Instead of Taking Over a Bad Team, Relegate Them

Every so often, someone will mention that baseball parity might be improved through the use of “relegation,” common practice in European soccer leagues such as England’s Premier League. The English method wouldn’t exactly work in Major League Baseball, for a number of reasons, but apropos of Major League Baseball’s takeover of the Los Angeles Dodgers — as well as the impending sale of the Houston Astros and part of the New York Mets, teams owned by two of the worst owners in sports — it’s worth re-examining the tools that baseball has to ensure that clubs remain competitive and well-run.

In general, relegation only affects the very worst teams in the league, who get relegated to a lower division while the best teams in the lower division get promoted. The teams in the highest division, like those in the Premier League, get the privilege of competing against each other for the most prestigious championship. They also get access to the highest revenue streams through television and advertising. (The Premier League itself is sponsored by Barclays; many of the lower leagues are sponsored as well.) Last year’s “floating realignment” suggestion — in which Bud Selig proposed that teams could be temporarily reassigned to different divisions, a Byzantine solution to the problem of the AL East — brought a number of responses discussing or recommending relegation. However, I’d prefer to propose it not as a competitive measure, but as a punitive measure.

I think it’s pretty obvious that yearly relegation would be a bad idea for American baseball — the owners and players would never agree to it, and it would only make the rich teams richer and the poor poorer. (Since 1992, only four teams have won the Premier League: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and one-year wonder Blackburn. Eleven different teams have won the World Series.) I’m not interested in relegation as a yearly way to promote parity. I’m interested in relegation as an occasional punishment, rather than a yearly realignment — a way to disincentivize owners from running their teams into the ground or refusing to field a competitive team while pocketing profits from revenue sharing.

Since 1992 — back when there were just 26 teams — 19 different teams have won a league championship and played in the World Series, including all four expansion teams. Of the 11 who have not played in the World Series, six have made the playoffs in the last five years. (Those six include the Athletics and Dodgers, two teams whose ownership situations have affected their ability to win — the Athletics because their payroll is tiny, the Dodgers because the McCourts’ overspending and divorce proceedings have made the team a ward of the state.)

You can guess the other five, of course: the Mariners, Orioles, Pirates, Royals, and Expos/Nationals. These five teams have been dreadful for most of the past two decades. The Mariners’ 302 wins from 2001 to 2003, and mere nine-year playoff drought, are downright enviable compared to the others, and so we’ll strike them from the list. The Orioles haven’t been to the playoffs in 13 years, the Pirates haven’t been in 18 years, the Royals haven’t been in 25 years, and the Expos/Nationals haven’t been in 29 years. If any team were to be relegated, it would be one of them.

I view relegation as a financial punishment, designed to strike meddling ownership in their pockets, but the financial implications are wide-ranging. For one thing, as FanGraphs’ Leo Martin told me, the fear of relegation and possible benefit of promotion can lead teams in England to spend themselves nearly into bankruptcy: in the words of Joe McLean, a financial analyst quoted in The Guardian, the desire for promotion can “lead clubs to being seduced by what could be coming and take risks that they could later regret.” (And the Mariners probably wouldn’t have wound up on the above list if Bill Bavasi hadn’t been seduced by Erik Bedard.)

But, if anything, we want these teams to spend more. The chief reason that the Royals, Expos/Nationals, and Pirates have been so bad for so long — and the chief reason the Astros have been so bad since their 2005 league championship — is that skinflint owners have prevented their teams from spending money wisely or well. If they could be seduced by the prospect of higher revenues, or scared straight by the threat of much lower revenues in a lower league, that would be to baseball’s greater advantage.

The chief structural problem with relegation in baseball is that there’s only one major league. In order for a scheme like this to work, you need at least two: a league into which teams will be relegated, and a league into which they will be promoted. In old baseball parlance, that would be somewhat akin to the old first division and second division, though obviously relegation would make it a great deal more official. The affiliated minor leagues can’t host relegated teams or provide teams to be promoted, because player promotion and demotion is strictly controlled by the clubs who own the respective teams, and because a promoted farm club would be owned by one of the other 29 teams.

However, Bill James wrote an article in his recent “Solid Fool’s Gold” in which he suggested a number of tweaks to limit player promotion, thereby ensuring that minor league teams had more integrity and more meaningful playoff races, thus making the minor leagues a more independent entity and better for fans. That would be a way for the minor leagues to be a possible destination for a relegated major league team. (Obviously, you would have to relegate an even number of teams, and possibly realign the divisions, to ensure that there remained an even number of teams in the majors and at least four teams in each division.)

In our conversation, Leo Martin raised one other caveat: fans of relegated teams might permanently defect to other sports. That’s a good point, and it’s another reason that relegation should only even be considered as a last resort — as a punishment for a team that has screwed up so severely that contraction or relocation might have otherwise been considered. But in those cases, it’s hard to alienate the fanbase further. After all, in Pittsburgh, the fans have largely already defected, and here in Washington, other than Stephen Strasburg’s first start, they basically never came. The Royals are second-to-last in the majors in attendance, the Pirates are fourth-to-last, the Nationals are eighth-to-last, and the Orioles are ninth-to-last. Losing teams lose fans, but their ownership can be insulated from these losses — and from the incentive to stem them by investing in a winning team — thanks to the revenue sharing funds. Relegation would strip that insulation.

I have pursued this thought exercise while fully realizing that it’ll never, ever, ever happen. As annoyed as many teams might be by watching owners pocket their revenue-sharing money — George Steinbrenner loudly condemned the revenue-sharing system for just that reason — I’m sure that most of the Pirates’ rivals have been happy to rack up the wins against these doormats all these years. Moreover, unless the prospect of relegation were specifically adopted in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which of course it wouldn’t be, Bud Selig might not have the legal authority to tell the Nationals, Royals, Orioles or Pirates that their major league team is going to play in the minor leagues. But it’s an appealingly simple idea. Maybe a Quad-A team shouldn’t have to stay in the majors.



