Major Premier League Baseball: Fixing Baseball's Competitive Balance

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Major Premier League Baseball: Fixing Baseball's Competitive Balance
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Legacy of George Steinbrenner: Buying Playoff Berths?

 An issue that has been plaguing baseball is massive inequalities of teams' abilities to compete consistently. High spending teams such as New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox can buy playoff berth (AL East team has held wild card 7 of the past 8 seasons). Small market teams, on the other hand, discount winning altogether and build teams with minimal payrolls to maximize revenues sharing profits.Both of these trends have hurt the appeal of baseball as up to a third of MLB cities' fan bases are already out of contention by mother's day.

 Baseball is a sport in a unique position. It is the only major sport that lacks both a salary cap and a promotion relegation system. With the strength of the MLB players union and the desire for big market teams to keep their right to buy playoff berths, the probability of a salary cap coming to baseball is low. 

 The alternative solution to fix the competitive imbalances of baseball is to instill a promotion relegation system. Similar to the English Premier League and other major European soccer leagues, the top performing teams will have an smaller elite league to play their season and weak teams will be relegated to a second tier league and would be replaced by the top teams in the second tier leagues.

With AAA being established as farm systems for each of the thirty current major league teams, the minor league system will not be involved with promotion and relegation. Instead the American and National Leagues will become tiered with the American League becoming the top league and the National League becoming the lower tier league.

The reason the National League is the lower league is because more American League teams will initially be placed in the top division. The American League also has experienced a significant edge in the quality of its talent over the past fifteen years.

 Each league will have three six team divisions for a total of eighteen teams. Six expansion teams will be added to the National League to balance the size of each league.The schedule will change slightly but still total 162 games.

Each team playing its league foes six times for a total of 102 games games plus  six more games against each division rival and thirty interleague games.  Interleague play will ensure National League some high profile games along with additional revenue sharing. 

 Both leagues would have their own set of playoffs with the three division winners plus two wild cards who would play in a best of three series to enter the Championship series. The AL championship would become the new World Series. The NL regular season champion and NL postseason champion (if they are the same, the 2nd place postseason team) will be promoted up to the American League.

The two worst teams in the American League would be sent down to the National League. The next best regular season NL team and the third worst AL team would play in best of five series for the last spot in the next season's American League. There could also be a possibility of an exhibition series of the AL and NL champion after the World Series if there is enough interest.

 Below is a table of of how major league baseball would be realigned. The criteria for teams to be selected in the initial American  League includes the teams winning percentage over the past ten years, playoff appearances, market size, and ownership's commitment to spend money on the team to win. I have added some explanations on why certain border line teams belong in one league or the other. I have also noted some of the reason of the various expansion cities were chosen. 

American League:

East:

New York Yankees

Boston Red Sox

New York Mets

Atlanta Braves

Philadelphia Phillies

Florida Marlins- The Marlins may have a history of being cheap, but they still win (5th best record in NL since 2002) and with a new stadium in 2012 will begin to increase payroll. Once they gain their climate controlled stadium, Floridians would actually enjoy going to game instead of enduring humidity and rain. Also Miami is a big market city that has the potential for a big market payroll.

Central:

Minnesota Twins

Detroit Tigers

Toronto Blue Jays

St. Louis Cardinals

Chicago White Sox

Chicago Cubs- Winning certainly does not put them in the top league. However, their market and willingness to spend and try to win keeps them in AL Central. However, they would be a team at risk of relegation early.

West:

Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco Giants

Seattle Mariners- Similar story to the Chicago Cubs when it comes to payroll versus winning.

Colorado Rockies

Houston Astros

National League:

East:

Washington Nationals

Baltimore Orioles

Pittsburgh Pirates

Tampa Bay Rays- Although the Rays made the playoffs two of the past three years, Tampa is unable to support a consistent winner. With fans that fail to attend the games, and the owners insistence of cutting payroll and not resigning free agents. The Rays will begin in t the NL until they earn their way up.

*Montreal Nouveau Expos- With an international focus on expansion, why not bring back the Expos? With there cool looking hats and history of a fan base, a modern stadium could make baseball popular again in French Canada.

*San Juan Islanders- San Juan had an experiment with the Expos in 2004, and have strong enough of a fan base to support a B league baseball team. This also a good way to capitalize on the baseball crazed Caribbean.

Central:

Milwaukee Brewers

Cleveland Indians

Cincinnati Reds- The Reds made the postseason for the first time since 1995 this year, but it has been more common for them to be a NL bottom feeder and small market payroll team in the recent past.

Kansas City Royals

Pittsburgh Pirates

*Monterrey Bandits- Monterrey, Mexico was one of the potential cities to locate the Expos instead of Washington. Close enough to the US border for teams travel easily, this could be a great launch pad for major league baseball in Mexico. Monterrey and the Nuevo Leon region is much more wealthy than the rest of Mexico (GDP per capita similar to countries like Greece and Portugal) and can afford to support professional baseball.

*Carolina Dragons- The reason I put Carolina here instead of the east is to balance the amount of expansion teams to two per division.

West:

Arizona Diamondbacks- During its early history, the Diamondbacks invested heavily in producing a winner to build a solid fan base. However, after the 2001 World Series, the franchise along with ownership's commitment to winning has eroded with payroll falling towards the bottom third of the MLB.

San Diego Padres- 

Oakland Athletics- Ever since releasing his trade secrets through Michael Lewis' Moneyball, Billy Beane lost his scouting edge which had compensated for the A's small market spending (even though the Bay Area is a big market).

Texas Rangers- They may make the World Series this year, but the Rangers have consistently been a non contending team. Beating the Rays was their first postseason series win ever and with Cliff Lee probably heading to New York, how long will this team be a contender in the future?

*Portland Beavers- Portland is a rising affluent media market that can support Major League Baseball. The Trailblazers have proven that the city can consistently fill a stadium. It also provides

*Las Vegas Aces- There may be gambling issues to resolve before the Aces can throw their first pitch. If Vegas for some reason falls through, this team can also play either in Vancouver, BC or San Antonio.

 A promotion-relegation system provides competition to be more balanced based on teams which teams will play other clubs of equal talent and payroll levels. Small market teams will be able to play for a championship of their own. It also discourages teams such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals of intentionally marginalizing their teams for profit as relegation to the National League will hurt owners in the pocketbook as well as their competitive pride. 

The regular season will also be more compelling for premier league fan bases because their will more match-ups against top talent teams. Baseball will not probably not institute this system or a salary cap, but a promotion relegation system can help address the sport inequity and create an incentive for every team to put a maximum commitment to winning a championship.

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