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As with the old axioms about offensive linemen, umpires and prophylactics, when CBA rules are working properly you never hear about them. Yet here we are, with Kris Bryant’s predicament perhaps the major story of spring training: The Cubs can’t bring him north without burning a year of club control (in 2021), and they can’t send him to Triple-A Iowa without incurring the wrath of Baseball Twitter’s moral majority. It’s a conundrum many teams have faced over the past few years, some in March (to potentially push back free agents), others in May and June (to stall arbitration raises by a year). Each creates a legitimate dilemma, and there’s no wrong answer, given the needlessly complicated rules in place. Which is the point: We’re talking about this because the rules have broken down.

But the Bryant situation—the service time situation—is part of a bigger issue that deserves a longer discussion. In the next year, negotiations will begin on the next collective bargaining agreement. While the Bryant topic is too hot to ignore, talking about it in isolation doesn’t make sense. We need to talk about the big conversation. So let’s do that. The goal here is not to start trading horses—I’m not familiar enough with the mentalities of the owners or of the players association—but to examine and name them. Let’s run through the major things the next CBA will need to address, and make a preliminary proposal or two.

The Service-Time Two-Step
Since it brought us together today, let’s start with the Bryant Problem. Right now, a team has the rights to a player until he reaches six full seasons of service time. There are 183 days in an MLB season and 172 in a full year of service, which is why Bryant gets that full season only if he joins the team sometime within the season’s first fortnight. Most players reach arbitration after they accrue three full seasons, but there are special cases. Of guys with between two and three years, the 22 percent with the highest accrual (Super Twos) get arbitration, too. For really good players, the salary difference between being Super Two-eligible and not can be $3 million or more per year, across four years, so teams try to wait until players are likely to land on the right side of that cut line before bringing them up, when possible.

These rules have undergone some changes over the 40 years since free agency came to MLB, but for the past two decades they’ve all been tweaks. (For instance, the last CBA moved the Super Two threshold from 17 percent to 22 percent—a tweak, not a game-changer.) During the run-up to the 1994 strike, the owners proposed a deal that would eliminate arbitration completely and make players free agents after four years, but there were two unacceptable riders on that proffer: a salary cap, and the right for players’ incumbent teams to match the market’s best offer during the first two years of agency. There was no way, just a few years removed from a stretch of four years during which the owners openly colluded against the players, that the MLBPA was going to accept those terms. The mistrust between the parties nixed a deal that, in hindsight, would have headed off a lot of the problems we’re encountering now.

That mistrust hasn’t gone anywhere, but it has taken a back seat to a spirit of cooperation. The owners have learned not to overreach, taking their miles of territory back inches at a time, and the players have agreed to pretend not to notice as long as the number of millionaires in their ranks keeps steadily soaring. In light of that, it might be time to implement a (limited) version of that old plan. A salary cap in MLB is a non-starter, and the owners are not only okay with that, but learning to make it an advantage. Teams pay out a smaller share of their total revenue to players in MLB than in the NFL or the NBA, where salary caps do exist. Arbitration is a permanent fixture, too. Too many MLBPA members need it to make anything more than the league minimum before they wash out of the league for good. Changing the terms of team control might be possible, though, if the right balance were struck.

First, let’s define a framework that solves our primary problem. The frustrating thing about Bryant’s and similar situations is the feeling of farce around it, a feeling fueled by the short window for which the player must be banished in order to get them under the cut line. Sending a player down for two weeks to manipulate his service clock is silly. Even to the extent that it’s the optimal choice, and indeed, the only defensible choice, it’s silly. So the thing to do is to push the cutoff out into the middle of the season, where a team has to give away a significant chunk of short-term value to capture the long-term value of that seventh season of control. To do so, the standard for free agency just needs to be changed, from players needing at least six full years of service to players having something that rounds to six full years of service. Under that definition, any player with at least five years and 86 days of service when a given season ends would qualify. That forces a team hell-bent on claiming extra control to wait until after the All-Star break to call up the stud prospect. It would still happen—crucially, please understand this, it will always still happen—but it would happen a lot less, and to a different subset of players, and to a less competitive subset of teams.

