It’s still unclear at this point whether or not the 2020 Major League Baseball season will come to pass. If it does return, who knows what shape it will take.
At this point, I think it’s fair to think of different ways the 2020 season could play out if it does indeed resume. I’m not someone who is opposed to the traditional 162 game schedule, but I think the season coming back in an abbreviated fashion offers a unique opportunity to try something new. I’m in favor of adopting a form of pool play that is seen in many of the winter leagues.
Playing a regular 82 or 62 game schedule is fine, but it’s what MLB has always done. Instead, why not shake things up and try something new?
My proposal is that when MLB returns the leagues start by getting rid of the divisions. Instead of having three divisions there would simply be a collection of American League and National League teams. With that as our base starting point let’s assume that when the season is finally ready to start it has been determined that every team will play a 60 game schedule. That means every team will compete in a round-robin where they have they have four games against each of their other 14 league opponents.
The end of that initial round-robin is where things get a little more interesting. Playing baseball at neutral sites into October or November is not appealing. To save on time instead of the usual five teams making the playoffs the wild card would be eliminated this time out and only the top f teams in each league would advance. If there were any tiebreakers they would be determined in head-to-head matchups. It’s a pretty simple system and not all that wild until we get to the draft.
The shortened season offers a tremendous chance to try some truly wild stuff and my draft proposal falls under that category. Each league will be left with 11 teams that did not make the playoffs. Under the new system, those teams would be able to protect 3 players and the remaining 37 on their 40-man roster would be left up for grabs in a league-wide draft. As an example, let’s say the Chicago Cubs make the playoffs while the Milwaukee Brewers do not. The Brewers elect to protect Brandon Woodruff, Christian Yelich, and Keston Hiura. That would leave everyone else on their roster, from Luis Urías to Corey Knebel, unprotected and able to be drafted. The Cubs want Urías because of his positional flexibility. They can’t just draft him though, in order to do so they have to clear up one roster spot from their existing players. The Cubs cut Tyler Chatwood because they already have a healthy helping of relievers and draft Urias.
The draft order would be determined by the teams’ placement in the initial round-robin play. The team with the worst record gets to draft first and the team with the best record drafts last. Teams aren’t required to draft, but they can if they want an unprotected player. The playoff teams can only draft from within their own league and are limited to two possible draft picks. This leads into a playoffs that consist of a first-round where it’s a best of seven series, and an ensuing draft with the same rules except now the 2 remaining playoff teams, per league, have 13 teams to choose players from and they aren’t allowed to cut anyone that they picked up in the first draft.
A best of seven championship series gives way to a best of seven World Series. Again there will be a draft, choosing from the 14 teams eliminated within a teams league and players that were previously picked in a draft can’t be cut. In order to make sure that the playoffs move along and finish at a nice pace there will be no off days except for one day between each round. In true winter league fashion, the drafted players are rentals and return to their original teams at the conclusion of the playoffs (if a player is drafted and then that team is eliminated they can be drafted again in the next round by a different team). The same is true for any players who were cut to draft other players.
This may seem crazy, but anyone who watches a fair amount of winter league baseball knows this is all pretty normal. It would bring a new and exciting dynamic to an MLB season that has already been irreparably altered. It may even introduce a new system that players dig, fans love, and can become the norm at some point. I understand there are all kinds of obstacles to round-robin play or a draft, but now is the time to dream of such wonderful things.