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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tbad
Member
tbad
5 years 3 months ago

Didn’t the Italian league team Juventus get punitively relegated a few years ago? That could make an interesting case study, especially in fan reaction. Although soccer’s bigger there than baseball is here AFAIK

Criminal Type
Guest
Criminal Type
5 years 3 months ago

Yes, Juventus was relegated as punishment.

It wasn’t for sucking, though. It was because Juve players were involved in a match-fixing scheme.

BavarianYankee
Guest
BavarianYankee
5 years 3 months ago

wrong, the players didn’t do anything, it was Moggi ;)

Sofla Baseball
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

I hear Japan is having trouble hosting some of their games. Why don’t we fill the gap with Japanese teams instead of supporting the bad teams here. Just a thought.

PJ
Guest
PJ
5 years 3 months ago

That would be pretty awesome. Like demote the Pirates for the Royals AAA team.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
5 years 3 months ago

Or the Royals for the Royals AAA team

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
5 years 3 months ago

Pretty sure that’s how the Yankees still view the Royals… :)

Chris Magyar
Guest
Chris Magyar
5 years 3 months ago

There’s actually a way to pull off realignment and relegation at the same time without destroying the major league-ness of a franchise: 5 divisions of six teams each.

There would be an NL East, NL West, AL East, and an AL West. These four divisions and 24 teams would compete as normal, with the division winners and second-place teams entering the playoffs. Then there would be a Relegation Division composed of the six worst teams from the previous year. This Division would still compete in the major leagues against the other 4 divisions’ franchises, but would not have the opportunity to go to the playoffs or pursue a World Series championship.

The mechanics of this are fun to ponder. Do you try to maintain geographic sanity with the “West” and “East” divisions? How do you apportion relegation so that it doesn’t unduly punish sort-of bad teams in really tough divisions, or reward really terrible teams in mediocre divisions?

My one-hour thought is to have the Relegation Division populated the same way as the playoffs, albeit in a bizarro upside-down way. The worst team from each official division go down. The two teams with the worst records in the Relegation Division remain down. The other four teams from the Relegation Division ascend to the most appropriate upper division.

This way, a team would have to really suck for an extended period of time to stay in no-playoffs jail for several years running, and there’s a real incentive to win games year-in and year-out. Obviously this could potentially screw with AL/NL divisions unless some strict rules were put in place to keep an even number of AL/NL teams in the Relegation Division, and promote evenly as well. And do you give the crappy teams a DH or not? (My vote, make them play by the rules of whatever league they’re facing, and do without a DH when playing within the division.)

Anyway, this solution, while still completely not going to happen, seems at least more feasible from a business sense than true soccer-style relegation, and seems like it would promote a similar level of parity to what we currently have.

(*Bonus thought: Revenue sharing is withheld from Relegation Division teams.)

Drakos
Guest
Drakos
5 years 3 months ago

This would have been awesome for the Rays in 2008. 97 wins and you don’t even have the opportunity to make the playoffs.

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
5 years 3 months ago

Not that I favor actually doing this, but you have outlined an awesome plan for doing it. That must have taken some real thought. At the same time, your plan would solve the unbalanced leagues problem (i.e. 14 and 16).

PiratesHurdles
Guest
PiratesHurdles
5 years 3 months ago

Or you could just fix the problem by leveling the financial playing field like every other major sport.

But no, lets come up with a ridiculous system where a team gets dropped a level and their players are no longer in MLB. I bet Ryan Zimmerman and Andrew McCutchen would love being minor leaguers again. The players union would love that idea.

You can talk all you want about cheap owners, but there is no way in any scenario that the Pirates can spend $150 million on payroll with the current structure. The deadspin books clearly show that even with increased ticket revenue you’re looking at a $70-80 million max in the market.

The best thing for competitive MLB baseball would be to relegate the Yankees and Red Sox, not eliminating the bottom teams. Those two clubs skew competitive advantage more than any.

Brent
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

Leveling the financial playing field like every other major sport? Not sure what sport youre talking about.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt
5 years 3 months ago

The NFL salary cap never really did much to add parity to the NFL, anyway. Most teams never got even close to the salary cap, so there’s still a great financial disparity. The NFL does a much better job of providing the illusion of a level playing field, mostly because there’s a greater risk of significant injuries that remove key players, and because the season is short enough that random events have a huge impact.

And you still have the Patriots, Colts, and Eagles in the playoffs basically every season while the Lions and Bills have been terrible for a long time.

TLD
Guest
TLD
5 years 3 months ago

Alex, while there is no doubt that the MLBPA is a powerful collection of people. The national Teachers Union is the most powerful union in America, hands down.

David
Guest
David
5 years 3 months ago

Alex, I don’t think English soccer (or any European / South American league) ever had a salary cap. The reason finances have skyrocketed recently is because of, among other things, the Bosman ruling, which basically eliminated European soccer’s reserve clause.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
5 years 3 months ago

“The NFL salary cap never really did much to add parity to the NFL, anyway.”

Yeah, this. It’s sort of common wisdom that NFL has this awesome parity for some reason, but often pointed out that baseball has had more and different playoff teams and champions than the NFL over the recent past. Just one of those myths that kind of took hold and the refutation hasn’t been forceful enough to get it disspelled.

Dan
Guest
Dan
5 years 3 months ago

Forbes’ estimates for all teams’ revenue, income, and expenses are here: http://blogs.forbes.com/kurtbadenhausen/2011/03/23/baseballs-most-valuable-teams/.

First off, the Yankees are ALONE at the top. Their revenue for 2010 was $427m. The next five teams are $272m, $258m, $246m, $239m, and $233m. The Red Sox are 2nd for the first time in a couple years. They’re up and down among the Mets, Dodgers, Cubs, and lately the Phillies in the 2nd-5th range over the last few years.

