The end of tanking? How to make every MLB team try to win every year
Major League Baseball is in the midst of a significant change, one that could have a profound effect on how the game is played. The new rules are designed to make every team try to win every year. But will it work?
The mlb teams list is a website that allows users to search for the current standings of all MLB teams.
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Baseball is at a crossroads, with increasing strikeout totals and unwritten-rules disputes, as well as engaging with a new generation of fans and a potential labor fight. As MLB grapples with these problems, we’re taking a season-long look at The State of Baseball, exploring the themes and stories that will shape the game in 2021 and beyond.
The MLB’s trade deadline has passed. For baseball’s contenders, the thrill of a pennant fight is approaching, but supporters of clubs at the bottom of the rankings have nothing to look forward to until next season.
Half of the clubs participating are basically out of contention when the full slate of games starts on Friday. But what if a game between the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers in August had significance? The Chicago Cubs will face the Miami Marlins with a weakened lineup.
Is it possible for Major League Baseball to devise a system that would bring those 15 clubs closer to the playoffs in the first place?
When you ask any big league player what his main goal is as the players’ union and MLB try to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement before the current one expires on December 1, you’ll almost always get the same response: Every season, have all 30 teams participate.
Andrew Miller, a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and a member of the MLBPA executive board, reportedly said, “You’re going to hear it a lot from us.” “I believe everyone will get weary of hearing that term. Every time we’re between the lines as players, we’re expected to compete. That is what is required of us. As a player, you hope that your teammates are following suit.”
It’s one of the reasons why the term “rebuild” has a bad connotation in sports. The teardown-style rebuild that has grown prevalent in baseball entails minimal payrolls and a club that will be unable to compete for a postseason berth for many years. Prospects who go from Triple-A to the majors labor for little money under the existing system, but they seldom win. That, like the higher pay, comes later. The players feel that a change is required.
“A lot of what’s going on in the markets will be fixed by competition from all 30 clubs,” Miller said. “It will undoubtedly be beneficial for players if everyone is striving to win the free-agent market. ‘Let’s add dollars here; let’s add dollars there,’ instead of ‘Let’s add dollars here; let’s add dollars there,’ solves a lot of problems.”
With that in mind, ESPN enlisted the help of front-office officials, players, agents, and other baseball insiders to figure out how to persuade all 30 clubs to focus on winning every season.
Reconsider the draft
Len Kasper, the White Sox’s play-by-play announcer, suggested a reverse-order draft. “The No. 1 pick goes to the best club that does not reach the playoffs. September baseball can be extremely dull, which is a major problem in the business right now. It’s interesting to have a series at the conclusion of the year when a club can win two of three games and earn the top selection in the draft.”
This was a popular answer among those we polled, and it has the potential to keep teams competitive and spectators engaged throughout the season. Would the Cubs have simply traded all of their top players if they knew they could have the No. 1 selection next summer if they played better now?
Non-playoff clubs’ potential would still be a focus in August and September, but managers and front offices would have to balance it with winning games to enhance draft position.
For the 20 non-playoff clubs, one player favored the concept of a tiered lottery system.
“In that situation, the five teams with the greatest regular-season record who aren’t participating in the playoffs have a chance at the No. 1 selection,” he said. “Picks 6-10 go to the following five, and so on.”
To decide draft order, one former CEO proposed a rolling five-year norm. For example, in 2022, the league would decide the ranking based on the cumulative results of clubs from 2017 to 2021, rather than just this season, as it does today. The team with the worst five-year record receives the first selection. They’d utilize records from 2018 through 2023 in 2023. This would reduce the motivation to bottom out for a year or two in order to obtain the first overall selection.
“Changing the way the draft order is determined makes a lot of sense,” Cubs player representative Ian Happ said. “We’re in favor of everything that encourages people to win.”
The draft structure is one of the CBA topics that MLB and the union are presently debating, but there is no indication that the draft will be changed from its current arrangement, which gives the No. 1 overall selection to the club with the poorest record the previous year.
Another issue stemming from the amount of clubs who opt not to compete in a particular season is not addressed by reimagining the draft.
The lack of offseason spending by rebuilding teams is the issue that players most want addressed in the next CBA. They want a vibrant free-agent process in which many teams are interested in both the top stars on the market and experienced players seeking for a new club.
