The great thing about having a problem is that there’s usually a solution, and the great thing about the MLB is that they’re not me and they’re not in a trigonometry class. The offseason headlines have been riddled with complaints about the different problems the league is facing when it comes to player compensation, tanking and the popularity of the sport among other things. Most of these headlines come with suggestions to solve the issues that are making the game less enjoyable for not only the casual fan, but for die-hards as well.
Problem 1: Player compensation is completely out of whack
The ongoing talk this offseason has been about veteran free agents not receiving the contracts they deserve. Aside from Lorenzo Cain, virtually every other top free agent remains unsigned, drawing accusations of collusion among owners to lower the price of these players. That’s utter nonsense. It would be much easier to prove collusion these days than it would be to pull it off, so I doubt you could get every owner of the league to agree to something so stupid.
The real problem is with the game’s top stars not being paid properly. Jose Altuve, the AL MVP, made $4.7 million last year. David Wright, who hasn’t played a full season since 2014, made $20 million and will again this season. Mike Trout made less than that last season as well, and during his best WAR season (2012) he made under $500K. This imbalance gives teams a reason to not pay veterans, because why should they? With all of the advanced analytics that show a drop in play correlating with age and knowing that building through a stout farm system is cheaper and more efficient, why the hell should anyone commit to paying a 30 year old starting pitcher millions more than a couple of 23 year old starters who cost next to nothing and can probably add up to the value of Jake Arrieta? On top of that, those 23 year olds are under control for multiple seasons at a cheap price.
The solution is simple. At the next CBA, the Player’s Union needs to fight for teams to have less control over young players. Now that it’s been proven time and again that age is a valuable attribute, the young players who have that attribute should be paid what they’re actually worth. This means players will be called up earlier and be able to test the free agent market at a younger age. They will be able to get that large payday while in the prime of their career, unlike players such as Jake Arrieta who play for pennies while winning Cy Young awards and are then left holding out their hands when its time to cash in.
Problem 2: Tanking
I don’t expect any sport to prevent all teams from tanking, but going into an MLB season knowing almost a third of the teams are intentionally trying to lose is extreme. It throws the competitive balance completely off-kilter and is definitely not good for the fans. Take the AL Central. It’s February and that division is already a two-horse race with the Twins and Indians the only team not in rebuild mode. Yes, White Sox fans are more than thrilled with what they’re team is doing but considering the Twins and Indians get to play half of the “lose on purpose” teams in the AL more than anyone, how is this fair to the rest of the AL who will be contending for a Wild Card spot?
Tanking is never going to go away and I don’t blame any of the teams currently employing the Astros/Cubs/Royals method of purging the organization in order to gather cheap, controllable options for the years to come. A simple solution for making sure a third of the league doesn’t keep losing on purpose is to embrace the NBA’s lottery system. While that sport has its share of tankers its nowhere near the problem it is in the MLB.
Problem 3: Making the game fun
Never has baseball been so slow. Those who say pitch clocks are a disgrace to the game haven’t been paying attention. Pitchers are ridiculously slow-working now more than ever while using excuses like needing time to compose themselves or think about their next three pitches. Go watch Greg Maddux against Randy Johnson in the 2001 NLCS and tell me good pitchers need 30 seconds in between pitches to be effective. Maddux, possibly the most cerebral pitcher the game has ever seen, doesn’t need to walk around the mound and think about how he’s going to attack the hitter. Johnson, one of the most intimidating and emotionally-charged forces in the history of the game, didn’t need to take a breath to regain his composure. Both pitchers were ready to deliver the next pitch before the batter even stepped back in the box.
The pitch clock is a necessity, and so is a constraint on managers who overthink their pitching staff in-game. Joe Maddon shouldn’t be allowed to make three pitching changes in one inning just because it makes his job easier. I don’t doubt managers like Maddon are thinking five, six innings in advance but using relievers as though they’re only designed to get one type of batter out devalues the position. I can’t argue with the results, it’s clear that managing a bullpen in this fashion is highly productive. So if you can’t change the number of pitcher swaps that happen, the slow walk to the mound and the warm up pitches the new reliever takes need to be eliminated. Otherwise the twelve year old fan is going to get bored and turn on their Xbox (I might too).
Fixable problems. That’s what the MLB is facing. None of the above are a death sentence to the game, the game just needs to adjust. The problem is that the keepers of this game are possibly the most stubborn old buzzards that have ever existed. The constant chatter about protecting the sanctity of the game is utter bullshit and coming from people who are simply afraid of change. Worry about the game not falling to NHL-like popularity ratings first, because no one gives a shit about the sanctity of a game when no one gives a shit about the game itself. And it’s here where we get to the real problem facing the MLB…
Are they willing to piss some people off for the betterment of their sport?