I strongly agree with the article, that there’s no incentive to compete harder. You’d think the bottom rung teams would spend what they have to move up the ladder, but the bottom five teams, by revenue, earned incomes of $23m on average. None were below $10m. Contrast that with a team like the Red Sox, which lost about $1m. Most clubs across the whole spectrum were profitable, and only seven failed to earn $10m. Three clubs lost money: Sox, Mets (-$6m), and Tigers (-29m).

Here’s my biggest beef: the teams with the lowest expenses to revenues ratios, a who’s who of profiteers in baseball.

1. Padres, 77%
2. Nationals, 81%
3. Pirates, 84%
4. Orioles, 85%

League average is 92%. These teams have little gate revenue because they’ve lost a lot of fan support already, so their total revenue is more predictable than contending teams. Most of their operating budget stems from TV contracts, merchandise, and revenue sharing–all are well known in advance–yet these teams don’t spend nearly as much as the average team does.

The Padres and Nationals lead the league in net profit at $37m both. Either could have easily spent another $25m with almost no risk of losing money. $25m can go a LONG way. How about drafting some over slot guys like the Sox are lauded for? How about keeping Adrian Gonzalez for the last year? How about signing internal talent more aggressively? It’s not all about getting the $20m/year free agents.

It’s the bottom-dwellers that routinely earn more net profit than playoff teams that need to improve their ways.

hans
Guest
hans
5 years 3 months ago

now you’re not basing this on the Forbes’ data are you? That would be quite an error in forming you argument.

Here’s a start……TV money.

David
Guest
David
5 years 3 months ago

I’m guessing the Orioles are only on that list because Peter Angelos owns MASN, the TV / radio network that covers Orioles and Nationals games. We have actually spent a lot of money (unwisely in my opinion) on free agents in the past, including Belle, Tejada, Sosa, Ramon Hernandez… the problem is that we have not had a GM, until Andy MacPhail, who had the brain to actually go through a serious rebuilding phase (and even now, when we should still be restocking the farm system, we spent $30 million on Lee, Vlad, and Gregg).

Brent
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

Does anyone really think the NBA, for instance, has a level financial playing field? There is a reason Melo is in NY, and Howard is going to end up in L.A., as opposed to, say, Indianapolos…

Alan
Guest
Alan
5 years 3 months ago

I would love to know what made you think Melo “intentionally dogged it and demanded a trade.” He did neither. He was a pending free agent and refused to sign an extension, that is all. The only team he would sign an extension for was the Knicks, and that is his right. In fact, it is remarkable how little he commented on the entire situation, so I have no idea what made you say those ridiculous, untrue things.

BlackOps
Guest
BlackOps
5 years 3 months ago

Indy isn’t a small market for basketball.

TJ
Guest
TJ
5 years 3 months ago

Yes the NBA has a level financial playing field, and I can give one great big example that no one can dispute. The San Antonio Spurs have 4 championships, the Dallas Mavericks have 0.

Joe Blow
Guest
Joe Blow
5 years 3 months ago

Women should be “relegated” to the kitchen and not work in MLB…..amirite Alex?

fredsbank
Guest
fredsbank
5 years 3 months ago

i see what you did there…

Greg
Guest
Greg
5 years 3 months ago

A simpler way to punish, or at least not reward, the skinflints would be to turn revenue sharing into a matching contribution system.

For a low-revenue team, add up every player’s salary, less the league minimum. Of that sum, rich teams contribute a fraction determined by the team’s revenue. Maybe it’s a smaller contribution for arbitration-eligible players than for free agents, because they’re still somewhat cost controlled. Or the contribution could be greater for multi-year deals.

Result: if the Pirates spend nothing, they get nothing. If ownership wants to be competitive, they get help.

ms
Guest
ms
5 years 3 months ago

I like your use of “byzantine” as an adjective.

Justin Bailey
Guest
Justin Bailey
5 years 3 months ago

There’s another way to use it?

ms
Guest
ms
5 years 3 months ago

As the name of the eastern half of the Roman empire that survived until 1453 whose overly complex and sometimes self-defeating political machinations is what the adjective used here derives it’s meaning from?

Oscar
Guest
Oscar
5 years 3 months ago

You mean…Byzantium? Byzantine IS an adjective.

Justin Bailey
Guest
Justin Bailey
5 years 3 months ago

It was a rhetorical question, ms.

GiantHusker
Guest
GiantHusker
5 years 3 months ago

The name of the empire based in Constantinople for more than 1000 years was “The Roman Empire.” “Byzantine” is something historians came up with for some bizarre reason.

Sam B.
Guest
Sam B.
5 years 3 months ago

“Bud Selig might not have the legal authority to tell the Nationals, Royals, Orioles or Pirates that their major league team is going to play in the minor leagues.”

No, but he could tell the Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants, etc. that they get to play in a better league, couldn’t he? Instead of demoting bad teams to the minors or a newly created second division, promote the good teams to a newly created premier league. Maybe well into the future, we could see a premier league made up of the best teams in the entire North American region.

But more down to earth, maybe the very worst teams should be force to forgo revenue sharing payments in favor of extra draft picks. No money for the worst eight teams, but they get the first eight picks in the draft, and THEN start the first round. (So the worst team would pick first and ninth.) Or some similar system.

tcnjsteve
Guest
tcnjsteve
5 years 3 months ago

Make two leages. A “Premier League” of the 16 largest market teams, New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, Texas etc. No salary cap, no revenue sharing, just big spending.

Take the 14 remaining teams, and add two expansion franchises. Against small market competition, new teams in San Antonio, Vancouver, Carolina, or New Jersey could hope to succeed.

Two 16-team leagues, divide each into 8, pit the division champs against each other in a championship, just like the old days.

More competitive balance, more cities with baseball, and a better playoff format.

fredsbank
Guest
fredsbank
5 years 3 months ago

so a team like tampa gets to beat the crap out of the competition in the lower league, while the upper league muddles around .500 baseball for too-fierce competition?