According to Forbes, the lowest ten rated baseball clubs spent roughly $345 million on free agents last offseason. The top ten clubs spent a total of $900 million.
Many in the industry believe that having a wage floor is the most apparent method to boost payrolls. This would necessitate clubs having a set number of player salaries each season. According to one agent, the annual number may be computed using the average broadcast income per team divided by the 30 teams, or a subset of that calculation. Let’s say it was $100 million this season. On Opening Day this season, eighteen of the thirty clubs had payrolls above $100 million. To fulfill that criterion, the other 12 would have to raise theirs.
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Of course, owners will not embrace a proposal that requires them to spend more money.
“A pay floor is typically accompanied by a salary limit,” Miller said. “It’s something we can appreciate.” The heart of the system we have is something we enjoy. We believe that some adjustments are required. But, in the end, talking about a salary cap, revenue sharing, or whatever you want to call it, doesn’t make things any easier.
“We despise the term’salary cap.’”
Several current executives believe that a revenue-sharing arrangement between the players and the league is necessary. They observed how the epidemic revealed weaknesses on both sides when they aren’t working together.
Players and owners split income in both the NBA and NHL. Everyone gains when revenue increases. When they fall down, like they did in 2020, everyone suffers.
One player said, “We already have a cap.” “The CBT [competitive balance tax] is what it’s called.”
Many players feel the CBT serves as a wage cap, unfairly preventing even big-market clubs from breaching it often. Only three clubs have payrolls above the $206 million mark in 2019.
Teams have admitted that their budgets are sometimes driven by a desire to avoid the luxury tax, which is exacerbated by baseball’s structure, which raises penalties for exceeding it several times in a row.
The Cubs paid first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s full $5.6 million salary for the remainder of 2021 when he was traded to the Yankees only a few months ago. New York could afford him, but he preferred to remain beneath the radar. Joey Gallo was sent to the Texas Rangers for the same reason.
One agent said, “There is no greater example of the CBT affecting expenditure than that.” “The Yankees were able to complete the deal because they sent superior prospects to the Cubs and Rangers in exchange. Would they have signed Rizzo if he had been available in free agency last winter if it would have pushed them over the top? The pay will not be paid since there is no one to take up the slack. Most likely not.”
Here’s how all 30 teams fared during a crazy trade deadline, from huge winners to clubs that did nothing. (ESPN+) Bradford Doolittle
Every transaction is graded | Passan
Others in the industry, however, disagree that the CBT represents a de facto wage limit. With a hard cap, trading would be considerably more difficult. At the very least, the present structure allows for player mobility, whether taxed or not.
Another adjustment to the existing structure may push clubs to spend more in the summer without having to rely on free agents.
“It’s about getting players paid sooner,” Miller said. “There are a lot of ways to accomplish that; service-time manipulation is one of them.”
As a consequence of analytics telling executives and owners that players in their 30s are entering their decline phase, senior free agency paydays have dried up. According to ESPN Stats & Information, clubs signed 181 players 30 or older to multiyear contracts in the five years between 2011 and 2015. Between 2016 and 2020, that number fell to 154. That’s at a time when many players are entering free agency for the first time under the current structure.
One American League player said, “If front offices think the game is getting younger, then players should be compensated at a younger age.” “What good is it to make it to free agency if they think you’re beyond it?”
Players would want to see free agency begin sooner, which would also mean that arbitration would begin sooner or be abolished altogether. What kind of incentive would it provide clubs to spend more money in the offseason?
“There are a few options,” one well-known agent said. “If free agency occurs after four years, for example, you could be more proactive in securing him for a longer-term contract.” Who wants to select and nurture a guy who will be gone in a matter of months? You may be tempted to win as much as you can while he’s at his best if he’s a celebrity.
“If you have a few of those guys that you may not be able to re-sign, you might be more motivated to field a winning team while they’re within your control.”
Because they are still in their prime, athletes who reach free agency at a younger age will be more appealing to free-agent suitors if their club does not sign them to a long-term contract.
“Paying players sooner will have an effect on everything,” one NL player said emphatically. “That, I believe, is an answer. But we won’t know for sure until we see it in action.”
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