It would seem in the midst of an NFL lockout approaching the 2011 season and with the NBA future still uncertain, now is the time for baseball to quickly fix itself to try and become what it once was. Baseball has literally become a past time rather than a pastime. Baseball as a dominant sport in America has been overshadowed by the NFL and any attempt to combat this has quickly been struck down by the fact that baseball lacks what football has. The NFL's ability to see the bottom feeder teams rise again to the top is something MLB could only dream of, in a league where money and power dominate the sport.
The first way to fix this problem is clearly the need for baseball to adapt a salary cap, much like one that all three major sports use. It is the most logical way to create parity amongst every major league team. No more of this New York Yankees $200 million payroll in which every free agent available ont he market wanting more than $20 million per year signs with the Yankees or Red Sox. There is nothing sensible about a league that allows the top payroll to be over $200 million and the bottom feeding Florida Marlins to spend $36 million. While this does fit in nicely with the American system of capitalism, sports is more than a business and equality does mean something. There is nothing wrong with capping the league at $100 million. That is a very fair number and may even be too much. This allows every team the opportunity to go after one or two big name free agents every year and that leaves plenty of available players for the rest of the league.
While many people may disagree and say that baseball doesn't need to have a salary cap, there are other ways to go about fixing this problem. How about re-shuffling the divisions every year? Think about taking every team and putting them in a hat and pulling out their team name to fit a spot in the division. One year the Yankees and Angels might be in the same division. The Indians and the Mariners could be in the same division. This creates the opportunity for a lot more parity around the league. This may sound like a crazy idea, but if the union won't allow a salary cap, this could be a solid alternative. New teams would be in the playoffs every year and this would definitely give the fans something to cheer about. Teams could contend one year and tank the next just based on where they play.
Arbitration needs to go. It is baseball's answer to the fact that they don't have a salary cap. Rather than have a salary cap and force teams to spend less money, they came up with a way to force smaller market teams to have to pay elite athletes that they really don't want to keep in the first place. The idea may be a nice thought but the reality of what arbitration accomplishes makes the idea crazy to even think about. There is nothing sensible about forcing your front office to bad mouth a player to try and persuade a judge to make you pay that player less money than he wants. This is a way in which elite players who come through the minor league systems are ensured a hefty payday before they hit the free agent market and eventually sign with the Yankees or Red Sox anyways.
Baseball could install a franchise tag system much like what the NFL does. This system allows teams to tag one player at a set price ensuring that that player will stay for at least one more year. The league is required to set the tag price based on the position of the player and if the team wants to keep that player without giving them a huge contract then they can slap a tag on them. This works great for a league where players have career years before tanking right after signing major contracts. The first two players to come to mind are Barry Zito and Vernon Wells who probably have the most untradeable contracts in all of sports. A franchise tage system would give teams a look at their players just a little bit more before they decide to lock them up. It also gives small market teams a chance to be able to hold onto some of their players before they hit the market. The Oakland A's would love to have done this with many of their young talented players that left for long term deals such as Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Jermaine Dye, Ramon Hernandez, and Barry Zito.
It is time to expand the playoff system to five teams. The NFL sends six teams to the playoffs, the NBA and NHL send eight. It is time for baseball to add in another wild card team. We continue to see so often that wild card teams are able to make a run in the postseason because they are the teams that get hot at the right time right before the season ends. Last year we saw one of the most boring finishes to a baseball season in recent years and it was because almost all of the playoff races were locked up by the end of August. Baseball needs to add another wild card team and this will make for a much more exciting finish. Teams will be in the race longer and will be interested in buying more pieces at the trade deadline if they know that there is another spot for them. This would generate more fan interest and would be better for baseball.
Expanding the rosters to 40 man rosters fromt he start of the season rather than in September would give teams the opportunity to showcase more players at a major league level. There would be more trades and it would bring in more fan interest to the game if they were able to see new players all the time. Fans get tired of watching crappy players on the field while the GM is stuck with not being able to call up prospects due to the 25 man roster rule. Get rid of the 25 man roster and make it 40 which will bring in a lot more excitement.
It's time to get rid of the designated hitter rule. This was an attempt to make baseball mroe exciting and was brought in at a time when the NL and AL were worlds apart from each other to the point where they barely played under the same front office. The DH rule allows old veteran hitters who can still smack a few over the fence but can't catch a ball if they were perfectly positioned to play baseball. It allows pitchers to focuse solely on pitching and it makes managers look good because they have even less to do. The designated hitter has definitely had an effect on the game because it gives the AL an extra hitter. Wonder why the AL dominates interleague play? They have an extra hitter. When NL clubs try to use a DH during away games they have to use a bench player while the AL uses a normal every day guy. It is time to get rid of the rule and let everyone play under the same rules. The pitchers should have to hit, they are part of the game. Having a DH takes away the strategy from the game and there is just no reason for it. The rules should be the same for everyone.
The opportunities for the league lie int he hands of the MLB front office and if they don't realize that now is the time for them to capitalize on other league's lockouts they will never be able to reach their full potential. Baseball has all of the right pieces and it has the opportunity to become the best of the major sports.