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6 Ideas MLB Could Take from Soccer

Will CarrollSports Injuries Lead WriterNovember 14, 2016

6 Ideas MLB Could Take from Soccer

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    Baseball is trying to globalize itself and to some extent, it's working. The third World Baseball Classic will hear the cry of "jugar a la pelota!" or maybe "bal spelen!" this week in another attempt to globalize the game with mixed results.

    The game is still not nearly as popular around the world as football (soccer) or even basketball. There has been progress made, especially after players from Japan, Taiwan and Korea started coming to the U.S. to pursue major-league dreams. The success of Hideo Nomo and Ichiro Suzuki, as well as Chien-Ming Wang and Shin-Soo Choo, has led to an influx of talent, along with all the Latin and Caribbean talent that is at the heart of the game.

    The next wave of talent could come from South Africa, Europe or even Brazil, where a couple of teams have set up academies. Those places are ingrained in soccer tradition, so maybe adopting a variety of traits from that sport could help popularize beisbol...I mean, baseball around the globe. Let's take a look at several ideas that MLB could pick up on.


    Will Carroll is the Lead Writer for Sports Medicine at Bleacher Report. He has written about sports injuries and related topics for 12 years.

Relegation

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    I know, relegation is not a concept that has ever caught on in the United States. Under the current system, it would be very tough to implement, given that the highest minor-league team is made up of players from the level above. But if you go with it, there's a bit of dreaming that would make this system work.

    In European soccer, the three worst teams are sent down and the three best teams from the top level are brought up. It's a relatively simple thing, but that doesn't work here, so let's take a look at how this could work in baseball.

    Instead of every year, let's make it an every-other-year system. Total record would make it a bottom two. One of those teams might be improving, which would put it in a better position for the "playout" game. Just like MLB's new first-round game between the wild-card contestants, there would be a one- or three-game playout for the two teams with the worst two-year record. The loser goes to AAA.

    Who comes up? For that, we'd find an easy system of combined record and attendance and the top two would have a "playup" game. Heck, we could make the playout and playup a great doubleheader. Four teams playing for their futures is the kind of drama that sports and television are dying to create.

    But how do the contracts work? Simple. The playout loser simply becomes an affiliate, just like all AAA teams are now. It could replace the playup winner or compete with the other available franchises for their parent affiliate. Players would be released into the free-agent pool, which could be a boon for some of them. 

    With the new CBA actually encouraging teams to lose in order to gain picks and money, this would act as something of a brake on that instinct. It's fine to lose one year, but risking a run of losses in order to get the next Stephen Strasburg-Bryce Harper pick takes on a whole new danger.

    The massive risk is that an owner and fanbase would be devastated by being sent down. The value isn't lost and would be added to AAA, who could now have a chance to move up. Maybe Reno or Pawtucket wouldn't be a good major-league city, but with a couple of years of TV money and ticket sales, who knows? At worst, we'd get a rotation at the bottom very similar to what European soccer has now. 

Cup/Tournament Play

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    Each year in European soccer, every team, regardless of level or status, gets a chance to compete for a "cup" trophy. In England, there's the FA Cup. In Spain, it's the Copa del Rey (King's Cup). For baseball, it'd surely take on a sponsor's name—maybe the Bleacher Report Cup!

    The structure is simple and it couldn't be easier to implement. It's a simple play-in bracket, and at this time of year, everyone loves brackets.

    We start with Low-A, where there are 30 teams. We add in two teams from High-A, their two lowest ranked, and we have a bracket set up of 16 games. The High-A teams are assigned the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds. The winners of these games would feed into the next round, where these 44 teams would be combined with 18 from Double-A to create a bracket of 30 games.

    I could go through the rest, but you see the concept. Teams keep playing up until they lose. It would add a couple of games and a bit of travel for most teams, but there might be that one crazy High-A club that's loaded with talent, or in a one-game format like this, one good pitcher might carry a team through. 

