The deadline for MLB trades has come and gone. The excitement of a pennant race is looming for baseball contenders, but fans of the teams at the bottom of the rankings have nothing to wait until next season.
Given that we will have a full game schedule this Friday, half of the teams playing are essentially out of competition. But what if an August game between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers had meaning? The same goes for the exhausted Chicago Cubs against the Miami Marlins.
And could Major League Baseball create a system that brings those 15 teams closer to the playoff race in the first place?
Ask any Major League Baseball player what their top priority is as the players union and MLB try to reach a new collective bargaining agreement before the current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, and you will often hear a version of Same answer: Have all 30 teams compete each season.
“You’re going to hear a lot from us,” St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and executive board member of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) Andrew Miller said recently. “I think everyone is going to be fed up with that phrase. As players, we must compete every time we are between the lines. That is what is expected of us. As a player, you hope your team is doing the same.”
That is why the word “rebuild” has a negative connotation throughout sport. The complete gut-style rebuilding that has become commonplace throughout baseball inherently means low payrolls and a team with no hope of competing for a playoff spot for a few years. Under the current system, prospects who graduate from Triple-A to the majors work for little money, but rarely win. That comes later, as do the higher wages. Players believe that an adjustment is needed.
“The 30-team competition will solve a lot of what happens in the markets,” Miller continued. “If everyone is trying to win the free agent market, it will definitely be better for the players. It solves a lot of problems rather than just, ‘Let’s add dollars here; let’s add dollars there.
With that in mind, ESPN asked baseball executives, players, agents and other experts how they would get all 30 teams to simply try to win each season.
You have to rethink the draft
“Draft in reverse order,” said White Sox announcer Len Kasper. “The best team that doesn’t make the postseason gets the first pick. … A big problem in the industry right now is that September baseball can be very tedious. Having a series at the end of the year where a team can win two of three and getting the top pick in the draft is intriguing. “
This was a popular response among those of us who asked what could keep teams competitive and fans interested throughout the season. Would the Cubs have traded to everybody his all-star players if they had a chance to be the top pick in the draft next summer by playing better now?
August and September would still be about prospects for teams not making the playoffs, but managers and headquarters would have to weigh that against winning games to improve the draft position.
One player liked the idea of using a tiered lottery system for the 20 teams not participating in the playoffs.
“Under that scenario, the five teams with the best records that don’t play in the postseason have a chance to be the No. 1 pick,” he said. “The next five get 6-10 picks and so on.”
A former executive suggested a five-year rolling rule to determine the preliminary order. For example, in 2022, the league would use the combined records of the teams from 2017 to 21 to determine the order, not just this season as it is now. The worst record in the last five years would get the first pick. In 2023, they would use records from 2018 to 22. This would reduce the incentive to hit rock bottom for a year or two to get the first pick.
“Exploring the changes in how the draft order should be determined makes a lot of sense,” Cubs player representative Ian Happ said. “We are in favor of anything that encourages you to win.”
The draft format is among the elements of the labor agreement that MLB and the union are currently discussing, but there is no indication that the draft will move away from the current format that gives the No. 1 overall pick to the team with the worst record on last year.
Reimagining the draft also doesn’t solve another problem rooted in the number of teams choosing not to compete in a given season.
Incentives to invest and spend
Offseason spending, specifically the lack of it, by teams on a rebuild is what players want most to be addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement. They would like a robust free agent process in which more than a handful of organizations are involved with both the biggest names in the market and veteran players looking for a team.
Last offseason, the 10 worst-rated teams in baseball, according to Forbes, spent approximately $ 345 million on free agents last offseason. The 10 highest-rated teams spent $ 900 million.
The most obvious way to increase payroll, according to many in the game, is to have a minimum wage. This would require teams to have a minimum number of player salaries each season. That annual figure, according to one agent, could be calculated using the average television revenue per team divided by the 30 clubs or some subset of that formula. Let’s say it turned out to be $ 100 million this season. Eighteen of the 30 teams had a payroll of more than $ 100 million on Opening Day this season. The other 12 would have to increase theirs to meet that requirement.
Of course, the owners will not just accept a concept that forces them to distribute more money.
“A minimum wage generally comes with a cap,” Miller said. “We can appreciate it. We like the core of the system that we have. We think there are some adjustments that need to be made. But ultimately, when you talk about a salary cap or revenue share or whatever your words are, that doesn’t make it easy. things.
“‘Salary cap’ is a dirty word for us.”
Several current executives said that perhaps it was time for a revenue sharing system between the players and the league. They saw how the pandemic exposed inherent flaws when the two sides weren’t in concert.
Both the NBA and the NHL share the revenue between the players and the owners. When income increases, everyone benefits. And they all get hurt when they go down, as happened in 2020.
“We already have a limit,” said one player. “It’s called CBT [impuesto sobre el saldo competitivo, por sus siglas en inglés]”.
Another dirty word for players, many believe that CBT acts as a salary ceiling, artificially preventing even big-market teams from exceeding it often. In 2019, only three teams had payroll above the $ 206 million threshold for that season.
Teams have indicated that their budgets sometimes revolve around a desire to avoid the luxury tax, especially as the baseball system increases penalties for exceeding it in consecutive years.
Just last month, the Cubs paid first baseman Anthony Rizzo his total salary of $ 5.6 million for the remainder of 2021 as he traded it to the Yankees. New York can afford it, but it wanted to stay below the threshold. The same applies to Joey Gallo in a trade with the Texas Rangers.
“There is no better example of the impact of CBT on spending,” said one agent. “The Yankees were able to make the trade because they gave the Cubs and Rangers better prospects in return. Would they have signed Rizzo [si hubiera estado disponible en la agencia libre] last winter if that would have put them over the threshold? There was no one who wanted to pay that salary back then. Probably not”.
Still, others in the game reject the notion that CBT is de facto a salary cap. The trades would be much more difficult with a maximum hard limit. The current system at least allows players freedom of movement, with or without taxes.
Another change to the current system could force teams to spend more each offseason without resorting to the free agent market.
“Get players to pay earlier,” Miller said. “There are many ways to do it. Time-of-service manipulation will appear.”
Analytics has told executives, and subsequently owners, that 30-year-old players are entering their decline phase and, as a result, paydays for veteran free agents have run out. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, teams signed a total of 181 players who were 30 and older to multi-year agreements. That number dropped to 154 between 2016 and 2020. Under the current system, it’s an age when many players enter free agency for the first time.
“If managers think the game is younger, then players should get paid at a younger age,” said one American League player. “What’s the point of getting to free agency if the teams think you’ve already passed the best point of your career?”
Players would love for free agency to start earlier, which would also come with arbitration that would start earlier or maybe get eliminated. How would that push teams to spend more in the offseason?
“There are several ways,” said a prominent agent. “If free agency comes after four years, let’s say, you could be more aggressive in securing it with that long-term contract. Who wants to recruit and develop a player that is going to leave you so fast? If he’s a star, you could. be inclined to seek to win as much as you can while he is at his best.
“If you have a couple of those players that you can’t re-sign, then you may be more inclined to present a winning team while you have them under your control.”
When players enter free agency at a younger age, if their team doesn’t sign them to a long-term contract, they will also be more attractive to free agent suitors because they are still in their prime.
“Paying players early will have an impact on all of this,” one National League player said flatly. “I am convinced that it is an answer. But we will never know until we see it in action.”