Getting ownership to agree to that change will be difficult. If a single season of restricted free agency (think the current qualifying offer system, but with a player’s previous team having the right to match the offer if another team makes it, and keep the player in question) were palatable to players, owners might accept it, but that would be a tough sell. Perhaps easier would be giving up the Super Two eligibility for more free agency. Twenty-six players reached Super Two status this winter. Thirty-two currently have enough time put in to qualify for free agency under this alternative proposal, but not enough to qualify under the current rules. (Of course, those numbers would break out differently if the rules set different incentives.) Would the players give away those early arbitration cases in order to get more players to free agency sooner? Would the owners demand something more, even if they did? Again, I can’t say. Whatever secondary trading of rights has to go on to facilitate it, though, the rule has to change.

The DH
It’s time for the DH to come to the National League. Check that; it’s well past time. It was time, at the latest, when they started playing interleague games. Pitchers are worse hitters than ever. The presence of the DH gives American League teams more room for error in all their avenues of player acquisition. Tradition isn’t a good enough reason to keep up this pointless division.

This will have to be collectively bargained, of course. No document of which I’m aware explicitly enumerates it as a rule that falls under the umbrella of collective bargaining, but after the last round of CBA negotiations—which were unprecedented in the inclusion of individual player input, and in their comprehensiveness—there’s no question that a major rule change like this one would demand MLBPA’s stamp of approval. Conventional wisdom has been that the union would accept an expansion of the DH almost anytime, though, because it stands to keep veterans employed longer and create more jobs for players who might otherwise have limited roles, or no roles at all. In this case, the conventional wisdom seems sound.

Owners would view this as a concession, not only for the reasons touched on above, but because the NL’s owners would have to sell the change to many of its less enlightened, tradition-bound fans. However, they might go along with it just to preserve one of the last CBA’s new inventions.

The Qualifying Offer
This is a broken system. It’s not the most egregious one in MLB—well, some might argue it is—but it is one, nonetheless. Other than the fact that the union seemed to forget how to say “no” to Rob Manfred 10 years ago, I can offer no explanation of the fact that they ever accepted the construct. In three offseasons under the qualifying-offer system, 34 players have received an offer, forcing whichever team signs them to give up their highest unprotected draft pick. Nine have been significantly hurt by that status. That’s not a huge percentage, but it’s more than enough to make people take notice. MLBPA Director Tony Clark voiced concern last February, then (after the Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales debacles turned out even worse than he might have imagined at the time of those remarks) rattled an ominous saber just last month.

The owners’ biggest interest in issues like these is tamping down the top of the market, keeping salary growth for the league’s highest salaries as slow as possible. The players generally have the broader interests of their membership in mind, and will trade away the best possible outcome for elite players in order to get the best one for the lower tiers. Still, it was an ugly misstep to give it away in the last negotiation, and if the owners want to keep it this time around Clark is likely to make them pay for it. That might mean adding the DH; it might mean capitulating in whatever talks center on fixing the Bryant problem. It could also come in the form of an expansion to 26-man active rosters, or increased pay for minor leaguers, or a bigger-than-usual hike in minimum salary. Just know that, if the offer is to stay in place, it won’t survive easily, because it’s terrible. The MLBPA was a doormat, in 2002, in 2006 and in 2011. Clark doesn’t sound inclined to continue that tradition.

An International Draft, and the Workings of the Domestic One
By now, you should be familiar with the cliché: The players’ union gleefully trades away the rights of draftees and teenage signees every time they reach the negotiating table, because those players aren’t union members. Before the CBA signed late in 2006, for instance, teams who failed to sign a high draft pick (the first three rounds) got only a sandwich pick in the following year’s draft. So, under those rules, the 2014 Astros would have had to choose between signing Brady Aiken or biting the bullet and getting only the 31st (or so) pick in the 2015 Draft. Veterans gave away that rule, and with it a bunch of 18-year-olds’ leverage. That same CBA also lengthened the number of years before a minor leaguer had to be placed on the 40-man roster to four or five, from three or four.

If anything, the most recent CBA represents an even more aggressive forking over of amateurs’ rights. You probably know these changes more intimately already, since the document many of us can’t stop calling “the new CBA” is actually three years old, but to recap: A hard-capped pool system limits spending in the June Draft, slowing any growth in payouts substantially, and a similar structure doles out severe punishments to teams who far outspend new limits on international amateur spending. (Teams continue to willfully incur the penalties in the international market, but the penalties are very real.)