Ryan S
Guest
Ryan S
5 years 3 months ago

Over the 18 years of the Pirates you mentioned they have lost for many many reasons. If you recall, they had tried to spend money on certain players. At the time, the Pat Meares contract was rather large for a shortstop, and once upon a time the Pirates made Jason Kendall (KENDALL!) the highest paid backstop in all of baseball. The problem wasn’t so much that the Bucos wouldn’t spend, it was a matter of what they were spending ON.

I notice you didn’t list the Marlins. They are perennial spend thrifts and have even had MLB take a look at their fiscal ways. Now obviously, the Marlins can widely be considered a successful run organization. They’ve gone through peaks and valleys but ultimately they are a club that makes the playoffs with relative consistentcy and even have a couple WS appearances under their belt.

Money doesn’t guarantee sustained success (Cubs and Mets anyone?) and ultimately for small market teams like the Royals and Pirates, a poorly conceived deal can set them back years. These teams can’t recover from a bust like the Yankees can.

To say that the Pirates and Royals don’t win because they don’t spend money is a very narrow and short sighted statement. The Marlins are proof that money spent wisely can justify the means, just as the Mets are proof that money spent poorly can cripple. It’s all relative.

If we really want to see teams that sit yearly at the bottom of the standings improve, then demanding that they spend large sums on things that actually build and SUSTAIN a successful club (scouting, drafting, player development, etc..) would likely have the greatest effect. Sometimes the only way to see a club improve is to save them from making franchise crippling mistakes. All this being said, I will agree that sometimes a team needs to ‘go for the gold’ to punch through to the next level.

BlackOps
Guest
BlackOps
5 years 3 months ago

Mets have had their best period of sustained success in franchise history in the last ~5 years and they still didn’t make the world series. Speaks more on how hard it is to win rather than “money isn’t the be all end all” of baseball. Obviously it isn’t, but teams with high payrolls are almost always in the top half of the league.

Not A Moron
Guest
Not A Moron
5 years 3 months ago

This sounds like a good idea when you only reference the teams that are habitually at the bottom. At this point, the Pirates could disappear and four people would notice. However, there are regularly teams that finish last one year that aren’t bad, they’re just rebuilding or have a bad year, a bunch of injuries, etc…

Relegation as punishments sounds fine until you realize that every year more than the teams referenced finish in last place – and some of them are decent organizations that spend honestly.

Larry@IIATMS
Guest
Larry@IIATMS
5 years 3 months ago

Wow. This is a very interesting piece: a lot of very intelligent thought and analysis, and a lot that misses the mark by a wide margin.

I think there’s a hole in your thinking: you are lumping together two kinds of teams that you need to consider separately. There are teams like the Mets and Dodgers that are high revenue teams and are widely regarded as poorly run. Then there are teams like the Pirates and Marlins that are low revenue teams, but are VERY WELL run, assuming that the goal of a well-run team is to play the existing revenue sharing system to make the biggest profit possible.

Relegation is one answer to teams like the Pirates. Relegation says that you don’t get to make big profits if your team underperforms year after year. Of course, there’s an easier way to accomplish the same thing, which is to pay less in revenue sharing to underperforming teams, and more to teams like the Rays and A’s that overperform relative to their resources and market size.

Relegation is no answer to the mismanagement of teams like the Mets and Dodgers. All relegation would do to a team like the Dodgers is to force the team into insolvency faster than the team would reach insolvency on its own. Also: consider that (oddly enough) the Mets and Dodgers fund a good portion of the revenue sharing money that reaches deserving teams like the A’s and Rays. Dump the Mets and Dodgers into the minor leagues, and you’d substantially diminish baseball’s revenues overall.

So … I like your piece, but I think it needs more thinking out.

Greg
Guest
Greg
5 years 3 months ago

The Mets have done okay in the past decade, with one playoff appearance and multiple winning seasons. Extend that to 2000 and you have a World Series appearance. Pretty lousy compared to what they spend, but at least they compete sometimes.

The Dodgers have multiple playoff appearances in the last decade and their troubles only started recently. With any luck, they’ll be in a new owner’s hands soon enough.

Hardly extended underperformances on the level of the Pirates, Nationals, or Royals.

BlackOps
Guest
BlackOps
5 years 3 months ago

“assuming that the goal of a well-run team is to play the existing revenue sharing system to make the biggest profit possible.”

The idea is that it isn’t. The goal of posts like this is to make baseball more competitive, and going into it you have to think success = winz, not profit.

quincy0191
Guest
quincy0191
5 years 3 months ago

I rarely go this far, but this article is just dumb. It’s not even close to a good idea, nor one that should happen.

First, of course, you have the whole problem of relegation simply being impossible in MLB. You can’t promote minor league teams, because the players on those teams are “owned” by the MLB franchise, and if it got moved to the majors then all those players wouldn’t be allowed to play for that team by the franchise because it means more competition. Not to mention that it’s completely unfair to a team that builds a good farm system to take their players away because they did so well accumulating a good crop of prospects.

None of the independent teams have the infrastructure or talent to replace any MLB franchise either, so relegation can’t happen simply because to do it would mean either replacing a bad team with a worse one or MLB taking a bunch of good players from one franchise because another one is so bad it needs to be demoted.

But worse is the idea that this is somehow going to fix the payroll imbalances. Where this thought is coming from, I don’t know, but any further ideas from there ought to be squelched. You mentioned the Mariners, Nats/Expos, Pirates, Royals, and Astros as teams that have been bad for awhile. But this has nothing to do with a lack of funds and everything to do with a lack of good management. The Marlins consistently have an incredibly low payroll, as do the Padres, Rays, and A’s. All of these teams manage to find success anyway. The talent evaluation teams have makes them good or bad; all money does is allow you to make mistakes and bet on less risky players. It’s undoubtedly powerful, and the payroll discrepancies in MLB need to be dealt with, but the fact that some owners are cheap and others generous has far less to do with how well their team does than how good their front office is at finding good baseball players.

