2016 Reds / Getting the Offseason Right

Facing the Drop: Baseball Needs Relegation

Baseball is broken–not in the way that the sport is dull or hemorrhaging fans or even having a crisis of faith due to its inherent danger (*cough* football *cough*), but in the way that the Reds are very bad right now and I need to blame something.

So baseball is broken, but I’m not going to be one of those people who just sees a problem and whines and complains about the problem but refuses to do anything about it. No, I’m a man of action. Checks dictionary to make sure that writing blog posts can be considered action. Okay I’m a man of ineffective action, good enough.

Now, imagine a field–it can be any type of field but the grass must be green. Imagine the stands around it. Go for the friendly confines atmosphere–a field that Vin Scully would describe as having character, you know a field you could grab a beer with and just listen to it tell the stories of its day.

Imagine gray, rolling clouds with edges tinged by silver light above this field. There is no wind, no heat, no cold. The world around you is the temperature of your body but still the air isn’t stagnant, its charge sings your body electric. Got the picture? Imagine some very fit men running around on the field if that helps you put it in perspective.

This is where I was this summer, watching Fulham F.C. play Crystal Palace in a preseason football (i.e. soccer) match on the historic Craven Cottage pitch. Fulham took the game 3-1 despite having been relegated to the Championship League, the second highest division in English soccer (think AAA), in 2014 while Crystal Palace still plays in the Premiere League. Do you see where this is going yet?

Baseball is broken and the only way for us to fix it is to turn to our forefathers across the pond. Just as we built on the English parliamentary foundation to create American democracy–a beacon on a hill, if you will–we must build on the national English sport to reshape the American pastime. And so, in the name of country, sport, and making the Reds good again, I submit a modest proposal to adopt a system of promotion and relegation into Major League Baseball.


First things first, what is relegation?

Relegation is a system put in place in a sports league that spans different levels of competition where after each season, the top two or three finishing teams are promoted to the next level up and the bottom two or three finishing teams are demoted to next level down. For example, the Reds and the Twins would have been demoted to AAA after this season due to their performance.

Baseball already operates on a pseudo-relegation system, but it’s one involving the players and not the teams. The farm system model that is currently used promotes or demotes players based on performance, theoretically keeping the uppermost levels operating as best as they can.

Because of this relegation-by-individual system, an undue amount of autonomy is stripped from the players and given to the owners and teams can be incentivized to horde promising players in their farm systems to make a run in a different season (a la Houston Astros).

So how would relegation fix baseball? Well, for one it would (theoretically) create more parity amongst teams, thinning the gap between the rich and the poor, and two, it would make the sport more competitive by raising the stakes and spread that competition to the far corners of the country through the established minor league system.

Okay, okay–I sense you’re sitting there thinking to yourself “We don’t need the English coming in telling us how to make our sport better. It’s perfectly fine already.” Which is true, I can’t really argue with that, but stick with me for a minute.

The argument for relegation in the MLB is always based off of having the already existing infrastructure, but very few people imagine past that. Shifting Minor League teams around and making Major League teams fight for their dignity is fun and all, but thought experiments are better when diagrammed to nth degree, so how exactly would relegation work?

For one, every team’s roster would have to be cut to 35 players–25 active and 10 inactive for every game to be decided at some set point before game time. That way, teams have some leeway with injured players (no DL, they just go inactive) and more bench players or relievers can be carried for any given game because roster spots won’t have to go to starters. To get to this 35 man rule, Major League teams would be allowed to keep up to any 35 players in their organization under their current contract, releasing all of the rest to be signed by any team. This would create an initial free agent market of Major League caliber players that could sign with Minor League teams if they so chose.

Teams would have to follow different strategies, not really being able to hoard prospects because that could lead to the team tanking and being relegated. So would the Reds hang onto Nick Senzel or Amir Garrett at the expense of a player who could produce sooner? Or would they let both go to a smaller team looking to fight its way up?