This time around, MLB’s highest priority in this arena is instituting an international draft. Manfred has repeatedly gone to the term “single modality of entry” as he stumps for the change. He used it in Indians camp just this week, while selling the concept as a potential boon for competitive balance. He also has a tremendous financial windfall to help fund the initiative, thanks to the unusual Yoan Moncada signing. Clark, to his credit, isn’t giving away the farm yet. On Wednesday, he noted that challenges have always overwhelmed the idea, which has come up during the last three negotiations. However, he still dropped in the words “single entry” along the way, and didn’t address the fact that the owners seem much more serious about the idea this time around.

The smart money says there will be an international draft, and eventually a unified draft, within the next five years. For my part, I think people sweat that far too much. While it’s regrettable that the union has taken such a consistently weak position on the preservation of draftees’ rights and the protection of their ability to earn as much as possible, the very existence of a draft shouldn’t be anathema to anyone. It’s not like Latin American teenagers are being scouted, courted and signed ethically as it is. A draft would limit their earning potential, but not significantly more than the bonus caps to which the union agreed (irretrievably, it seems to me) in 2011. Scouts and scout-lovers cried rat when the draft was put in place 50 years ago, and they weren’t totally wrong, but they weren’t totally right, either. Prospects will still be fun to track and hear about. Teams will still employ fascinatingly varied strategies for acquiring and developing young talent. There’s an utterly inevitable new framework coming. Stop worrying and love the bomb.

The Playoffs, The Season, The Schedule
The players may not care (much) how amateurs are treated on their way into affiliated ball, but they care very much about the day-to-day grind of an MLB season. That’s going to make for some interesting discussions about the structural aspects of the game, because there are some glaring issues that need to be addressed.

The wild card game has been refreshingly non-disastrous so far, but the league is playing with fire under the current system. A one-game play-in at the end of a 162-game marathon season is a farce, even if it has produced a few exciting contests during the first three years of its existence. A three-game miniseries is not much better, but it does something to lessen the absurdity of the show. The future of the wild card round is a best-of-three series, with one game played at the home park of the team with the worse record, then two at the home of the team with the better one.

Fitting that into the league’s current schedule would be impossible, though. No one has any appetite for a longer baseball season, especially when that might push the World Series into November in New York, Boston, Chicago, or (Heaven forbid) Minnesota. Yet the players won’t—and shouldn’t be expected to, because they have a rough travel itinerary already—consent to a more compact schedule. Hence the need for a return to the 154-game season. Manfred left the possibility of that open in interviews last month.

This is a dizzyingly difficult problem to solve, logistically. Players have to be willing to take five percent less money. (Or do they?) Owners have to be guaranteed some way to make up for the lost inventory, especially because they’ve committed themselves to lucrative regional TV deals that call for 162 contests. (Or do they?) Sam Miller wrote a tremendous article several weeks ago, breaking down the pace-of-play kerfuffle and pointing out that, really, the thing that most turns off casual fans is that MLB plays too many damn games. This would only very slightly alleviate that problem, but it would do so, in addition to making room for the expanded Wild Card series. It would have to be worked out monetarily, but given the stories we so (painfully) often see about the TV ratings of individual games and the fact that injuries spike late in the season due to the sheer length and difficulty of The Grind, it’s safe to say that not every game lost means revenue or value lost, anyway.

So we need a shorter season to accommodate a very modestly expanded postseason. It won’t be pretty, but it’s doable. Those changes will happen, if not during this negotiation, then during the next one. Now, here’s a problem I’m much less confident about seeing resolved: The schedule is a mess.

Forget the intermittence and inequity of the interleague schedule. (At least adding a DH will partially solve that.) Right now, teams play 76 games (or so) against their divisional rivals each season. Very nearly half the schedule is made up of four opponents, drawn from a pool of 29. Each club directly competes for two playoff spots (as we’ll come to know them; right now, let’s say for halves of one) with 10 teams who play a radically, often unfairly, different schedule than they do. That just can’t continue, though it probably will.

Owners don’t want a balanced schedule. Owners want lots and lots of rivalry games. ESPN really wants the Yankees and Red Sox to play 30 times a year. Ratings, attendance and interest skyrocket when the local nine is playing whatever team the fan base most loves to hate. Divisional games make tons of money.

