Rule Changes That Would Make Baseball America's Pastime Again
With just 33 days separating us from opening day, MLB fans are getting their fill of spring training action as teams determine who will be making the cut prior to April.
Changes will inevitably happen in every clubhouse as teams look to do whatever they can to change their rosters for the better.
But change could be something the league as a whole could benefit from as the NFL continues to soar in popularity, while MLB teams are worth barely half as much.
Part of what makes baseball so great is the fact that it's remained relatively unchanged throughout the course of its history, but here are some minor changes that could continue to push the sport in the right direction.
Don't Let the All-Star Game Decide Home Field in the World Series
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Every February the NFL struggles with how to make anyone care about their version of the All-Star Game as the Pro Bowl continues to be a bigger joke with each season.
Major League Baseball came close to the same fate in 2002 when commissioner Bud Selig ended the All-Star Game in a tie.
Since then the league office has given the game big significance, giving the winning league rights to home-field advantage during the World Series.
Simply put, giving home field to a group of players from 15 different teams doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and the league would be better suited to give the nod to whichever World Series team has a better record.
Rethink Wild-Card Playoff
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Postseason play in any sport is a great way for leagues to capitalize on maximizing revenue, so it's no surprise to see teams continue to expand play.
Major League Baseball took a step in this direction last season with the introduction of a one-game wild-card playoff that would determine who would face the top seed in each league.
The games were both relatively compelling in their own right, and while I don't deny that the expansion of postseason play in baseball is a good thing, it seems like leaving something as important as a spot in the Division Series up to one game isn't the best solution.
Speed Up the Pace of Games
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In just over a month we'll see MLB stadiums all around the country filled with fans looking to take in a great game-day experience.
We all know we're embarking on a three-hour (or more) journey when we sit down to watch a game, but even for the biggest fan the pace of play can sometimes be questioned.
The average time between pitches is nearly 30 seconds as it stands, and when you factor in continual visits to the mound from catchers and pitching coaches the game really is longer than it needs to be.
Expand MLB First-Year Player Draft
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Every offseason we see a number of top foreign prospects make their way into the league, with some making their way in via free agency while others enter the posting process most commonly seen when Japanese players look to enter the league.
The posting system does in theory give any team a fair shake at one of these highly touted players, but with some players fetching winning bids upwards of $51 million it's hard to see small-market teams getting involved.
Putting these players through the First-Year Player Draft would help ensure that the top international talent makes their way into the league via the same channel as all other amateur players.
Get Rid of the Designated Hitter in the AL
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The notion of ridding the American League of the designated hitter is a bit of a double-edged sword, with AL fans holding onto the extra bat in their lineup and NL fans staking the claim to a more "true" form of the game.
We're seeing a new breed of sluggers in the game these days, and with players like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and many more calling the AL home, teams love having the extra slot in the lineup for a bat.
It's probably too late for the AL to revert back to putting pitchers in the batter's box, but it would certainly be an interesting nod back to the way the game was played prior to 1973.
Expand Instant Replay
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Just a few slides ago I brought up the fact that baseball could benefit from speeding up the pace of games, and on the surface an expansion of instant replay would only slow the pace even further.
But would it?
If the MLB front offices kept a constant watch over games in the same way NHL officials do during games they could have quick responses to any questioned call, something that could in theory curb the arguments from managers that can sometimes drag on for extended periods of time.
Control the Payrolls...
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Something that has put the NFL and other professional sports on the right track in terms of competitive balance is the salary caps that prevent excessive numbers of superstars flocking to any one market.
On the other end of the spectrum, teams like the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros aren't doing their part to spend in a way that gives their teams the best chance to succeed in a league filled with high-profile rosters.
We may never see a hard salary cap in baseball, but if the league is able to take steps to rein in the spending and implement a range for minimums and maximum payrolls we may see more competitive balance than MLB has seen in years.
...and Get Rid of Guaranteed Contracts
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Implementing a salary cap on MLB rosters would only be part of the battle, as the current contracts for stars all over the league are guaranteed for years to come, whether or not they're worth it.
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is still owed over $100 million before his contract expires, and though reports have surfaced that the team is looking at options to possibly void his contract amid the connections to PED injections at a clinic in south Florida, it doesn't seem likely.
On the other side of the infield in Yankee Stadium you have first baseman Mark Teixiera, who admitted to Yahoo! Sports that he's overpaid and that his best days are in his past.
Guaranteeing only portions of these contracts instead of their entire duration would not only help teams with fiscal flexibility if they need to make tough decisions, but could also give players motivation when it comes to earning the lucrative paychecks they're handed every week.