As to the argument that the Major League teams would always be better than the minor league teams, well there’s only so many roster spots. Inevitably, free agents will sign with minor league teams closer to their hometowns, ones that can offer more money (the prospect of promoting yourself to the top should be enough incentive for new billionaire owners to fund these teams), or ones that they feel they can redeem. Athletes love to win, but athletes love to be legendary even more and what better way than to become a legend than to take a team from AA to the World Series?

As for how relegation would work specifically, let’s take this year as an example. As the two worst teams, the Reds and Twins would be relegated to AAA for the 2017 season. But who would come up? The way the Minor Leagues are structured is not entirely intuitive, so we’ll have to make some generalizations to make sense of it. For reference, here is the Minor League table as laid out on the Minor League Baseball website:

Screen Shot 2016-10-12 at 12.12.20 PM.png

So what happens now is that the winner of the Pacific Coast League and the International League play each other for the AAA Championship and two Mexican League teams play each other for that championship. Because I only have two teams being relegated, only two teams will be promoted (citation: logic). To modify the English system a bit (which automatically promotes the top two finishers and has a four-team playoff for the third spot), one promotion will automatically go to the best regular season record in either the PCL or the International League and the second will go to the winner of the AAA championship at the end of the playoffs. This year, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders had the best regular season record and won the AAA Championship. Thus, they were automatically promoted and their opponent in the Championship, the El Paso Chihuahuas, would take the other spot.

Going down the line, the two bottom finishers in the PCL and International will be relegated to the Mexican League and Eastern League respectively, with the champions of those leagues taking their places. Southern and Texas will promote to the Mexican and Eastern and relegate to the California and Carolina. So on and so forth with each league below AAA promoting one team and relegating one team each season.

Because the Minor Leagues are so dependent on geography, this system could be catastrophic financially due to potential travel costs incurred. Which is a fair critique, BUT if each Minor League team is independently owned as would be the case for this system to work, the teams themselves would have more budget to travel than they do now. So in theory, it’s a moot point.

Obviously, the point of instituting relegation is to prevent teams from tanking like the Reds did through September because who wants to watch that? Just as adding another Wild Card made the end of the season can’t-miss chaos, incentivizing bottom-feeders to play hard against the best of the best would make September/October baseball all the more exciting. Also, think of a trans-league trade deadline. You think deals for the future make exciting news now, just think of a deal where a team in AA wants to get promoted and a team in the MLB is sitting middle of the pack. It would be uproarious.

And if none of those arguments work for you, just think of where the Cubs would be right now if there was relegation. Probably still in A-ball, maybe even the Fall League. None of this World Series contender BS. And if there’s ever a better argument for something than prolonging the suffering of Cubs fans, I’ve yet to hear it.

Vote Relegation 2016. Keep the Cubs away from our trophy. It’s what Abner would want.

37 thoughts on “Facing the Drop: Baseball Needs Relegation

  1. Wesley, as a fan of world football, the BPL in particular, I’ve brain stormed myself how relegation might be applied to MLB; and always end up deciding it won’t work here. I appreciate your more complete efforts; but, in the end, my thoughts remain that it just isn’t going to ever happen with MLB/MiLB baseball.

    However, perhaps some form of financial and draft relegation (FADR) might just work to address the tanking issues. The BPL has 20 teams, so dropping 3 amounts to a 15% relegation rate. For MLB with 32 teams, that 15% comes to 4.8; so, let’s make the drop number 5 teams for FADR.

    The financial part seems direct to me. Take away the following season’s revenue sharing funds from the 5 dropped teams. If MLB is serious about trying to promote parity and fighting tanking, redistribute those funds among the next 5 teams which finish immediately above the drop line, with the percent of the pot growing as teams move up from the drop line. For example team perhaps #27 gets 10% of the redistribution, #26 gets 15%, #25= 20%, #24= 25%, and #23= 30%.

    The draft side of FADR is a little more complicated I think. I would start by penalizing dropped teams all of their compensatory picks, to also include competitive balance picks. And again, I’d try to devise a scheme to redistribute those picks among the next 5 teams above the drop line. In the regular draft, the dropped 5 either entirely lose their 1st round choice or perhaps pick after all the other teams and sandwich picks starting with team #28. In subsequent rounds, I’d either put the dropped 5 at the bottom of each round or insert them at positions 6-10, starting with team #28.