Divisional games are also, in most cases, nearby games. The unbalanced schedule puts a natural limit on the number of air miles a team logs during the season. Any more balanced one would require either very careful scheduling, or more off days during the season. Remember, an MLB without divisions was almost a thing in 2011. It didn’t happen, though, and I suspect the reason is that owners couldn’t make enough guarantees to the MLBPA about the schedule being sufficiently Grind-proofed. I suspect you’ll hear similar rumblings sometime between now and the 2016 World Series, but that nothing will come of it. Unless and until modern mass transportation takes a quantum leap, a balanced schedule will remain out of reach, just as an MLB team in Mexico City will.

***

I haven’t—I couldn’t, possibly, and even if I could, I’ve taken up enough of your time—listed everything that will be in the news and that will have an impact on the forthcoming negotiations. For you amateur labor lawyers out there, though, it’s a foundation for conversations about which concessions are reasonable, and which are ludicrous, on both sides of the aisle. Off-field discussions will take a back seat to the genuine article in just a couple of weeks, but right now is the time to think broadly about the game’s future. Kris Bryant is going to keep hitting home runs in Arizona, against Double-A pitching. Watching too many of them, taking them in as data and mistaking them for information, will only harm you, and make you even angrier when someone tweets a picture of him sadly waving goodbye to the team shuttle on April 3rd.

Thank you for reading

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rugbymarine
3/23
On the Qualifying Offer,...

"Still, it was an ugly misstep to give it away in the last negotiation, and if the owners want to keep it this time around Clark is likely to make them pay for it."

Could you explain this more? As I understand it, in order to remove a system that is already in place (even a bad system), the side of the table that is opposed to it will have to concede something, right? Not the other way around.
matrueblood
3/23
Well, the CBA isn't a Word document they're just going to edit as they go. They'll draft it from scratch. Many things get carried right over from one document to the next, but it doesn't sound like Clark is willing to just let a concession made under previous management--a concession that got the players nothing in return--stand just because it's there.
cachhubguy
3/23
Under DH

"less unlightened, tradition bound fans". Wow, aren't we pompous.
gtgator
3/23
Agree.

As an evidently "unenlightened" fan, please know that some people enjoy the added strategic element involved in managerial decisions when there is no DH. If one prefers the DH version of the game, great. But those of us who do not are not "less enlightened" nor are we bound to tradition as the reason.
matrueblood
3/23
There are, unequivocally, *fewer* interesting strategic choices to make when the pitcher is part of the batting order, not more.
sbnirish77
3/23
Yeah, like whether Justin Smoak or Dayan Viceido will DH for the Blue Jays.

Now that is an exciting choice with which a SAC BUNT cannot compete.
matrueblood
3/23
Can't tell if joking. Yes, Justin Smoak v Dayan Viciedo is a much more interesting choice than whether a pitcher should sac bunt.
Meatpacker
3/24
You are missing the choices on the defensive side.
A manager's decision of when or whether to remove a pitcher in mid-inning is often influenced by when the pitcher is next due to bat for his side. That's an element of strategy that is totally missing in the AL.


Of course, the union would agree to a universal DH.

I honestly don't know why the owners would. This is an oversimplification, but in general an AL team is paying nine regulars, while an NL team is only paying eight. But I don't think AL pitchers make less than NL pitchers to compensate.

The DH rule costs the owners money. Whether or not you think it is worth it depends upon your point of view. Of course, those of us in the anti-DH camp see it as a double negative.

If the owners were smart, they would offer some sort of concession to the union in exchange for a sunset date for the end of the DH rule altogether. It would have to be far enough into the future so as to make the impact upon current individual union members speculative at best. More than just a couple of years.
gtgator
3/23
Really? So AL managers need to decide whether to PH for someone like Scherzer down 1-0 in the 6th? That doesn't interest you?

There are, unequivocally, more choices for managers in the NL. if you find them "uninteresting", that's your choice. But it is a tad insulting for you to refer to those of us that do find them "interesting" as "less enlightened".
matrueblood
3/23
AL managers don't have the crutch of the pitcher's spot in the order to help them make the fascinating decision of when to remove a pitcher. So yes, I find the NL skipper's choice much less interesting, much less nuanced, much less difficult.
matrueblood
3/23
If that's the way you see it, cool, call it that way. There are all kinds of objective reasons the DH needs to be ubiquitous, and no objective reasons to keep the current system in place.
eas9898
3/23
Wow, you sure do talk in a lot of absolutes here.