Brent
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

This whole article is rather silly, isn’t Alex? 1. Not going to happen. 2. We probably don’t want it to happen. I think it would actually have the opposite effect, because good free agents would avoid teams that have recently been struggling out of fear of being relegating to the lower division.

Other ideas, such as salary floors and stricter rules on use of revenue sharing funds would probably work better than this punishment system. There is already a big revenue incentive to win, somehow I don’t think adding an even greater incentive would actually make these teams try harder.

Calogero
Guest
Calogero
5 years 3 months ago

You say that you’re more interested in relegation as a punishment or disincentive than to promote parity. I would think a less convoluted way of doing what you propose would be to just contract franchises. Small market teams have to be remarkably efficient and execute personnel decisions with little margin for error in order to be competitive. With relegation, not only would the margin for error become narrower (the Pirates, Royals and Nationals already have to overbid to get free agents…imagine if they were in a lower subdivision), but self-perpetuating cycles of failure would take hold, where teams would lose a lot of games, franchises would lose significant value, have a harder time getting and keeping talent, revenue would shrink, teams would continue to lose games, and on and on.

I don’t know why I just spent the time typing all that out. It’s just a terrible idea.

Xeifrank
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

I don’t think any relegation system where a team has a 0% chance of making the playoffs is going to float. You mind as well disband the team before you do that. In my relegation system (linked to above in the “might”) you relegate into three tiers (1, 2, 3=worst). You then take the top five teams from tier 1, the top two teams from tier 2 and for the 8th and final playoff spot you have a one game “play in” game between the two top teams from tier 3. Then you seed the teams from the higher tier ahead of the teams from the lower tier, with record being the seeding tie-breaker for teams in the same tier. You then move the bottom two teams down and top two teams up.

This type of relegation basically sets up a quota system where one smaller market team is likely to play in the post-season and you still have your 5-7 other really good teams.

MrKnowNothing
Member
MrKnowNothing
5 years 3 months ago

Why not just take the teams away from the owners? Draft contractual language that says MLB can recind at fair market value (or something) the team if the owner just clearly sucks. If the owner is cheap, he loses the team. If the owner is a moron who keeps making bad decision, he loses the team.

There always seem to be plenty of people willing to buy a team, let’s give THEM a chance.

Head Bee Guy
Guest
Head Bee Guy
5 years 3 months ago

1) Since it wasn’t contractual language when all of the current owners bought their teams, they’d presumably all have to agree to it now after the fact, which they’d never do.

2) Even if they were excluded, current owners would never want this to become common practice for prospective new owners. If you’re concerned about financial performance, this is going to drive down franchise values. If you’re concerned about winning, this is going to create tougher competition.

Seems like the ideal path to fix the problem (to the extent it actually needs fixing) would be to alter the revenue sharing system to stop rewarding teams that don’t reinvest the funds they receive.

Doug Lampert
Guest
Doug Lampert
5 years 3 months ago

Base revenue sharing money on current value * (number of wins – 48) * 3%.

You might want to alter the formula to take competition difficulty into account, but pay for wins, not for existing!

The all replacement team should be able to win 48, given the draft any competent general manager can do better than that even with rather bad luck. But the wins are what you’re paid for, not existing, and not otherwise gaming the system to look like you’re making more than you are.

MikeS
Guest
MikeS
5 years 3 months ago

I just don’t think it can work. What happens if the Yankees get relegated? Maybe you don’t believe that’s possible but what about the Cubs, Mets or Dodgers? Do MLB and FOX want to lose those TV dollars if those big market teams aren’t playing in the top league? What if both the Cubs and White Sox got relegated. No MLB in Chicago.

Think bad teams have trouble selling tickets now, wait till they can’t even advertise that they are part of MLB. What happens to Royals ticket sales if the Yankees and Red Sox never come to town, even if it is only 6 or 8 games a year. They also lose the interleague games.

MLBPA will never, ever, ever go for it either. It hurts the earning potential of players on teams that get relegated.

It’s an interesting idea and handled well in the article but I see these problems as insurmountable.

John
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

Relegation has nothing to do with the disparity of wealth in European football. That is related to the Champions’ League. Teams have been relegated and promoted for a hundred years, the English cartel is recent.

Felonius_Monk
Guest
Felonius_Monk
5 years 3 months ago

The biggest factor in the disparity of QUALITY in European football is the transfer system and the lack of a draft.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
5 years 3 months ago

I would love baseball and all American sports to be run like European soccer league. Instead of having MLB teams owning minor league franchises, they would compete against them in a competition similar to FA cup. It would give bad teams incentive to get good.

NSCEGF
Guest
NSCEGF
5 years 3 months ago

The only way something like this would work (as mentioned above, sort of) is by adding a bunch of teams. Putting teams in places like Vancouver, Oklahoma City, New Jersey, Buffalo, Sacramento, Portland, etc. in a second division, and then threatening the worst few teams in MLB with relegation to that second division, with commensurate promotion, might actually work. Push the bottom feeders to compete rather than rake in revenue sharing, and give the second division teams a chance at the big time. Salaries would have to be set at a AAAA level for those teams as well.

Still, there would be a ton of problems. Who gets to draft first? What about the talent dilution? How to handle trades between 1st and 2nd division? What will MLBPA think? How mad will relegated team owners be now that their asset is worth a fraction of its previous value? How are revenues shared?

It would be fun, but it’s just not likely ever to happen, even though placing a whole bunch more teams in a AAAA level would conceivably boost revenue substantially.