    It wouldn't be difficult to schedule and affiliates could be put in different brackets to minimize that issue. It would be great content for MLB Network as well, shining the spotlight on some younger players and creating more interest in the minor-league teams. 

Transfer Market

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    People always accuse teams of buying championships. The Dodgers are just the latest team using their checkbook to their advantage, but unlike soccer clubs, there's a limit on what they can do.

    MLB has a cash component limitation, requiring the Commissioner's approval for any transaction involving more than a million dollars and requiring at least a player to be named later to be in any deal. Some are later listed as "cash in lieu of player," which gives us the loophole that could allow a transfer market.

    Worldwide soccer works on a transfer system, not the American trade/reserve system. A player has a listed value and can be bought and sold by teams. This is separate from his contract and creates a two-tiered system where a player that is bought automatically gets to renegotiate. That wouldn't stop a lot of teams.

    Imagine Giancarlo Stanton's situation under a transfer system. He's an arbitration eligible player who's frustrated with his situation in Miami. The Dodgers could offer $100 million to the Marlins for his rights, then offer Stanton a relatively modest increase in salary, let's say doubling his salary to a million bucks. No-brainer for everyone, right?

    This could re-value the player contract market, essentially making more players available, as well as making player development key, especially for smaller market teams. While some might become nothing more than feeder teams, that is how things were with the Kansas City A's and St. Louis Browns in previous eras. 

Loans

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    Players being blocked is a tradition as old as the game of baseball. Sometimes it takes an injury to get someone in, or even a trade. Perhaps instead of being Pipped, young players could serve to help a team like the Astros put a quality team on the field while they build up their system. 

    The European system allows players to be loaned out for a set period of time, often a half or full season, during which the player is truly a member of the other team. They do everything the new club's players do and would have the same medical staff as well. The difference is that the "owner team" retains the players' rights and gets them back. 

    Baseball could do this same thing. Though without a windowing system, they might need to set it up so that no team could loan players out in an attempt to truly influence the standings. This would be easy to set up with a system that would only allow loans at the start of the season or at the All-Star break, adding an element to the media interest during a normally fallow time.

    Players would love the loan system as it would give them a chance to be showcased, to get out from behind blocks, and to earn both a major league paycheck and service time. 

Oligarch Ownership

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    You think George Steinbrenner was bad? Try Roman Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour. Imagine if the president of the country owned a team! AC Milan had that, with owner Silvio Berlusconi splitting time between running the club and running Italy as long time Prime Minister. (Yes, George W. Bush once was a minority owner of the Texas Rangers, but not while he was president!) 

    There has been an influx of big money ownership in English and French soccer, with money from Russia, the Middle East, and even America trumping the traditional club model in the rapidly ascending EPL and Ligue One. That money hasn't made it over to the US yet. There were rumors that the Chinese state investment arm might be ready to back one of the Dodgers bids, but that one seemed a bit iffy.

    A country like Qatar or Abu Dhabi might never be able to compete with Brazil in soccer, but they could probably find enough decent baseball players to make the World Baseball Classic. The idea of promoting their country through soccer ownership has worked, buying premier teams like Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain to raise their profile. Buying the Marlins or Yankees could do the same in the U.S.

Referee Communications

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    This one might actually work.

    Referees in top level competitions and leagues wear a wireless headset and mic, allowing them to communicate with the referee's assistants on the sidelines. They can quickly ask for help on close calls or alert one another to a happening or incident. It also allows the assistant near the coaching boxes to call in for substitutes.

    There's no reason that this could not be implemented immediately in MLB. The huddle of umpires is no favorite of anyone and could save time, especially if MLB expands the use of instant replay in the near future. 

    This could be expanded as well to coaches or even players. Imagine if a manager could chat with his pitcher the way that coaches do with their quarterbacks in the NFL. The same could work for calling pitches or other plays, though I would miss the wild gesticulations from third base coaches. All we'd need is a Bluetooth system that wouldn't fly off with every pitch!

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