Perhaps it would behoove you to write a future article to enlighten some of us ignorant folks about some of the 'unequivocal' and 'objective' reasons why pinch hitting, bunting, double switches, etc. are all silly strategic concepts, while just sticking an over the hill, one-dimensional player in the lineup is REAL strategy.
matrueblood
3/23
There's nothing interesting about the question of whether to bunt when the pitcher comes to bat with a runner on base. You do it, unless his name is Wood or Leake. There's nothing interesting about the question of whether to pinch-hit in a close game with the pitcher batting for the third time. You do it. Double-switches aren't complex, they're just complicated.

Now, pinch-hitting and bunting can still be nuanced strategic tools. Double switches can be, too. But only when the changes are rendered non-obvious by having two decent choices available. Position players at the plate make those things interesting, especially if you have a halfway-usable bench. Pitchers make them obvious, and obvious is boring. Also: who says DHes have to be troglodytes? That's how some teams use the spot. Others already use it as a revolving door for a few players who either have defensive limitations, or need help staying healthy. There's an even more extreme way to do it, too, and yeah, I might write an article about that.

All I'm saying is, let's not confuse what color commentators (who just happen to be former pitchers, a lot of the time) tell us is interesting strategy for actually interesting strategy. There's more nuance to the game than that, or, again, there *could be*, if we removed the automatic choices from the equation.
MylesHandley
3/23
"There's nothing interesting about the question of whether to bunt when the pitcher comes to bat with a runner on base. " What if you're down 1, but it's the 5th inning, and the pitcher hasn't had the 3rd-time-through-the order penalty? What if he's a lefty that is about to face 2 lefties in a row, and your LOOGY pitched the last 2 days and you might not have a great option in the pen next inning? It's disingenuous to say that pinch hitting for the pitcher doesn't add something interesting to the game of baseball.

Let your arguments for the DH stand on their own, instead of taking ill-advised hacks on fairly legitimate arguments.

Apropos of nothing, arguments for both sides of the debate:

1. The DH DOES add more complexity to a game, offering more decision points to a manager (which allows the better managers to outperform the worse ones).

2. Any position would benefit from not having to worry about hitting - shortstops (many of whom are poor hitters in their own right) would be better fielders, and allowing designated hitters for them would both improve the offense skill of hitters overall and would improve the fielding ability of shortstops (as those with no stick but great gloves would suddenly find themselves employable). There is no argument for a second designated hitter to replace shortstops, which means that something must be intrinsic to the pitching position. Players like Travis Wood and Clayton Kershaw show that pitchers do not necessarily have to be abhorrent hitters, so it seems that it's a matter of will and not necessarily skill.

Arguments for the DH

1. It's unfair for one league to have it and another not to. The AL team can afford to offer an aging outfielder that additional year an NL cannot because the AL team can just slot him in the DH role 6 years down the line. It's not going away from the AL, so the NL should just adopt it.

2. The DH allows AL teams to have fresher players, both by keeping a 9th bat in the lineup at all times (minimizing the downtime for bench players) and reducing the amount of fielding innings a player must make throughout the year. These are tangible advantages.

On the whole, I think the DH should come to the NL, and I'd be slightly surprised if it doesn't happen in the next CBA. That being said, there are legitimate arguments for not wanting it around.
LlarryA
3/24
I have stated many times on these pages another reason to keep the split DH. It maintains a distinction between the leagues. For about 60 years after the AL was founded, there was a tangible difference between the leagues. They were operated (mostly) separately, with different styles of play and different interactions between the owners.

Through the '60s, with changes in the game and greater access (through TV) to the "other league" for many fans, those differences began to disappear. The institution of the DH in the AL restored that, although Bud's elimination of the League Offices and creation of Interleague play have undermined that.