Bascinator
Member
Bascinator
5 years 3 months ago

The whole motivation behind this is article is fixing the revenue sharing system, specifically for the small market teams that pocket the cash. It makes sense for small market teams to save money and refuse to spend on players in rebuilding years, then increase payroll in a year when they feel their team is ready to contend. This has been true for teams like the Rays, Indians, and A’s; they’ve gutted payroll some years, but spent when they felt the team was ready to contend.

Instead of having the big market teams give the small market teams money, they could give the money into a large pool to MLB. Ths small market teams would be granted a yearly “small market exception.” So if revenue sharing says a team gets $10 million, they get a $10 million exception for one year. This exception could be used for any of the following:

1. Signing a free agent
2. Acquiring a player in a trade
3. Signing a draft pick

The exception can also be broken up into several pieces (sign a draft pick for $4 mill, 2 free agents for $3 mill). Any money unused in the exception would get returned to the teams that put money into revenue sharing.

Any thoughts on this?

Al Dimond
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

As this is a stats blog, and baseball generally values its stats and records quite a bit, I’m surprised nobody’s asked what relegation would mean for stats. Say the Royals got relegated back when they had Grienke. Against AAA competition, Grienke has the greatest pitching season of all time (of all time!), striking out like 900 batters and racking up 100 WAR. How do we look at that? What happens after he’s finished his brilliant career and he’s up for HoF consideration? “Yeah, Grienke had 300 WAR, which is completely nutso, but 255 of it was against AAA competition while the Royals were relegated for 3 years.”

Obviously an exaggeration. You could see similar issues if baseball were split into a “first” and “second” division (blah blah blah AL East blah blah blah replacement level is already different between leagues blah blah blah).

Under the European football system, as I understand it (not well), Grienke would probably be “loaned” to a first-division club instead of toiling in AAA with the Royals… I have no idea what the mechanics of that transaction are… but I have this vague notion that loaning serves a similar purpose to minor-league call-ups in promoting good players out of obscurity…

I’m pretty much just rambling at this point, but… is it really fair to fault small-market teams for failing to succeed at MLB? It’s hard to make money when rebuilding, and rebuilding can fail even when you make the right moves. Given that we have the minor-league system, isn’t the real solution to all the problems that are actually problems to allow teams absolute freedom to move wherever they want? Split the NY market up like 6 ways instead of 2, let the As move to SJ, etc? I guess this wouldn’t really make KC/Oak/Pit fans any happier.

Travis
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

In our conversation, Leo Martin raised one other caveat: fans of relegated teams might permanently defect to other sports.

I feel bad for European sports fans. Futbol is more or less the only major team game in town. And in the premier league, what, only 5 teams or so have come in the top 3 in the past 20 years? You either have to root for the Lakers/Celtics/Yankees, or root for a mediocre year.

David
Guest
David
5 years 3 months ago

Hey, I’m a fan of the Redskins, Wizards, and Orioles, and I defected to a team in the English Premier League. You shouldn’t feel bad for European soccer fans – they might only follow 1 sport, but there are 5 extremely competitive, high-quality national leagues, along with the Champions League, and national team competitions that actually matter.

And actually, fans of teams in the English lower leagues are fanatically devoted. Newcastle, for instance, got relegated two years ago but still sold out their stadium almost every game they played in the 2nd division. I’m pretty sure there are soccer teams in England that get more supporters in a year (~25 home games) than my Orioles get over the course of 81 home games…

matt w
Guest
matt w
5 years 3 months ago

“apropos of Major League Baseball’s takeover of the Los Angeles Dodgers — as well as the impending sale of the Houston Astros and part of the New York Mets, teams owned by two of the worst owners in sports — it’s worth re-examining the tools that baseball has to ensure that clubs remain competitive and well-run.”

So the Dodgers, Mets, and Astros have awful owners — criminal or near-criminal in the first two cases — and your solution is to relegate the Pirates, Nationals, Royals, or Orioles. How is this not a crashing non sequitur?

kick me in the GO NATS
Guest
kick me in the GO NATS
5 years 3 months ago

oh, so the team that just grossly overpaid for Jason Werth and has made similar offers to players but been rejected nearly every year they have been around does not spend enough? I have never read a more wrong article in my life!!!!

How about you stop complaining and actually go and look at the real problem. If you are a small market team you can make errors in judgement on players that negatively affect you for years. If you are a large market team you can’t. Assuming luck with players is stochastic (and by all evidence it seems to be) then small market teams can simply through trying to spend money then getting unlucky once make themselves serious losing teams for a decade. Would you take that risk with your own money? It is not a fair playing field. Teams with less money have to be much better than large market teams to win period. It can happen with some luck and skill, but it wont happen that often.

Nolan
Guest
Nolan
5 years 3 months ago

What about this idea: Rank teams from 1-30 on average cost per win, and then split the revenue sharing based on the rankings (i.e. most efficient team gets the biggest cut). Sure, this hurts big spending teams, but do they really need big revenue sharing paychecks in the first place?

TheGrandslamwich
Member
TheGrandslamwich
5 years 3 months ago

In the short term this may inspire teams to spend more, but in the long term it would likely hurt teams that dont compete every year instead. Wins and attendance clearly have a direct correlation. But what would happen to attendance numbers if fans already knew in advance that their team had no chance?

MGP
Guest
MGP
5 years 3 months ago

“And the Mariners probably wouldn’t have wound up on the above list if Bill Bavasi hadn’t been seduced by Erik Bedard.”

I don’t buy this statement. The Bedard trade, as bad as it was for the Mariners, was NOT what has made the team terrible for most of the last five years. It was all the other stuff Bavasi did, the bad drafting, trades, and free agent signings that has led to where they are today.

_sturt_
Guest
_sturt_
5 years 3 months ago

Relegation, yes, but not relegation for whole seasons at a time.

