Bend It Like Selig

Ahhh, spring training. A time for doubt, self-pity, hopelessness, and the bitter, burning anger that comes from realizing your heydays are now so far behind you, they’re barely specks in your rear view mirror. At least, that’s what I imagine spring training means to fans of the Royals and the Pirates, and, if you take away the heydays part, to loyalists of the Rockies and Devil Rays. (A Cubs fan feeling sorry for other teams’ fans—pretty funny, huh?) Ever since I first became acquainted with it, I’ve been fascinated by the tiered structure of professional soccer in places like England and Italy, where clubs compete for championships only within their tiers, the top finishing teams at the end of each season are promoted to the next level for the subsequent season, and the bottom finishers are demoted or “relegated” to the next lower rung on the ladder. Such a system would be completely unacceptable in Major League Baseball for a thousand reasons. One of the most obvious is the travel burden it would impose on a team from the West Coast, say, if it was in a division with nine teams from the east. But logic aside… If MLB had implemented a three-tier setup based on 2006 records, the ’07 alignment would shape up like this: “Premier” First Division (with last year’s winning pct.) Yankees .599 Mets .599 Twins .593 Tigers .586 A’s .574 White Sox .556 Angels .549 Padres .543 Dodgers .543 Blue Jays .537 Second Division Red Sox .531 Phillies .525 Cardinals .516 Astros .506 Reds .494 Rangers .494 Braves .488 Indians .481 Mariners .481 Marlins .481 Third Division Giants .472 Diamondbacks .469 Rockies .469 Brewers .463 Nationals .438 Orioles .432 Pirates .414 CUBS .407 Royals .383 Devil Rays .377 Nice and neat, wouldn’t you say? Each team would play its division mates 18 times apiece, 162 games in all. (As long as I’m playing Commissioner here, we’re going to schedule lots of day games and Sunday doubleheaders, and anyone who even mouths the words, “Designated Hitter” will be banned for life.) Going back to where this whole piece started, would the possibility of taking a top spot in the Third Division and earning promotion at the end of the year give Pirates and Royals and Rockies and Devil Rays fans more reason to be excited about the coming season than they currently enjoy? I don’t know. On the one hand, it hardly seems American to be satisfied by having risen to the position of 21st or 22nd best out of 30. (“We’re Number Twenty-One! We’re Number Twenty-One!”) On the other hand, what do these most sorrowful of teams really have to look forward to in the baseball world as we know it? What about what truly matters, the fortunes of our dear Cubs? I don’t imagine that the citizens of Cub Nation would be nearly as anxious to wait in line for numbered wristbands or spend hours trying to log into virtual waiting rooms if the richest possible prize at the end of 2007 was a Third Division title over the Giants and Nationals. See, I’m assuming that the World Series would be the concern of the First Division teams only, perhaps a simple best-of-seven between the top two finishers. That would mean the Cubs couldn’t possibly end their 98-year dry spell this year or even next, since it would take a minimum of two years for the team to climb up to the First Division. So, no, a shot at Third Division glory couldn’t possibly energize the Wrigley Field faithful the way that hiring Piniella and signing Soriano and conceivably competing for serious hardware in 2007 already has. However, if the Cubbies fall flat on their faces this year and next and perhaps a few after that and find themselves well into another century without a championship, a Third Division trophy could start looking awfully sweet.
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Comments

I am a big fan of the relegation concept in general, but more for sports like the NHL than MLB. But there's often an "open championship" after which all teams regardless of division may pursue, usually in parallel to the regular season. That won't work for baseball because of the sheer number of games played.

To make a 30 team, three division setup work with as many playoff teams, I think you'd have to do the following:

- Cut the D2/D3 seasons to 153 games (17x9)
- Have 7 playoff teams (3 Premier, 3 D2, 1 D3)
- Have 3 playoff rounds (best of 3, best of 5, best of 7) to yield the two World Series teams, with two D2/D3 rounds the last week of the regular Premier season
- Have three teams from D2 and three from D3 move up each year, and three teams from D1 and three from D2 move down.
- Give all 10-and-5 players the automatic option of free agency if their team reaches D3, and
- Forbid teams which drop a level from raising ticket prices for two years

The NHL still has the most exciting playoff run even though baseball is my #1 sport.

A couple of problems with this.

1. Players association. The Cubs would have never spent all that money in the off-season if they were relegated to the third division, for example.
2.The 2006 World Series. Last year's series featured one team that would have been in the 3rd division, and the winner would get relegated to your 2nd division, after winning it all, pretty much disproving the whole relegation concept. Baseball, moreso than any other sport has the randomness factor, that makes it appealing. Every year, most teams think they have a chance to make the playoffs. Even this year, the only teams you couldn't come up with a plausable playoff scenario for is likely the Royals and the Rays, but they both have enough young bats, that with some lucky pitching breakout they could get there by 2008. I could actually envision the Royals doing it this year (yes, even in that helaciously tough division).

