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Re-Organized Baseball


BaltimoreTerp

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This is an idea I've tossed around my mind for a while. It originally came to me for a column I wrote for my college newspaper, when I decided to try and figure out how to combine the present Major League teams into a relegation system similar to that of European (specifically English) soccer.

The original idea involved the 30 MLB teams divided into three ten-team leagues based on ability. The leagues would divide into five-team divisions, and both the top team in each division and the bottom team in each division would play a playoff series (one-versus-one, five-versus-five) to decide which team in each league would be promoted and which would be relegated. The series between the division winners in the top league would be the World Series.

That column was written back in 2006. Since then, I have learned a little more about the English soccer system, as well as heard some similar ideas from other sources. Many of them were on the Hangout, with the most notable voice being that of DrungoHazewood.

With this additional information and thinking, I have come up with an advanced idea for how to potentially re-organize the sport. I'm posting it now because an idea from the salary-cap thread brought it to the front of my mind, but I believe it is enough for a separate thread.

The first thing to say about this concept is that all of the present leagues would remain as they are to start. This includes the two major leagues as well as every level of the minors. In fact, the concept actually keeps much of the same organization as the present Organized Baseball.

However, all affiliation agreements between teams would be eliminated.

As it stands now, when an affiliation agreement between a minor- and major-league team ends, the minor-league team has two choices. Either resign with the major-league team or attempt to find a new team. In most cases, teams switch affiliations based on a decision by the major-league team (see the Great AAA Swap of 2007); in rare cases, the minor-league team will decide to switch (see Rochester refusing to resign with the Orioles).

The first major change in my system would be the addition of a third option: independence. A team, if it chooses, can become independent while staying in the same league. They would play the same schedule as before, only now they would have the same rights and responsibilities as a present major-league team when it comes to making money and finding talent.

The second major change is actually a relatively minor one: independent minor-league teams can affiliate with lower-level teams. For example, if Frederick decided to take their chances as an independent franchise instead of as an Orioles affiliate, they would be able to sign an agreement with, say, Bluefield as their own farm team.

Up to now, this has been more of a return to historical baseball before Branch Rickey's Cardinals created the farm system in the 1920s. However, the third major change is the unique one: promotion and relegation. If an independent minor-league team wins its league, they would be promoted to the next level up, while the team finishing last would be demoted.

To keep with the Frederick example, let's say they win the Carolina League while an independent Bowie team finishes last in the Eastern League. They would then switch places, with Frederick another step up to possibly becoming a major-league team and even able to affiliate with the team they were just a level behind.

A team could stop advancing at any time by re-affiliating with a higher-level team, or even remain affiliated at their present level in perpetuity if they wished. However, this idea would have two advantages.

First, a team that wishes to play at a higher level is given the chance for advancement, even all the way to the majors.

Second, a team would have a reason to not completely bomb a season or continue poor play for a long period: relegation to a lower league would equal less money to the team, especially as time goes on and the team starts losing their talent and it becomes harder to get promoted.

There are plenty of ways you could go off of this idea: eliminating regional rights of teams; implementing new economic systems; maybe even encouraging innovation within the sport.

Anyone have any thoughts, other than the obvious "Won't EVER happen," because that goes without saying? I'm curious how people think this could work IF implemented, and even how people would react to such a system as fans. Because, at the very base of everything, the reason for professional sports is for the entertainment of the fans.

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Sounds interesting. I don't understand how promotions would work for the minor league players though.

Like with Tillman in AAA as an expamle. If Norfolk decided to go independent, would Tillman stay with Norfolk or is he with the Orioles and they'd have to find a new affiliate for Tillman to play for?

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Sounds interesting. I don't understand how promotions would work for the minor league players though.

Like with Tillman in AAA as an expamle. If Norfolk decided to go independent, would Tillman stay with Norfolk or is he with the Orioles and they'd have to find a new affiliate for Tillman to play for?

He is under contract with the Orioles so he would go wherever the Orioles put him. Norfolk would have to go sign their own players.

