The Major League Baseball season will start next week and it ought to be an interesting year. Overall, I feel the game is headed in the right direction. I was pleased to see tougher penalties for steroid users and I support the rule changes against collisions on the base paths. As far as competitive balance, the compensation draft picks and revenue sharing are a good place to start.
The one thing that I would change is the playoff format. Pittsburgh got screwed last year. Their record would have been good enough to win every other division but instead of an automatic ticket to the NLDS, they had a face a pitcher in the midst of one of the most dominating stretches in history. Not surprisingly, they were 1 and done in the wild card game.
My proposal is to add 2 expansion teams and go back to 2 divisions of 8 teams each per league. The 2 division winners get a strong home field advantage (2-1-2 format) and the next 2 best teams get in automatically. This way, a good 3rdplace team in a tough division can still get in. I dislike the play in game for 2 reasons. First, it’s possible for an 85 win team to ride their ace to victory over a 95 win team in a 1 and done scenario. Second, the 95 win team could be fighting for a division title on the last day of the season and have to use their ace to take a shot at it while a team 5 games back but locked into the wild card can rest key players. If there must be a play in game, the top wild card gets a bye while the 4th and 5th seeds duke it out. I would prefer a best of 3 with a doubleheader to a 1 and done.
Given the current economic agreements, it is indeed possible for a small market team to become a contender and remain one for several years. If a team is able to draft well and acquire high ceiling prospects in trades, a team can rebound from a 100 loss season within 2-3 years. One strategy to maintain a winning team is to give several promising 2nd or 3rd year players a long-term guarantee that will keep them with the team roughly through their age 31 season. It’s a risk for both parties. The player will usually end up with less money than they would have under arbitration or free agency while the team runs the risk of a bad contract with an under-performing player. Still, it’s usually a better option than the alternatives of allowing a top talent to walk after age 28 or overpaying for aging free agents.
Offering mega deals (7-8 years for $200M) to aging superstars is usually NOT a good idea. If a player was among the top 5 in the game during his prime, he is likely to maintain above-average production but is unlikely to justify the contract especially once he is pushing 40 years old. This is especially true now in the post-steroid era. Many teams end up trying to trade such players and having to eat part of their salary. I personally would not sign a player to a long-term contract that extends him beyond 36 or 37. A couple of 1 or 2 year deals for veteran players with a high average annual salary could work out well. A lot of players are willing to take such a deal especially if they are coming off a down year knowing that a rebound will boost their market value the next time around.
IMHO, there’s a bit too much of that nowadays. If you were to look at the opening day roster of your favorite team from 2014, chances are only about 10 of the 25 are still with the team No, there’s no way the reserve clause will be re-instituted but I’d like to see some incentives for teams to keep players that came up through their own minor league system. How about a system in which home grown players do not count towards the luxury tax and allow a greater amount of revenue sharing to the team.
In the NFL, teams can give long-term high dollar contracts to veterans knowing that a large portion of the salary is NOT guaranteed. Many of those players will be cut before the contract is up or re-negotiated to stay with the team. In baseball, contracts are fully guaranteed. IMO, there should be some reform there. Let’s say a team signs a 33 year-old to a 5 year deal and he falls off a cliff almost immediately. Should that team be stuck with the bad contract? It can be a deterrent to overpaying free agents but a player who provides little-no value does not deserve to be paid like a star. My compromise is a 50% guarantee. If a $20M player is released, the team is only on the hook for $10M and if another team signs him, the original team pays half the difference in the contract.
I’d also like to see more incentive based contracts such as this scenario:
-Small bonus for 150 IP and a sub-4 ERA
-Larger bonus for 180 IP and sub-3.50 ERA
-Mega bonus for 200 IP and sub-3.00 ERA.