    This scheme seems to me to be workable and very easy to enact if there is the will.

    • The simple solution to tanking is imposing a single world draft in mlb. Flood the top rounds with more talent, and let the market saturation do its thing.

      • You may well be correct; but, I also like the idea of “relegation” because it makes (nearly) every game count for something.
        In my FADR scheme, the bottom 10 would be fighting for draft position and money based on maximizing winning.

        With 4 wildcards parsed between two “leagues” virtually every other team is going to at least be sniffing at a WC spot until deep into August or early Sept.

    • That line of questioning makes complete sense and I can’t completely rationalize the financial side of it myself. As for the draft, I took this out, but I think in this situation it would disappear. Players are free to sign with any team a la international rules following high school or their third year of college if they opt to go

      • The financial part is largely to put “real” teeth into it. Pardon the cross sport reference but the Mike Browns of the world seem perfectly to accept their distributions and not spend the money to improve their product.

        If the draft was done away with, there would have to be some kind of capping mechanism or they would be right back into then situation which came to a head in the 1950’s and 60’s to create the draft.

        • Doing away with the draft would certainly benefit top end domestic talent financially. And it, on the flipside, would suppress top end foreign talent.

          The real truth here is that baseball cannot be in complete control of the draft or any other financial mechanism without breaking the players union. And that would be catastrophic. Its unlikely anyway due to the revenue flow currently.

          My concern is longterm bubble. Teams are leveraged and hedging on some pretty shaky tv deals down the road in my opinion. Baseball MUST not only retain its current fan base…but actually increase it as the baby boomers pass away. They might need 2 to replace a single baby boomer.

  2. Its a long offseason isnt it?

    When has baseball really ever made sense from a pure competition standpoint? The issue will quickly be that even MANY AAA cities can’t self support a payroll without an mlb team covering the payroll. Quite a few teams are more and more actually owning their AAA affiliate.

    Then there’s the matter of marketing. There’s no way that mlb would ever punt, say, the Cubs, so that they pull in those lucrative Scranton media rights. They took a team out of Montreal.

    The roster limitation idea is intriguing, but the players union would throw a hissy.

    Fun thoughts. Relegation sure is interesting in England.

  3. This article made me start contemplating what parity means to baseball. From an economic standpoint it contradicts the assumed desire to make as much profit as possible for ownership.

    Even with pure full on parity…a world where every season the Reds and Yankees have equal odds of making a World Series…the Yankees are still more financially viable because their history and legacy cannot be erased.

    The trouble with parity from an economic standpoint is that baseball as a business would be subjected to (worst case scenario) Brewers vs Rays world series tv ratings on a more frequent basis.

    Economically baseball needs the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, to have an advantage because true baseball fans don’t carry the market place. Especially one that is ever more global. Many of us…Id venture anyone on here…will watch a world series because its baseball. We just don’t represent the market. Honesty, we don’t even represent the market in our own cities. If teams were to allow ticketing based on a decent degree of true fandom…what would stadium attendance be around the league? Easily, it could be cut in half. Perhaps at Wrigley even further.

  4. Rather than tie to minors, I submit that a neat idea might be to have MLB split into two “divisions,” sort of like it is now with the AL and NL, however, each of these divisions has only 10 teams; so 20 teams total in MLB.

    One division would have the 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 20th best teams from the previous season. The other would have the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 16th, 18th, and 19th best teams from the previous season.

    The team finishing first in each division gets a bye, while a similar to the current WC system plays out. At the end of the year, the bottom team (or bottom two teams, perhaps) in each division is relegated to a 3rd division (still MLB, but not playoff eligible), which houses the remainder of the teams who didn’t finish in the top 20 the year before.

    This would alleviate any issues with AAA level cities, facilities, and/or marketing ability. All the MLB teams get to stay MLB teams, just some of them aren’t eligible for real “post season play” or something!