Relegation works if it is designed as an in-season fixture. I’ve thought and written extensively on the topic, but giving you a Readers’ Digest version, you would have 4 months of in-league play that would serve to determine the 10 best NL teams and 10 best AL teams… the other 10 who do not make the cut go into their own pool and are relegated to play the last two months in games against one another, with the best record winning some recognition of some kind… it, at least, gives them something to play for… then, August becomes a one-month pool and another 10 teams follow the same, though separate, path of the first 10 cut… leaving the top 5 NL teams to vie against each other and top 5 AL teams to vie against each other for a top 2 position and the right to play in the League Championship Series. Then, make the LCS a best 5/9 and the WS a best 5/9.

Jim
Guest
Jim
5 years 3 months ago

Comparing the World Series results to the Premier League championship results isn’t apples-to-apples. The WS comes from an 8-team playoff crapshoot, while the Premier League title is a straight top-of-table regular-season title. The list of regular-season “champions” in MLB since 1995 consists of the Yankees, Braves, Indians, Cardinals and then a few one-season performers like the Mariners and Angels. That’s not a particularly broad swath, despite being aided by revenue sharing and the amateur draft. For what it’s worth, the most comparable English football title is the FA Cup, which features the same familiar cast but adds Liverpool as a recurring champion and Portsmouth as a recent one-shot.

Of course, any attempt to compare MLB to the Premier League gets absurd very quickly. The scope and rewards of English football could hardly be more different. For example, MLB teams exclusively play each other in the regular season, followed by the playoffs. Premier League teams, on the other hand, will concurrently:

1. Play a 38-game home/away regular season schedule, with the winner crowned the Premier League Champion.

2. Play several (occasionally as few as one) matches in the single-elimination FA Cup competition, which is a true Open including every pro and amateur side in England.

3. Play several (possibly as few as one) matches in the single elimination League Cup, which involves all the teams in the top four English pro leagues (ca. 92 teams).

4a. The top four finishers in the previous year’s Premier League play in the UEFA Champions League, against other elite European pro teams. This is six games in the Group Stage alone, followed by more if the team advances to subsequent rounds. The rewards for participation in this extracurricular league are huge, including prizes for winning individual matches: “As of 2010–11, UEFA awards €2.1 million to each team in the play-offs round. For reaching the group stage, UEFA awards €3.9 million, plus €550,000 per group match played. A win in the group is awarded €800,000 and a draw is worth €400,000. In addition, UEFA pays teams reaching the first knockout round €3 million, each quarter finalist €3.3 million, €4.2 million for each semi-finalist, €5.6 million for the runners-up and €9 million for the winners.”

4b. The fifth through seventh finishers (or the FA Cup and League Cup titlists, if not already included) in last year’s Premier League participate in the UEFA Europa League, basically a second-tier version of the Champions League.

5. In addition, most pro footballers declare eligibility for their home nation’s international side (actually sides, since each nation fields regular, Under-21 and Under-19 teams). There are several gaps built into the English pro schedule to accommodate this. At lower pro levels, matches are often rescheduled when a team faces international “call-ups.”

So English football involves a much broader variety of competitive activity, in a less regulated league environment. It’s really an ecosystem of teams and players within a larger international ecosystem, rather than the insular and tightly controlled cartels we see in American pro sports. Because their revenue opportunities interact across so many league and national boundaries, they’ve tended to “let a thousand flowers bloom” in terms of organizing and controlling their sport. So there’s no salary cap in the Premier League, and also only about four realistic contenders for the title each season. On the other hand, the story of Man United’s recent successes is arguably deeper and richer than that of the Yankees. Man U. participates in a far wider range of competition as a team, while its individual players also participate in a wider range of competition. So both the team and its players have a much greater international profile, and are competing as sportsmen in a very different way. Even a team facing relegation, like West Ham United, is far more interesting than the Astros–they’re playing critical games right now, and will have tough decisions to make whether they “stay up” or not. For me, raising the stakes like that makes the question of competitive balance in their sport less important, or even moot. I find that the more I pay attention to English and international football, the less I care about competitive balance issues in baseball. It has taught me to enjoy teams other than “my” team, and to develop interest in achievements beyond winning championships.

The best opportunity for relegation in American pro leagues is probably the MLS/A-League structure, but current and prospective MLS owners expect a guarantee of participation in the top league. All the other major leagues provide that guarantee to investors, so forgoing it would make it comparatively difficult to raise capital. That’s a bridge too far for a league that already faces significant challenges to establishing and growing its stable of teams.

Dan
Guest
Dan
5 years 3 months ago

Fantastic comments. Appreciating accomplishments beyond championships is exactly right.

Last year I ended up stuck in Germany due to the volcanic eruptions grounding most air travel, so I had almost a full week of free time to burn in Frankfurt. I got tickets to a Bundesliga match against Berlin. Berlin sat in last place and Frankfurt held about 10th with about 3 weeks to go–in other words I was the equivalent of a Mariners fan attending an Astros-Nationals game in late September. Or perhaps a Dolphins fan watching a Raiders-Lions game in Detroit since that analogy fits better.

I paid almost $40 to sit in the nosebleed sections at one end of the arena, and the place was just about packed. I’ve been to few louder games in any sport. Partly that’s about passion, but it’s also because many more matches matter. Berlin did get relegated a few weeks later despite earning a draw, and Frankfurt still had an outside shot at a Europa League berth. The match is one of my favorite sports experiences of my lifetime.

It never feels like gunning for 3rd place in your division in MLB is any sort of accomplishment, but for many European football clubs, achieving a 9th place finish in the league is a good accomplishment. The fans truly care about each rung of the whole ladder.

Justin
Guest
Justin
5 years 3 months ago

Well said, only on a baseball website would such a lunacy be promoted. I mean it is interesting to think about, argue or whatever, but there are people who actually believe this should happen. Baseball always has to be different. “We don’t need a salary cap, we don’t need a level financial playing field, we already have parity. Look at the NBA/NFL, only 5 teams win every 20 years, see financial parity makes parity on the field worse, blah, blah, blah, the quality of product goes down, yada, yada, yada.” The Yanks have a payroll 4x as much as the Pirates, there is no logical way you can tell me that is fair.