If we're not going to maintain any distinction between the leagues, why not just give up and rename them to 'Conferences' and spread the schedule across *all* the teams...
matrueblood
3/24
I wholeheartedly support as little pretense of separation between the leagues as possible. Calling them conferences would be fine with me, though they'll never do it, because American and National league are band names they can always use, regardless of how much (if any) meaning they maintain.
LlarryA
3/25
Ah! Finally we get to the root of your delusion! No one ever taught you of the proper separation of the Leagues and the Truth that the American League is the single most successful "rival league" in American sports history.
matrueblood
3/25
/eye roll/ but it hasn't been a rival league for 35 years. The distinction is strictly ceremonial; let's not pretend otherwise just for nostalgia's sake.
LlarryA
3/26
And some of us believe that something important is lost by losing the separation of the leagues, and no amount of wishing it away (or eye-rolling) on your part is going to change that on *our* part.
SamVan
3/23
So, what you are saying is that there should be no more gifs of Bartolo Colon attempting to hit? You are a joyless imbecile, a monster and a criminal.
matrueblood
3/23
See, *this* is the thing that almost gives me pause. This and Travis Wood.
rweiler
3/23
There is an excellent objective reason to not use the DH; pitchers that can hit a little bit help their team win more than pitchers that can't. Why should guys like Madison Bumgarner be penalized because their brethren are simply too lazy or too incompetent to become acceptable hitters?
matrueblood
3/23
I actually love pitchers who can hit. Bumgarner, Travis Wood, Mike Leake, all of them. To me, there just aren't nearly enough of them to make up for all the guys who are a perfectly automatic out. It's SO bad out there. Plus, I think baseball would be better if position players could be kept fresher, and the DH helps allow that. (It also lets us enjoy some of the game's very best hitters in ways we otherwise couldn't, or for longer than we otherwise could.)
ravenight
3/23
This sounds like an argument for the Offensive / Defensive team. Which isn't that bad an idea - the main reason the pitcher slot is particularly bad at hitting and thus the DH is reasonable is that pitchers can only pitch every 5 days or so (and even relievers tend not to get into more than half the games), so they can't really get consistent at-bats.

Why not just allow teams to choose which players on their active roster bat, and which ones take the field, without any limits (except the limit of at most 9 players on the field at once)? The two "lineups" could be managed separately (so you could pull someone out of the field, but leave them in the batting lineup), but with the same "once you're out, you're out" rule. I suppose you'd also have to add rules about conditions under which you can change the number of "slots" in the field or at the plate. Late in the game, down by several runs? Pull out all your slots except your top two hitters! Actually, the rules would probably have to stipulate that you are not allowed to have fewer than (6 - current number of outs) hitting slots, to avoid silliness with a man on base coming up to hit.

Anyway, this would add lots of interesting choices for managing and for roster construction, and it would mean that two-way players are that much more useful (since you can actually slot in pitchers who aren't pitching to get them at-bats). You'd have to make trade-offs about offense vs. defense vs. pitching, since you only have 25 roster spots. This would probably be even better for salaries than the current system with the DH, since every single slot is potentially an "everyday" player in one or more capacities (instead of having 5-6 "back of the bench/pen" slots).
somerford
3/23
Yes, I think artificially spiking offense is the embodiment of enlightenment. In the next CBA that silly once a player has been removed from the game he may not return should done away with as well. That rule seems unenlightened and in direct contrast to the enlightened DH rule. Who could possibly object to a player entering the game on four or so seperste occasions and then be removed when his team plays defense.
Defense? How unenlightened?
matrueblood
3/23
I can't even with this one.
bcavers
3/23
Wouldn't it be plausible to say that if the service time date is set further in advance thus advancing free agency one year for some players that owners will simply substitute salary away from existing free agents? In other words, the pie will still be the same but just will be distributed slightly differently among the players.
matrueblood
3/23
Oh, sure. Nothing *guarantees* more money would actually be spent, short of prescribing the share of revenue that would have to be paid to players, the way the NFL and NBA do. But that comes with a guaranteed salary floor (owners balk) and cap (players ball), so I doubt it would come to fruition.

The players would still want this, because:

1. The time value of money matters. They want guys getting their money sooner, before they get hurt, while the actuarial tables are still on their side, a year further ahead of inflation, etc.; and
2. Two free agents sharing the money that used to go to one are both still making a lot more than a player who hasn't reached free agency yet.
shmage
3/23
How depressing to see such a long article without a single mention of the one contract change that would make a huge improvement to the quality of the game--ROSTER EXPANSION. To reduce injuries, to keep players productive at the highest level, and to allow teams to adopt the best strategies within games, the ML roster should be increased to 28--allowing for a third catcher, a six-arm starting rotation (16% less strain on every elbow, every shoulder) and a real pinch-hitter (to replace the despicable DH, which could now be thrown out since there would be a real place for every good-hitting but nonfielding veteran). Since that would give the players' union a 12% increase in its membership (and be of huge benefit to the players themselves) it should be able to make enough real economic concessions (salary cap!) to get the deal--especially since the fans would be totally behind them.
matrueblood
3/23
"It could also come in the form of an expansion to 26-man active rosters, or increased pay for minor leaguers, or"