    Neat article topic, Wes!

    • I like your idea Patrick. I considered making a playoff ban part of my financial/ draft penalty system I outlined above. I was going to say it would be 2 years when a team was dropped and stay at two years each successive year a team finished in the drop zone, i.e. at any time they could regain playoff eligibility by avoiding the drop zone in consecutive seasons.

      However, I think your idea of making the whole bottom third playoff ineligible is simpler and better than my system would be. However I do think there also has to be some financial incentive to get out of the lower division along with regaining playoff eligibility.

      Also how do you arrive at your original bottom third? It would be at the end of some season based on that season’s record; but, would there be a run up period for teams to prepare?

      • Yeah, I think the run-up period idea would probably be the most fair. Perhaps 3 seasons or so!

        I wonder if dynamic scheduling could work, also… for example, the best team in MLB could play the worst team in the relegated league as long as the other teams got to play a similarly bad team once you weight things. So, all 30 teams could play each other still, which fans would like, but you’d avoid win stacking like happened with the Cubs getting to play the Reds and Brewers almost 40 times this year.

    • I think the real difference outside of the sheer cultural difference between England and America is their lack of division structure…and even larger their general lack of geographic comparison. America is large…putting teams in a division based on record might mean that the Orioles play in a division that is entirely made of west coast teams. Thats a nightmare for tv.

      Any speculation and conjecture of ours has to be completely seperated from business reality.

      In truth, we might have the best system now that has existed. We need to do away with the unbalanced leagues and unbalanced schedule at minimum.

  5. Love the across the pond thinking in this article. Unfortunately it would never work with how the system is set up now it’s fun to think about the possibility 4 (or more) MLB teams in Ohio.

    My hypothetical questions would be how would the regulation work in regards to the AL/NL and divisions. If the Reds got sent to AAA and then won the league the next year, are they automatically back in the National League? Would they go to the central, go to the division the team they replaced was in or would divisions re-align each year? or just get rid of division altogether? And sadly, would this mean the DH is permanent in all leagues?

    • I submit that mlb add two teams and realign to 4 regional leagues of 8 teams. With the money saved on travel going to offset increased ticket prices. Go back to a balanced schedule and a true playoff that better rewards seasonal achievement.

      • What would your playoff look like? Two teams in from each division with no cross division WC? Best 1st plays worst 2nd etc in first round?

        • The purest in me says that the “league/division” champs play best record against worst record then 2 vs 3 in 7 game set.

          Itd essentially be a duplication of the old format.

          If we want to talk wild card i suppose thats possible. But I just see it as a return to schedule and game integrity. Id demand the regular season schedule did that.

          Perhaps play your 8 teams and home/away with another division.

        • My real concern would be the integrity of the game. Our current 3 division format allows for a team that finishes under .500 to win a division and thus a world championship.

          Imagine, if you will, this season. You’re a Cubs fan. You see your team not only finally win, but do so by winning a astounding 103 games. The Dodgers and Giants have decided to tank. The rest of the division is their typical selves, with slight improvement due to the Giants and Dodger purge. The season comes down to the Giants and Dodgers duking it out as they both hover right at .500

          Dodgers make the playoffs…no wild card game. They win a two series in 2 weeks…and a ring.

          This has come close to happening. The Padres made the playoffs right at .500…and the Cardinals won a ring slightly over .500.

          So while we’re talking pure baseball. The schedule itself must be dealt with to ensure that no matter what teams can and can’t do roster wise..that the schedule itself rewards seasonal achievement.

  6. To create a long term competitive balance in mlb, why not really restrict the highest percentage teams in both the draft and the international draft. Say the ten lowest ten % draft the first 30 players in the first round of each draft. This year it would be Minn than CINCY, et al. Then the next 10 worst teams would select a total of twenty players, then the best ten (of course in reverse order) would finish the first round by selecting one player each. The remaining rounds would be selected as they are now. The ten lowest (poorest? dumbest) teams should gain an advantage over the elite teams in a few years, and the records of the teams should change dramatically. The free agent market would also need to be changed so that the richest teams wouldn’t get all the best free agents, but I don’t have a clue how that would be managed.