You want to find a way to kill baseball in every “relegated” market, then implement this policy. But my guess is that anyone who actually wants this to happen doesn’t live in Pittsburgh, KC, Washington, etc. Why any of the “fans” of the big market teams cares in the least how much money the Pirates/Royals/etc make is beyond my comprehension. And why they care how much money the Yanks/Sox/Cubs share is also beyond my comprehension. It isn’t your money, why are you so worried about it?!

And if you’re so worried about the owners pocketbooks you should be in favor of a salary cap, the Steinbrenners will get to keep millions more. But my assumption is that no one cares about owners paying luxury tax, and other owners “stealing” money. They just want their teams to keep their comparative advantage. It would be refreshing to once hear a Yanks/Sox/Cubs/etc fan come out and say it, because we all know it’s true. Why else would people come with such crazy ideas as “relegating” teams?

imabookie3
Member
5 years 3 months ago

Relegating would give the bad teams a HUGE incentive to get better i.e. spend their money better. I don’t think relegation is a solution for improving parity (I think it would probably worsen it actually), per se, but it should improve the lack of efficiency. Do you think if there was relegation since the 1950s that people still would not have realized the importance of OBP until the 90s? Another way to improve efficiency would be to remove government funding for stadiums.

mike wants wins
Guest
mike wants wins
5 years 3 months ago

Lots of great comments. Here is why a floor doesn’t work:

should KC really be signing random free agents and blocking their prospects’ access to MLB just to reach some floor? If they can’t realistically compete this year, shouldn’t they bank some money and then use it on signing bonuses next year or the year after when they are more likely to compete (not that I see evidence of teams or companies or governments doing this….)?

TheGrandslamwich
Member
TheGrandslamwich
5 years 3 months ago

The floor could be structured similar to the luxury tax. A team could remain under the floor for a set number of years, but if they do not start reinvesting more back into player salaries they could incur revenue sharing penalties.

Just an idea. Im not sure if I advocate it myself though.

Barkey Walker
Guest
Barkey Walker
5 years 3 months ago

“disincentivize”? If I had a dictionary with that word in it, I wouldn’t know if I should just throw it out or if I would be compelled to burn it.

Instead of “a way to disincentivize owners…” try “a disincentive to owners…”

Matt
Guest
5 years 3 months ago

What about a salary FLOOR? Kind of like “You must be this tall to ride this ride”, but instead, “you must spend X number of millions each year to own this team”? At least by setting a floor of, say, $70-75 MM, it (theoretically) encourages parity AND forces cheapskates like Loria to actually spend their revenue sharing bucks on the teams. As much as I loathe Peter Angelos as an owner of my Birds, the guy is much more willing to spend than ownership in Pittsburgh, KC, Oakland, Tampa, and Florida/Miami. Unfortunately, this makes him more inclined to meddle. Reminds me of my OTHER favorite team’s owner, Dan Snyder.

A lot of people may cry foul and complain that that sort of payroll is unsustainable for smaller-market teams, but let’s be honest: contraction should be on the table. Especially now that MLB is pretty evenly split between AZ & FL for spring training, AND the sport is played in two of the hottest states during the warmest months of the year, it seems almost redundant to have big-league teams in these states. Why are the Suns/Heat/Magic/Cardinals/Dolphins popular? Because they play during the winter OR indoors. Expanding into both of those states at the big-league level diluted the talent pool AND the revenue streams for more established franchises.

The D’backs, Marlins, Astros, Rays, and A’s have THREE World Series championships, SIX pennants, and a few Division titles since the Orioles’ losing streak began in 1998. And Baltimore still draws more fans to Camden Yards than most, if not all, of them. I’m not saying they “deserve” contraction any more than the Orioles do—the fans that DO go to the games deserve better than that.

I just think a salary floor, combined with a balanced schedule and the dissolving of Divisions to allow the 4 teams from each league with the best record to advance to the playoffs is the easiest way to maximize both parity AND revenue for everyone involved.

And I know some people will say that getting rid of the divisions will in some way weaken rivalries, but can anyone HONESTLY imagine a scenario where Cards fans don’t hate the Cubs and vice versa, or Baltimore fans don’t hate the Yankees, or Yankees fans don’t hate Boston, or Mets and Phillies fans aren’t at each others’ throats? These rivalries didn’t just spring up in 1995.

gonfalon
Guest
gonfalon
5 years 3 months ago

What an ignorant article. Since you’re so concerned about the Pirates’ spending, exactly which free agents should they have signed last offseason? The Pirates needed a starting pitcher, an upgrade at short, and a power bat, and ended up with Kevin Correia, nothing, and Lyle Fecking Overbay. Are you really suggesting that the Pirates should have pursued Cliff Lee, Derek Jeter, and/or Adrian Beltre, and that there was any chance those players would sign with Pittsburgh at any price?

In addition, you don’t mention where the Pirates have been spending their money lately, on amateur talent. The Pirates have spent more on the draft in the last 3 years than any other team, including many later-round overslot bonuses, and also spent well over $3M on Latin American players last year. When you are a team that probably can’t ever go above $80M in payroll, due to the size of its local TV contract, you have to be careful where you spend money. Without a league salary cap, building through a youth movement is the only way the Pirates can realistically ever hope to compete, and after years of mismanagement they are finally doing just that.

DW
Guest
DW
5 years 3 months ago

I used to kind of like Fangraphs, but this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read on a legitimate baseball site. It would have been relevant 4 years ago, but since Bob Nutting took over the team, they’ve paid Pedro Alvarez, Jameson Taillon, and Luis Heredia, no to mention being the highest bidder for Miguel Sano. They’re spending as much as or more in amateur talent acquisition as big market teams. They didn’t use to, but now they are, and your column is idiotic. At some point they’ll win, but even if they don’t, they’ve made an effort.

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