Why the MLB Should Follow the English Premier League Example and Demote Unworthy Teams
I spent a lot of my childhood living in England. I would wake up early every Saturday morning and try to get home from school every Wednesday to not only watch West Ham United win, but to watch them do everything in their power to avoid relegation to a lower league. If the Hammers were relegated, I wouldn't be able to see them on the big stage. They'd just be "another team" in a lower division.
What if that happened in Major League Baseball? Can you imagine the beautiful and picturesque PNC Park being used as home of the Triple-A Pittsburgh Pirates? The Indianapolis Indians, with a ballpark that only seats a few thousand, would be dealing with lots of diverse and abnormal circumstances such as lack of funds, fans, and personnel.
The Pirates have the 1st overall pick in this year's Amateur Draft. Barring any unexpected circumstances, Anthony Rendon will be the first player to hear his name called. But do the Pirates deserve a player of his caliber? Should the previous year's worst team really be given the opportunity to select a potential superstar? Why? Should the team that wins the World Series not have a same chance at that talent?
As the Pirates get rewarded with the first overall pick, as the Nationals a few years ago were given clearance to select Stephen Strasburg 1st overall and then Bryce Harper the following season, while the 2006 Devil Rays limped to the finish line knowing they'd get to make 2007's first selection, the World Champion Giants get rewarded with a parade on Market Street. That's all they get rewarded with -- They earned everything else.
The rings, the glory, the bragging rights all come with the sensation of being crowned champions. But the Giants and every other former World Champion get rewarded with absolutely nothing that accounts toward future success, only to have watched their division rivals go a collective 16-0 on the Pittsburgh Pirates or whomever the worst team in baseball is. Obviously, there are boatloads of cash given to players and management after a team goes all the way, but that doesn't necessarily go to helping the team.
Sure, not every team has taken full advantage of their opportunity to find gold in a draft pool that consists of more question marks than superstars. However, they are compensated with these high picks. Not by seeing their former big name players choose a destination of greater probability of glory road, but compensated by rules which have stated in almost every sport that consists of a draft that the draft order starts with the worst team and ends with the best team from the previous year. That is unless free agent compensation takes its toll on team resources, which it certainly and often does.
A draft board which consists of the name "Anthony Rendon" just a few inches to the left of a Pittsburgh Pirates logo signifies yet another year of PNC Park misery. Take 2008 for example. Jim Riggleman and Mariners fans watched lousy baseball played by professional athletes 101 times that year. It's safe to say that by mid-May the Mariners could already acknowledge the fact that their season was done. The incentive to play and try to win 120 more times may not seem nearly as much of an incentive to 4 or 5 teams competing within 2 games of each other all dueling to get one post-season spot. Come August, those Mariners who were attempting to play some sort of spoiler were heartbroken when they noticed that despite what would be a disastrous 61-101 record, it wasn't the worst record in the game -- thanks to the Nationals, the M's would pick second in the 2009 draft.
This is a prime example of a team not trying to win. Think about it, if you're a last place team, would you rather get Stephen Strasburg? Or play hard the last couple of games only finish 28th?
Now, if you knew you'd get relegated to a lower league if you finished with one of the three worst records in baseball, would you rather play that last month out with all of your heart, all your pride? There's only one answer there, and that's the situation for England's professional soccer (football!) clubs.
League 3, League 2, League 1, and Championship are the divisions in England you'd much less rather be in than the English Premier League.
The English Premier League is one of the most glorious and competitive leagues in sports. All 20 teams' players live every day on the edge knowing that any given loss could result in relegation. For the diehards, the hooligans, and the players in the English Premier League, relegation to the Championship is the equivalent your best friend stabbing you in the back. It's the equivalent someone spitting on you. Here's what it looks like:
My beloved Hammers, Wigan Athletic, and the Wolverhampton Wanderers consist of two-dozen players each who can't sleep at night. For the players sake, job loss, pay cuts, and embarrassment are whats in stake should their team get relegated. For the Pirates sake, well, the worst outcome on their behalf is the power to select Anthony Rendon or any other amateur in America with the first overall pick.
I'm not necessarily suggesting a rule change in baseball. I think capitalism would continue to result in 100 loss seasons for the worst Pirates, Indians, and Royals among others. But perhaps Major Leaguers take for granted just how lucky they are to be Major Leaguers and not that kid in Short-Season Ball who has to walk a half-a-mile back and forth from Centennial Field in Vermont all the way to the Lake Monsters clubhouse (no, I'm not making this up). I can only imagine if some players were aware of the English Premier League and other Football League's style, therefore it could possibly provide as extra motivation on their behalf.
No, the Pirates do not deserve Rendon. Although I think sports socialism isn't exactly an appropriate way to go about future success, the baseline here is that the worst team gets rewarded with an opportunity. However, any given first overall pick can go a long, or even longer way towards success than a potential #30 pick.
If the Pirates deserved a potential superstar, the incentive to getting him would include better play throughout the season and what not. Even if the Pirates do not deserve Rendon, even if the Nationals did not deserve Strasburg, even if the Rays did not deserve David Price, they still get the opportunity to select such a talent.
What if the Indianapolis Indians and Pittsburgh Pirateswould had to switch players. Such happens when two minor league affiliates flip flop -- the players stay with the organization but switch ballparks and team names. An owner who recently invested in a $300MM ballpark expecting to seat 40,000 daily would enjoy seeing his Pirates host the Louisville Bats and their couple thousand fans certainly wouldn't be wasting money that way. It might even be nice for the teams fans to get a taste of a new group of players for once. Taxpayers wouldn't really care, as long as they are seating a good number of fans per night.
You may be wondering how a team like this will ever become competitive if the draft order was changed. Well, as long as Andreas Galarraga was subjected to "change" and "opportunity" when he signed with the inaugural Rockies, there's no reason to think that big free agent X wouldn't want to see what happens with the Rainers or Indianapolis Indians. Obviously the money would have to be there.
The beneficiary of this could be all parties, but definitely the majority of the league. The price and reward of winning is a glamorous thing. Of course, being rewarded with money is special. That one win in the middle of July can certainly dictate winning, and then a win the next day and the day after keep the ball rolling. That's a team that deserves an even better component towards future success -- that's a team that makes you want to wake up each and every morning with hope and excitement.