first round and you have yourself a deal.” “No way, other Brian. Ping pong balls are way too valuable to throw in, but I really want Chapman so how about two?” There are other shiny things in MLB’s pouch to incentivize competition, including international bonus pool money and revenue sharing money, so if that draft pick is just too tempting MLB could always sweeten the pot.
Here are a couple wee tables, based on last season’s standings, in case you are a visual learner…
This first table is for the teams who made the playoffs.
Team
Wins
Ping Pong Balls
Dodgers
104
1
Indians
102
2
Astros
101
3
Nationals
97
4
Red Sox
93
5
Diamondbacks
93
5
Cubs
92
7
Yankees
91
8
Rockies
87
9
Twins
85
10

This next table includes the teams that didn’t make the playoffs.

Giants
64
13
Tigers
64
13
Phillies
66
17
White Sox
67
22
Reds
68
28
Mets
70
35
Padres
71
43
Braves
72
52
Orioles
75
62
A’s
75
62
Pirates
75
62
Blue Jays
76
73
Marlins
77
85
Rangers
78
98
Mariners
78
98
Angels
80
112
Royals
80
112
Rays
80
112
Cardinals
83
127
Brewers
86
143

    This next solution is complicated, but not quite as messy as fixing the payroll problems (hint: that one involves socialism). In order to add meaning to literally every game of the season, the games and each series needs to be weighted. So instead of just purely ranking teams according to their won-loss record MLB would go to a point system, kind of like hockey. Yeah, sorry about mentioning hockey in a baseball article. Undoubtedly people are now wrapping themselves in the American Flag and singing Lynyrd Skynyrd songs while rocking themselves anxiously, and plotting an invasion of Canada. Unlike Hockey (feel better?), this system would take into account not only wins – while ignoring single losses – and reward sweeps and series wins. So a team that gets hot in the second half could put on a serious charge and maybe even catch a team with a better won-loss record. A single point would be awarded for a win, with zero points going to the losing team. A series victory would gain the winning team an additional point, while a sweep would be worth three points instead of one, while also costing the team on the other side of the broom two points. So let’s say the Dodgers were to go into AT&T Park for a three game series against the Giants in the final week of the season with a seven point lead. If the Giants sweep, they pick up one point for each win, plus the three point sweep bonus, while the Dodgers pick up zero points and lose two points for getting swept, and the Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the Pennant! Right now a series is meaningless in the sense of it existing as a mini series – it’s just three games in a row against the same team. How much more exciting would game three of each series be if the series was an entity unto itself? Teams would have to think about setting up their rotation to throw their stud in game three of a series in order to either pick up the sweep bonus or avoid the sweep penalty. Even a late season series against a last place team might draw a big crowd if there was potential for a sweep that could cost a contending team two points or earn them six points in the standings. Paired with the draft system above, it would have meaning even for the team out of contention. Through the games of September 10th, 2017, here are the standings for the AL East using the current method and the points method I am proposing. Since MLB currently has things like a four game or a two game series, there are times when no points went to either team for a series victory and when teams earned three “sweep points” for sweeping a two game series or a four game series. Since 162 divides evenly by 3, baseball could make every series a three game series, or the bonus could be adjusted to one bonus point for sweeping a two game series and five points for sweeping a four game series, although I like how clean dividing the season into a series of three game battles would be.  Anyway, those standings…

Standings under current system
Standings under point system
Boston —
Boston 117 points
New York – 3.5 games
New York 111 points
Baltimore – 10 games
Baltimore 91 points
Tampa Bay – 10.5
Tampa Bay 87 points
Toronto – 15 games
Toronto 78 points

The positions in the division aren’t different under the points system, but some of the separations between clubs are changed somewhat. If the Yanks went into Boston and swept three games they would be up by two points instead of a half game back. How exciting would that make game three of the series knowing that a six point swing was on the line? Toronto would have a tough time making up 4.5 games, but a sweep of Tampa Bay would put them just one point back for a better draft pick.
    This next one is tough – solving the payroll disparity between the haves and the have-nots. How do you tell billionaires that they have to share their money? You were warned that there was some socialism is this last change, so don your Bernie Backer t-shirt and get comfy on your hemp sofa as you read this last part.
For starters, there is no way the teams go for this, but depending on how the details are presented, the players could be really excited by this proposal – still, not gonna happen. I am proposing that all the teams put all of their money into one pot and split it exactly evenly. Uh huh – all their money including television revenues, gate, sales of team paraphernalia – everything. They would be operating as one entity. All teams pulling for the good of the league because they would become the league. Players would share revenue based on a formula instead of fighting against the owners for whatever the owners are willing to part with. It would make the league and all the teams in the league healthy and put them on the same financial level. If a team didn’t perform, nobody could blame it on a lack of money. They could blame their team-building strategies, the manager, and the players, but you couldn’t point to the disparity in revenue as the cause for one team dominating or one team flailing. Additionally, each team would have a hard salary cap and a hard salary floor in a narrow band so that, even with fluctuations in salary from season to season all teams would be in the same ballpark every year. Now I am fairly confident that there is no way teams with huge revenues would go for complete revenue sharing. A more realistic solution would be to just employ a hard cap and floor system with a band that narrows from year to year until a sweet spot is achieved. Competition is good for baseball, or so the owners would have you believe otherwise why increase the number of playoff spots with the Wild Card? By removing the financial chasm that currently exists fans would get to see exactly how good their organization really is. For years, A’s fans have wondered what Billy Beane could do with the Red Sox payroll and my plan would help baseball answer that question.
    There is no question that baseball has some issues to deal with even at this time when owners are making money hand over fist. I have only tackled a few of the issues in this article while avoiding the issues that baseball is already tackling, like pace of play and cheating (performance enhancing drugs). Some of the more radical in-game changes, like going to seven innings, or decreasing the length of the regular season would risk alienating the rabid fan base in an attempt to engage casual fans. So one warning to the commissioner – If baseball changes the game itself in an attempt to draw millennials or casual fans, you might permanently damage your strong base. Don’t rob Peter (Angelos) to pay Paul (Blair).