I don't believe the English leagues are the same size, and even if they were, they don't necessarily need to be. If I were to do it, I would take the top 24 MLB teams as the Division A. Make the top 12 AAA franchises independents and throw in 6 MLB teams as Division B. I would probably relegate the top and bottom 3 teams - maybe 4. It would certainly 'solve' he problem of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Florida Marlins (well maybe not the Marlins).

1. Players association. The Cubs would have never spent all that money in the off-season if they were relegated to the third division, for example.

I wonder about that. The Cubs might instead spend like crazy to make sure they stay in the first division. I don't think it's obvious one way or the other.

I agree that a 3-division system could work with 50ish teams like you lay out, rather than 30.

Hockey should have just playoff and no regular season, since most to the teams make it to the playoffs.

I thought this was funny, regarding on air changes for MLB on Fox-

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/hies...

Grace, Karros, Girardi--okay.

But-
"Also, Arizona's Eric Byrnes, while continuing to play, will be a monthly contributor to Fox's pregame show and appear on World Series coverage"

No post season for you mop head!! Nice to know you have your post season plans in place. Does he use the same travel agent as Lute Olsen?

Hockey should have just playoff and no regular season, since most to the teams make it to the playoffs.

Except the Blackhawks...(sigh)

Just a heads up: the right navigation bar is blowing apart in Windows IE at the moment. It's loading on the right but below the blog posts.

Another major difference between the leagues is the way the TV contracts are negotiated. Unless it has changed since I last lived in London, the teams make their own contracts with the broadcasting companies. There is no group premier league negotiation, and likewise there is no, or almost non-existent profit sharing.

Djchi,

You could be correct, but going on what happens in these European soccer leagues, that would never happen. There's a huge resource gap between the teams that sign David Beckham and Thierry Henry and the 2nd or 3rd division teams.

the idea of an expanded playoff bores me, personally.

i dont really like the idea of a diluted "let 1/2 the damn league in" playoff system...especially when theyre gonna play 162 games (or even 100+ games) to determine who's "worth" it anyway.

it would be more fair to the financially disadvantaged that have to deal with the yanks and rsox spending combined what some leagues spend total on their payrolls, but still...i dont wanna sit though 6 months of baseball between 30 teams to see 1/2 or nearly 1/2 of all the teams cruise into the playoffs anyway.

If they add two more expansion teams they can just scratch the regular season and make the whole thing the playoffs - 5 rounds, best of 15, WAY more exciting ... oh wait, less revenue? Fuggidaboudit.

PS - I know there's a lot of dumb people here so I should clarify that I am being sarcastic ... again.

I love this.. not exactly talking apples-to-apples here, but would be fun to watch... Some crazy facts here:

Just think, the state of Illinois is slightly larger than the entire country of England. Imagine cramming all MLB 30 teams into the state Illinois. The Premier League has 20 teams and 7 each in London and Manchester alone and all average nearly 35,000 per game.

Man U's match-day revenue (mainly gate receipts and concessions) was $112 million, $14 million more than Chelsea's. Gameday folks...

Cubnut you are a talented writer - really great post - not because it aided my Cub fix for Cub information but because your idea, although improbable as it is, is an intresting observation and certianly not something that would be explored in the local media.

However, I tend to agree with the sentiment expresssed by Real Neal on why it would never happen. I would simply question if you think that baseball would continue with the same revenue sharing since if it doesnt the potential revenue gap because bad teams would only play each other while the good teams go head to head would simply be the death bell for all of these third division teams.

Cubnut:>

Such a system would be completely unacceptable in Major League Baseball for a thousand reasons.

...for example, because it awards teams who may not be the best. Totally daft.

I think it's a bad idea. It would eliminate rivalries like Cubs vs. Cards etc.

It's an interesting idea, but as he said, it just doesn't fit baseball -- we have longer seasons, more of a geographic divide, etc. I think the current system fits baseball pretty well, though I would like to see more incentive for improvement for piss poor teams like the D-Rays.

WAKE UP TCR!!!

It looks like the Cubs have a projected lineup for opening day.

1. Soriano (.325 career OBP)
2. De Rosa (.331 career OBP)
3. Lee
4. Ramirez
5. Jones
6. Barrett (~.350 OBP over the last three seasons)
7. Murton (.365 OBP in short major league career)
8. Izturis (.295 career OBP)
9. Pitcher

ROTATION:

Zambrano
Lilly
Marquis
Hill
Miller (rather than Prior)

Based on OBP and the fact that Soriano often drives himself in, it would seem that Barrett or Murton would be better choices to bat second if we want to give Lee a chance to occasionally pick up an RBI.

