Can a Promotion/Relegation System Work in Major League Baseball?

Sergey ZikovSenior Analyst IJuly 28, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 27:  Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig listens to a question from the media after explaining the rules involved with suspending game five of the 2008 MLB World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays till 8:00 pm (EST) on October 28 at the earliest of the Philadelphia Phillies at a press conference on October 27, 2008 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Maybe the better question might be, "Should a promotion and relegation system work in Major League Baseball?"

In the world of baseball, there are a lot of things to admire and respect. But to say it is without fault would be embarrassingly wrong. No sport is perfect. No league is perfect.

Steroid use. The Designated Hitter in only one league. Inflation and spending. The bogus trading deadline where many teams under .500 feel they need to sell every player doing well.

Well, most of those might not be full-fledged problems, so to say. But they are all things that could be improved under a new system.

Promotion and relegation. 

To some, it may be a new idea. To others, it is very familiar, as it is used around the world in many football (soccer) leagues.

So what exactly is it?

In a promotion and relegation league, the few best teams in the league will be promoted to a higher league. If the team is already in the highest possible league, they advance to the playoffs.

Conversely, if a team is among the worst in the league, they are relegated (demoted) to a lower league. This allows for teams who are not up to the task of playing in a higher league to face competition more at their level.

For a league that has no salary restrictions, promotion and relegation has worked wonderfully around the world. It gives new teams and new cities the opportunity to play at the top level of the game. Meanwhile, teams that are not as financially well off do not suffer constantly and have the chance to win at a lower level.

Now, for Major League Baseball, this brings many pros and cons. How would it work


Cut all ties to minor league teams.

At the moment, every major league team has a "farm system," with teams at all of the lower levels.

These ties would need to be broken. What does it matter? Minor league teams move around all the time. One year, a teams' Double-A squad plays in Birmingham. The next, it is in Jacksonville.

Every team would now be for themselves. Give the current major league team the opportunity to sign up to 40 players from the system and work downwards. This way, for example, the three worst National League teams (Washington, San Diego and Arizona) would be relegated to Triple-A.

Then, the three best Triple-A International teams (Durham, Gwinnett, and Louisville) would be promoted to MLB status in 2010.


Eliminate Divisions

This would simply make the process of promotion easier. There would still be the American League and the National League, of course. International League teams would go into the NL, while Pacific Coast League teams would go into the AL. Just speculating.

Sure, the elimination of divisions would most likely increase some travel distances. It would also not see heated rivals like the Cubs and Cardinals playing each other 18 times a season.

So what? Like that will take away from a rivalry? If they only meet 12 times, then all the more reason for fans to tune in.


Get rid of the no Designated Hitter rule in the NL. 

Both leagues must play by the same rules. Give the NL teams a DH too, or remove the position altogether. It isn't fair to have one league use it and the other not.  


Eliminate the grueling first-year player draft

Everyone knows it's garbage anyway.

Over half of the players drafted don't sign with the clubs that take them. It's as much of a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel ordeal. Sometimes, first-round picks pan out. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes a great player is found in the 35th round.

Instead of going through 50 rounds of hell every year, each team would employ scouts to evaluate young talent and offer contracts to those they like.

But, wouldn't that just help the rich and harm the poor? Not at all.

Take this past draft for example. Stephen Strasburg went first overall to the Washington Nationals, demanding a ridiculous amount of money that Washington will probably never be able to afford anyway.

If there was no player draft, he would most likely end up in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles.

Now look at the players taken after Strasburg. There was next to no order in which these players could have gone. None would be starting for a major market team now anyway, which brings up the next point.


Player Transfers and Moves

The league complexion is a little different now. Each team is only allowed a maximum of 40 players and must have at least 25. In the sense of prospects and young players, only the very best would be starting for title contenders. The others would need to play for a lower level team.

Then, once that young player got experience, he could sign on with a new team, assuming he feels like he has a chance to play there.

The trading deadline also needs assessed, because player-for-player trades would be much more difficult.

Take a player like Adam Dunn for example. Chances are the Nationals will be moving him soon, and getting prospects in return.

In a promotion and relegation system, the Nationals would receive a transfer fee (a sum of money) in addition to handing his salary to another club. But then, no players are returned to Washington if the price is good enough. In turn, the Nationals may now go out and buy one or two cheap players from a Triple-A or Double-A team.

The use of loans would come into play as well. In a P/R system, players who do not fit in somewhere or aren't needed may be loaned to another team for the rest of the season.

A perfect example of this would be the Pirates with Nyjer Morgan. It's not that Morgan couldn't playthe Pirates just had two leadoff men in the lineup. So, they would choose to loan him to another team until the end of the season.

When the end of the season comes, both clubs must decide whether the original team wants the player back, or if will he transfer to the new team full-time.

At the trading deadline, the use of "rental players" is seen every yearMark Teixeira and CC Sabathia are prime examples. Both would have instead been loaned to Los Angeles and Milwaukee, respectively, but still remained in the possession of Cleveland or Atlanta.


To say there isn't a competitive edge to a promotion and relegation system is foolish.

Well, there already is great competition between the contenders every year. But what about the other teams?

For cities that face relegation and absolutely need to win, it would bring out the best in players and fans alike. Nobody would want to be relegated.

Right now, teams who are out of playoff contention can always think, "Well, there's always next year."

Not if you face relegation.

Baltimore is currently one game ahead of Cleveland for 12th place in the AL, and in a system where the three worst teams are sent down, the Orioles and Indians all of a sudden have something to play for.

But in the current system, Cleveland can just mortgage away some players and plan for next year. There's no pressure to win at the moment whatsoever. Who wants to attend a game between Cleveland and Kansas City now, other than for sheer enjoyment? Neither team is playing for a playoff spot!

The promotion and relegation system redefines must-win games.

A P/R system would also allow for some new cities to try their hand in the major leagues, or Triple-A if it is a Double-A team.

San Antonio, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Nashville, and New Orleans could all see time in the majors, assuming they can make it. Same with Las Vegas, Portland, Omaha, or Oklahoma City. Or there could also be a small town trying to make it big in the majors.

But of course, there aren't all positives.

Would the current owners agree to this system, knowing full well that their team could be relegated to a lower league? Granted, the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs or Dodgers will probably never have to think about relegation. But stranger things have happened.

How would the nation react, if indeed Gwinnett was promoted to the Majors while San Diego was sent down?

Nobody knows until it is tried.



A team can, in theory, rise from Low A all the way to the majors, and every city with a baseball team could eventually raise the trophy.

There would be a more effective method of player transfers and movement.

There would be no grueling draft.

There would be no more excessive suffering. The Nationals might be horrible in the Majors, but who says they wouldn't devour AAA? Everyone wants to win, no matter the level.

Ther would be no more high risk-high reward trades. For lower level teams giving up a great player, they would have no further obligations to pay him and also receive a sum of cash in return.

It brings out the best in fans and playersor maybe the worst. A team could get relegated and immediately bounce back the next year because of motivation. Or, the team could sink away because fans and owners don't care enough.



It breaks traditions wide open, and change isn't always welcomed by everyone.

Owners might never agree to buy a team, realizing they could be relegated.

The system could alienate a fan base if their team was sent down.

Young, talented players could be fooled into signing a big contract for a large market team, but never play in a single game. Talk about threatening a young players' career.


Break the traditions? Good or bad for Major League Baseball?


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