The Oakland A’s following the plot of the movie Major League so that they can move to Vegas has made me think about baseball differently as of late. It makes me grumpy when insanely rich people ruin a whole bunch of people’s days in the pursuit of yet more money that they don’t need. In general, I am also not a big fan of tanking for whatever reason. I understand it strategically, and when done right you can get great results like Houston or at least one good run if you are the Cubs. It is, however, a path that is brutal to take. Houston lost 106, 107, and 111 over a three-year span en rout to the becoming a juggernaut. It is also not a guarantee that it will work out, and it has gotten harder to do over time. My heart goes out to the Oakland faithful. I can’t imagine what it is like to see your team gutted of talent so that they can then take the team away from you entirely.
My pondering has led to a possibly stupid idea, but one that I kind of love. At various times I have heard people talk about relegation style fixes, but the European model of relegation would be impossible to implement and still has some downsides in the way it punishes fans. In that spirit, however, I have the ultimate solution. Instead of relegation for the team, I think we should have owner relegation. This will have to have some guardrails for sure, but the basic premise is that the team with the worst record in baseball each season gets sold to a new ownership group.
I will give a few basic guidelines, feel free to throw your ideas in the comments. Each city would have a pool of one or more ownership hopefuls waiting in line should their city’s team be the team that finishes 30th that season. That way fans know that the people who end up with the team won’t yank them out of the city. As long as people in the city are ready and able to own the team, it stays. Rules around when a team would be allowed to move would need some consideration. In any city with multiple interested ownership groups, the price of the sale would be a competitive bid. If there is only one interested party that can afford it, there would need to be an arbitration style process where the selling group and buying group put up numbers to then set up a third party who sets the eventual price. We want the owners to feel like they are getting a fair opportunity for a return so that they are all still interested and waiting in line to buy when the time comes.
My biggest concern about this proposal is how it would affect the in-season trade market. If your team is struggling and near the bottom, it would be much harder to trade away your talent if the owner thought it would lead to their ouster. This is where some refinement of the idea needs to come in. I love the idea of a billionaire owner getting tossed out on their keister because of inept team management. I don’t love the idea of there being no trade deadline moves or the ability to make your team better by trading short term for long. Possible solutions?
1. The last place team can avoid forced sale TEMPORARILY under certain conditions, for instance you don’t get immediately booted, but it puts you on a clock. If you don’t either make the playoffs or have a top 15 payroll in the next two years, then you are forced to sell. Finishing 30th again in that grace period forces automatic sale regardless of payroll.
2. Certain types of trades could offer immunity. For instance, home grown stars about to hit free agency being traded could buy you a year of not being in the running for last place, though the thresholds would need to be well defined. This could be hard to implement without negative externalities.
The other major negative I could see is that desperate teams might be forced to bring up prospects too soon and ruin their development. This is the opposite of the service time manipulation we see right now. I feel like the MLBPA could have a process to deal with this, or their could be limits on when players could jump to the majors. No one without a certain amount of AA time would be eligible or something along those lines.
We can think of more possible ways to make all of this work, but those are my ideas. Keeping trading as an option for building a team is very important, and I would really like to avoid something that would hurt the players overall. Is this a harebrained idea? Sure, but I still think it is a fun one. It is also impossible while the owners have an antitrust exemption. For once it would be nice to see the owners beholden to the city rather than the other way around.