Also, having Izturis & the Pitcher batting in front of Soriano, who isn't a prototypical light-hitting leadoff man, just about assures the bases will be empty when Soriano comes to the plate.

COMMENTS??!

I don't think Cubnut was really pushing for a new system here, just a fun look at a different way of thinking.....

It's neither plausible nor possible, more of a Twilight Zone "just imagine if" scenario....

http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates/2007/02/12/pittsbu...

Well the Pirate bloggers for the most part think we'll win the division...

What's temperature in Mesa ? This weather is killing me.

derosa isnt a sure thing to be a dud hitting in the #2 spot.

a lotta people wanna see how much of his resurgence is learning/adapting his game (as many claim) and how much was luck of a small stat period + the ballpark in arlington effect.

barrett in the #2 slot isnt horrid, but he's not exactly speedy and hit doubles + HR power he brings can pretty much cash in almost anyone above him in the lineup as standing (unless its one of aram's hurt days/weeks/etc).

murton and derosa both kill lefties, so there's not much tradeoff there to take advantage of, though personally i'd like to see murton there ASAP in the #2 slot if derosa stumbles...probably be izturis first, though.

sweeney:

http://search.weather.yahoo.com/forecast/USAZ...

now THAT is february weather...imo....got a nice 58-60 degree day kicking in raleigh, NC right now, but in 2 days we're back into the 40s. wee.

at least im not in upstate NY...

Lou sounds like he'll commit to a lineup just as often as Dusty did, it's going to change everday....

Soriano will bat 1st, Ramirez and Lee in the 3/4 spots likely (although might break them up with JJ or Floyd against righties), and the rest will get moved around here and there depending on matchups

I predict that before the season is over, there will be at least mild disagreements and stern discussions at TCR over lineup construction.

CAVEAT:

Soriano #1 and DeRosa #2 would seem to be an improvement over the Cubs lineup last year as far as OBP is concerned.

In 2006 the Cubs #1 slot put up an OBP of .329. The #2 slot was worse at .319.

"I predict that before the season is over, there will be at least mild disagreements and stern discussions at TCR over lineup construction."

Now that made me laugh.

CWTP,

Do you want Lee to bat 8th so Soriano can drive him in? Let Izturis bat 8th, he's the least likely to get on base, and the least likely to hit for extra bases. Sure, I guess if he's healthy he can run, easier for him to be sacrificed to 2nd. And I guarantee that LouP is going to bat him second and Murton 8th sometimes.

Rob said it beautifully (#19). Frankly, it was a chore to write anything this weekend. Learning of the Fassero retirement Friday night was like losing a good friend...a good, 44-year old, rag-armed, sub-replacement level friend.

cwtp:

Also, having Izturis & the Pitcher batting in front of Soriano, who isn’t a prototypical light-hitting leadoff man, just about assures the bases will be empty when Soriano comes to the plate.

Z & Marquis are both decent hitters as far as pitchers go. That will figure in with Soriano batting behind them.

"The Real Neal — February 12, 2007 @ 1:32 pm
CWTP,
Do you want Lee to bat 8th so Soriano can drive him in?"

Stupid comment of the year, so far.

Somebody please explain to me media fascination with Eric Friggin Byrnes? Is it because he's got a cool haircut? It can't possibly be because he's articulate and has something to add. He's absolutely terrible everytime he's on ESPN, etc.

Re: the catcher position

HOPEFULLY Sweet Lou sees the light and plays Henry Blanco more than Dusty did. Michael Barrett is just about the worst catcher in baseball when you add up his inability to work well with pitchers and defensive shortcomings. I'd like nothing more than to see Blanco play two games a week. Maybe become personal catcher for Rich Hill??? I bet he would work wonders with the kid and help him to harness all that latent talent.

Marlin's management: biggest... joke... ever...

Palm Beach Post: Marlins upset Cabrera skipped caravan stops

That's it, piss off your all-star caliber 3B whose making sub-$1M. F*ing brilliant. Come be a Cubbie Miggy.

BTW... I've always like Miguel Cabrera, but I really started liking him last year when he hit that IBB pitch for a go-ahead RBI. That was freeking sweet. 40 MPH. lol

The Game

Re: Miguel Cabera

The Marlins are idiots. Miguel Cabrera is the best professional athlete to grace South Florida since the days of Dan Marino, and the Marlins want to piss him off with this garbage. Cabrera is SEVERELY underpaid. If he wants to blow off a stupid friggin fan convention attended by a bunch of 30 something geek virgins with their autograph pen in hand, then so be it.

If Jim Hendry had a brain, he'd be on the phone with Larry Benifast offering up Felix Pie, Matt Murton and whatever two Cub pitching prospects the Marlins want for Miguel Cabrera. I take him in a nano-second regardless the young talent needed to be given up. We're talking the next best thing to Albert Pujols ladies and gentleman.

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