I didn't emphasize it, and I don't really agree with all your points or ideas there, although they're really interesting!
beeker99
3/23
I think the idea of a larger roster is worth discussing, but my concern is that unless you specify what kind of players take up those extra spots, we are just going to see 3 more relievers per team. Maybe one would be a real swingman, but still, the thought of increasing bullpen specialization further makes me sick.
woodlc05
3/23
Roster expansion wouldn't result in a six-man rotation. It would be two more bullpen arms and a burner pinch runner.
hmamis
3/23
Are you a lawyer by training?

harry
matrueblood
3/23
No, just by inclination, and for today, by Q score. :)
Grasul
3/23
The unnecessary and frankly pathetic shot at people who don't like the DH is sadly going to overshadow what a great article this was otherwise.

Great job; would have been better with a more reasonable presentation of the DH discussion. (And I don't mind the DH personally)
matrueblood
3/23
Firmly disagree with your characterization of my argument about the DH, of course, but I would gladly tone it down if writing this again, just to keep the conversation focused more on the more important and worthwhile parts. The other elements of these negotiations will be a lot more interesting than the DH element.
Marcgiz
3/23
I thought the comment was spot-on in illuminating the debate, and us commenters don't even have any direct financial interest. I disagree, but can hardly take offense. Helps that I'm an AL fan, I suppose.
LlarryA
3/24
I've made my arguments about the DH elsewhere in these comments, but I really don't appreciate being branded as "unenlightened" over it.
lyricalkiller
3/23
I think it goes without saying that Matt is clearly wrong about the DH, but we are called to love even the wrong among us. Indeed, none of us aspires to be wrong; to be wrong is merely to be afflicted with the lies of powerful forces, and to be pompously wrong is to be severely afflicted. For this, we should have sympathy for his state. I can and will continue to love him, wrong he might be.
matrueblood
3/23
Unbelievable. Madness is consuming the world.
therealn0d
3/23
Sam, thank you, and very well said.
Indeed, Matt has a sickness and we should deal with the problem through treatment and not punishment.
stephenwalters
3/23
The service time debate reminds me of a tongue-in-cheek comment made years ago by former Orioles announcer (and former platoon LF) John Lowenstein. While he watched a rhubarb about a blown call at 1B, Brother Lo said "they should move the bases 93 feet apart, so we eliminate all these close plays."

In any CBA, some lines are going to have to be drawn -- and then both sides are going to try to figure out ways to take advantage of those lines. If we re-draw the service time line in a way that will make Kris Bryant (and Scott Boras) happy today, what's the guarantee that we won't be creating a new, as-yet-unforeseen problem for others down the road?
matrueblood
3/23
Oh, to be sure, there isn't one. As I noted, the manipulation will always happen. The objective of my proposal is to take the feeling of farce out of it, and hopefully, in so doing, to make it less frustrating for all parties--especially fans.
Marcgiz
3/23
Re: Schedule: Expand to 32 and form 4 8-team "leagues." Have each league play 12 games against own league, then 6-3-0 against the other three - rotating the opposing leagues. 84+48+24=156 game season. Playoffs then an 8 team affair. No silly "play-in" games.

Re: DH: 1968 World Series. Smith leaves in Lolich rather than pinch-hit in must win game. How is this not better than watching Adam Dunn strike out 159 times? And yes, I love our V-Mart.
matrueblood
3/23
I've had the DH argument in almost that exact form above, so I'll let that be. To your expansion idea, which is interesting, and which I like: Where do you propose expanding? I worry that there isn't a viable virgin market right now. Otherwise, I might be in your camp.
Marcgiz
3/23
The SE seems relatively under-served (Nashville or Charlotte), Oklahoma City, the NW (Portland or Vancouver), both the NE and the Southern California Megalopolises could support another team but the current owners would stop that, Montreal, Vegas, San Antonio, Indianapolis, maybe New Orleans. I'm surprised that the NHL and NBA are in markets that MLB isn't. I think there are better baseball markets out there than Miami and Tampa Bay that are untapped. I think MLB is liked enough to grow by two teams. Too bad Hawai'i and Mexico are probably out of the question.
Harmonimage
3/23
There are several virgin markets including two in my home state. San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the country and has a huge Hispanic population from which to draw. Austin is the 14th largest city in the country with a large upscale population to draw upon. Either of these cities could support a MLB team since either is larger than Baltimore, Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Denver and Milwaukee. I guess with the DH sooner or later I will have to teach my grandkids that I was wrong and a baseball player doesn't need to be able to catch, throw, and hit the baseball. You can now just be one dimensional...so rather than a five tool player you can just be a tool. I do think both leagues should operate under the same rules.
matrueblood
3/23
As to first part: I think San Antonio is clearly the best possible market. Problem might be getting other Texas teams to okay it.