    • Interesting…love pure baseball thinking. Hows about allowing larger market teams fewer protected roster spots? Top 10 keep 30 bottom can protect 40

  7. “It is a sorry statistic that more than 50 member clubs of the Football League and Premier League have undergone insolvency proceedings in the past two decades.”

    That quote was from the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper in 2013, in article detailing Portsmouth FC’s fall from the Premier League (and FA Cup winners) to the Third Division.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2310464/From-FA-Cup-winners-League-Two-The-decline-Portsmouth.html

    The English setup of 92 clubs that can freely move between four divisions, and truly share in the spoils at the top level, makes it the biggest free market sports league in the world. Sadly, Columbus (my home) is not geared in any way to join MLB, like tiny Bournemouth was to join the Premier League last season.

    As an aside, if anyone plays Outside of the Park (OOTP 17), you can go to Reddit and get instructions on setting up a system similar to Wesley’s neat idea. Maybe I should try that instead of being fired as Reds GM for not making the current rebuild a success.

    • I absolutely love the idea of relegation in baseball. I just cant wrap my mind around how it could possibly work in a realistic sense. Im sure the baseball side details could be worked out. But the business side would be an amazing tangled web.

      Im trying to imagine the Reds attempting to sell season tickets in after being relegated. Cleveland doesnt even draw with a winner. And thats just the game day valuation. MLB at this point has saturated the market by their own admittance. I read a study, which escapes me now, and it was determined that the most viable MLB markets would be to add another team in the NY/NJ area as well as the LA region. Thats never happening. Next was Montréal, which has already lost a team.

      For baseball to do relegation…they’d definitely have to either drop the unbalanced division format or balance a schedule.

  8. I don’t see this ever working for baseball. The only adjustment that I would like to see is a hard salary cap and stop rewarding teams for losing. You would have to implement both together and have a max and minimum salary cap.

    • Not sure how teams are rewarded for losing, unless you mean the draft, which is historically less surefire than the nfl’s, as I understand it Punishing teams for losing by reducing their draft advantage or, if it were possible, penalizing them financially, would guarantee that the same few teams would be the only ones with a realistic chance of being relevant. Teams are punished for losing now by their fan bases. My question about relegation revolves around those fans: What would happen to the attendance of a relegated team? And, Wesley, great job and a provocative thesis, but I do question how many players would sign with relegated teams for the sake of location. Baseball isn’t real estate.

      • “Teams are punished now by their fan bases”.

        While I’d in most cases agree. The Chicago Cubs are an exception. That fan base STILL spends money regardless of on field product. The game day experience at Wrigley leaves the baseball on the field as a sideshow to the circus. The Cubs knew they wouldnt take much of a hit which enabled them to tank. So now they can reap the rewards of intentionally playing like a small market team, and can now augment like the massive market they actually are.

        The hope is that Epstein and Co. wil blow up like they did in Boston once the draft picks dry up. But its gonna be tough. They hit on so many picks and now they can pay them. We’re not really talking competitive window here. They can keep the young core together and augment in free agency for a decade most likely. We might see a very long Cubs run. All built on them being able to tank without much flak. Imagine the Yankees pulling that to the same degree or the Red Sox.

    • Baseball never seems to do what makes sense for the fans or the simple best interest of the game. At this point, I don’t buy the small market myth. Shared media revenue, etc, is more than enough for every team to cover payroll.

      My concern is that fan cost become more affordable. They can claim all the seats attendance figures..but the percentage purchased on credit is exponentially higher than previous generations,.and Im highly leery of vanity amusement built on consumer debt.

      We really need to get kids in the park more often. People need to be able to attend games when they want to…and not just as part of once a year destination vacations.

      Part of this reestablishing game integrity. The irony is that adding wild card teams makes winning a championship less special. Last season the Royals won…and it just was not the same as 1985.