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He is under contract with the Orioles so he would go wherever the Orioles put him. Norfolk would have to go sign their own players.

So if Norfolk went independent they would have to find 25 players to fill their roster and find a minor league team of their own?

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I think this could be a really good setup. The independent option would be a nice way for a minor league city to get a chance to become a major league city that otherwise would never get a chance under the current system.

It would give an incentive to the players to not slack off during a down season. Otherwise they could get their team along with their selves demoted to the "Minor league".

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Bullet points of the top of my head:

- Hybrid systems don't usually work. Teams and leagues would gravitate towards one model or the other. In the 1920s the Orioles were independent while most of the rest of the IL was becoming affiliated. The O's usually won the pennant by 10 or 20 or more games. The O's were eventually pressured into affiliation because the rest of the league couldn't keep up.

- I think few teams would take the independent option, and almost none at the higher levels. Actually, without promotion/relegation, I think this is how it works now. Before the advent of the Northern League in 1992 it was common for independent teams to exist in otherwise affiliated leagues. The 1987 Salt Lake Trappers won 29 consecutive games en route to destroying the Pioneer League as an independent team. Sometime in the 80s or early 90s Mike Veeck owned an independent Florida State League team called the Miami Miracle, that exploited a draft loophole to actually take part in the June amateur draft.

- The existing independent leagues give us insight into why I think my last point is true: their level of competition is somewhere between rookie ball and maybe AA (in the case of the Atlantic League or some of the Northern/American Assn teams). Most players in AA or higher think they still have a chance at the majors. They won't want to sign with a team that doesn't have a direct route to the majors.

- There's a catch-22. Getting good players means either paying them a lot, or having a direct route of promotion to the majors. AA or AAA teams aren't going to be able to compete with the major leagues for top talent, and even if they got someone there'd be tremendous pressure for them to sell that talent to the majors if they weren't realistically in line for promotion. I think something like that helped doom the old independent minors - most teams figured out that they could make more money (or at least more consistent money) selling the occasional Lefty Grove (or even lesser players) to the majors than they could by winning the Can-Am League twice in four years.

- Relegation is such a tremendous hit on finances that the major league owners would never sign up to it. First, they'd have to go all in every year to avoid it, and second, they'd be gambling every year that their franchise value could go from $500M to $100M or $25M. There's just no upside for the majors. Tons for the minors, but it's impossible to see this happening without the buy-in from the majors.

- Teams have $millions invested in the minors. They're not going to let them go independent without a big payoff. And that's money the minors don't have.

- It would be interesting to see what would happen to the players under contract to a major league organization when their team ditches them. It's conceivable that a team like the O's in the mid-2000s with awful minor leaguers could see 3, 4, 5 of its affiliates ditch them in one offseason. The O's would be left with 2-3 affiliates and 100s of players under contract. Whatta you do, stash them all in extended spring training? Release most of them?

- This could leave many MLB organizations with holes in the minor league ladder. What happens when Frederick and Delmarva go indy, and you have to promote players from Aberdeen and Bluefield straight to Bowie? That kind of stuff used to happen, but that was a very long time ago.

- Facilities. Most professional baseball teams have lots of public money invested in stadiums. They don't pay for stuff themselves. What happens when a team playing in a 8000 seat stadium gets promoted to the majors? Sell out every game and their ticket revenues might match the Marlins. You're not going to get Twin Falls, ID or Syracuse to pony up $millions to bring a stadium up to higher standards on the thin hopes that their team will stay promoted. You see this in Europe - it's hard (ok, impossible) for Energie Cottbus to compete with Bayern Munich when Bayern plays in the 70k seat Alliance Arena with luxury boxes and stop on the U-Bahn, and Cottbus plays in a 10k-seater out in the countryside somewhere.

Promotion/relegation is interesting, but there's just no incentive for the major leagues to try to shoehorn an open-league idea into their very exclusive closed-league structure.

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