        • I grew up and have resided in the Kansas City region for nearly 40 years, and for those of us that recall both Series…yes…that’s a commonly shared thought. You’d have to be almost 40 just to RECALL the 1985 series. I’m excluding the younger psuedo fans that used to dress as seats at Royals games.

          I’m not saying it’s universal. You’re talking about a fan base that hadn’t won in 30 years…so yeah it was special. KC is an excellent baseball region period fan wise.

          I think in general the World Series has lost luster. If the Reds sneak i the playoffs with 85 wins…I’m not sure its a stretch to think maybe it won’t feel the same for many as the machine years. Of course…much is tied to personal memories.

          But yes…Im giving you as close to as local conjecture as you’ll likely find. I think what you’ll also find by talking to some Royals fans in a large sense…even locally…is that they just came around to the team recently. They dont even have much sense of long-suffering. They’ve been ignored by millenials in a large sense. Now Millenials are buying into a history they never even experienced.

          Its much like a Cubs fan pining cause they havent won a series since 1908. C’mon now…you havent suffered since 1908. You barely recall Harry Carray…you’ve suffered since Rod Beck was the closer.

  9. fans pay to see the big stars. Only top payroll teams can afford to keep the big stars or keep them in high volume.

    • Fans pay to see winning by and large, and that creates stars. Teams win with pre free agency talent now. Most orgs will be wrecked by signing their age 25-30 talent to large salaries in their decline phase. That’s essentially what the Yankees did. And they can get away with it being the Yankees. How would Reds fans react to hovering around .500 for a decade like the White Sox because they were trying to retain the glory days for a decade? White Sox didnt draw.

  10. Couldn’t you just end the “tanking” by making the top draft positions start at the 7th worst team and allow the middle 3rd to pick first, then the very bottom 3rd and then the top 3rd in order of record. Bad teams would fight to be in the middle 3rd to get a better draft position. And the top teams in the middle third have have a fighting chance for a WC spot, so they should keep hustling. And, there is title reward for finishing dead last.

  11. I was thinking that rather than take inspiration from soccer, why not follow golf? At a certain point in the season, say, the non-waiver trading deadline, you have “the cut.” The last two months of the season, the teams with a reasonable chance of making the post-season play only each other. Forget the wild-card game because the whole end of the season is playoffs. The second-division teams would play each other. While it doesn’t directly solve the problem of tanking, it does make tanking much more difficult, because the team across the field is in the same position.

    • Couple of questions.

      How do teams make hotel arrangements? Do they have existing business contracts in scheduled cities that have to be met?

      Doesn’t this make the schedule for teams unfair? What if teams in the “winners race” had played wildly unbalanced schedules during the first 4 months of the season. You would have to essentially play two seasons…a 4 month where all teams play an equal calendar…then a second of 2 months.

      Also, how do teams sell tickets marketing themselves in the second tier?

  12. I’m sorry this would never work. First off what owner of a A or AA team is going to have the money to support a major league player. In order to advance they would have to somehow get higher talent from higher leagues and honestly that would just not happen. Prospects or not. The money would not be there to pay these players.

    2nd .. The travel thing would be a nightmare. Also with leagues constantly in flux each year divisions would have to be set each spring. I’m pretty sure both the owners nor players would ever agree to such changes as you have proposed here.

    I do understand that this was just an exercise on how to change baseball but I personally feel this has zero chance of happening. The Players Union would never agree to smaller roster sizes either.

  13. Farm teams are part of the franchise, not independents. So having two Yankee teams or two Reds teams in MLB, only to watch several good young players move to the parent team and make the newly promoted team terrible, would be comical (in a sad way).

    The team makeup of minor league clubs changes, sometimes radically, every year.

    Now, if you shrunk MLB to say 26 teams, and had the other’s relegated downward playing a full AAA schedule, I could see that happening. You can only then promote from those MLB teams in AAA, even if none win AAA (if Toledo wins, it doesn’t get to play in MLB).

    • I think you misunderstood–In my model, farm teams would become independents as a necessity

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