As to the DH, yes, one of the most important things to say--the thing I hope we can all agree on--is that the leagues playing under different rule sets is doing unnecessary damage. I guess you can argue for returning to pitchers hitting in both leagues. I Disagree with a capital D, but at least that's the right way to argue it.
LlarryA
3/24
No, we can't all agree on that. I have stated my reasons on this site MANY TIMES (including above) why maintaining a difference between the two leagues is important. If not, we might as well rename the leagues as 'conferences' and play all other 29 teams equally.
Marcgiz
3/23
I don't think it is city size as much as market size that matters, but I do agree that South Texas has a potentially huge untapped market.
aquavator44
4/02
Agreed. San Antonio-New Braunfeld is the 25th largest metro area (behind non-MLB areas such as Charlotte and Portland) and Austin-Round Rock is 35th.

For reference: Baltimore-Columbia-Towson (20th), Boston-Cambridge-Newton (10th), Seattle-Tacoma-Bellvue (15th), Washington-Alexandria-Arlington (7th), and Denver-Aurora-Lakewood (21st) all rank higher. Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis is 39th.
ravenight
3/23
Does it have to be virgin? LA, NY, Philly, Boston - I bet they could all support another team, though it would sure be an uphill battle for a Boston one.
aea0016
3/23
Pitcher hitting is down, but so is hitter hitting
matrueblood
3/23
True.
flyingdutchman
3/23
Down with the DH! A winter of watching tic-tac-toe tournaments has tided me over nicely, but I can't wait for baseball season to begin!
matrueblood
3/23
Amen, brother. (To the second part. You're a stark, raving lunatic for the first.)
Dvdaughtry
3/23
Let's expand the roster to 30. How about 9 fielders and 9 DH? Why stop at the pitcher?
matrueblood
3/23
I can't tell whether you're implying that that's some kind of rational extension of the argument for the single DH. It isn't. That would be horrible. That also doesn't change the validity or desirability of the DH as we know it.
Dvdaughtry
3/23
Let's make it like football. We can have an offense and a defense. I mean it's offense is what we are after. Right?
lyricalkiller
3/23
I wonder if offense would go up or down in this arrangement. Whole bunch of big bruisers would be in the game, sure, but bats have always played; I'm not sure how many MLB-quality bats exist in the world who aren't currently in the majors. But if every position were to be manned by some no-bat Venezuelan shortstop or no-bat, elite-speed center fielder, defensive upgrade would theoretically be nutso. Hrm. I wonder.
matrueblood
3/23
This might be--there are so many, and no man can account for taste, I'm open to the idea that it isn't, but it really might be--the silliest of all the anti-DH silly arguments in existence. No one is proposing that, and no one would like that, and it will not happen in my grandchildren's lifetimes, and no, adding the DH to the NL is not about adding offense.
Dvdaughtry
3/23
Silly is the $4.95 I spent for the month of "premium" content.

Thank God it ends on 4/9/15.
yancyeaton
3/23
I am surprised by how passionate some of you are about this. I just like baseball.
anome8
3/23
Okay, fine, bring the DH to the NL. However, when a manager changes pitchers he has to change the DH, too. Now there's strategy!
Marcgiz
3/23
I wonder if expansion by two would make some of these other issues easier for MLBPA to give concessions on. 50 new ML jobs could make some of these other issues more open to compromise.

Of course, Selig was talking contraction not that long ago, so you have to wonder if the owners believe the market is maximized already.
the4seamer
3/23
The DH should be removed from the AL. Lets watch CC take an at bat
matrueblood
3/23
CC is a .225/.232/.333 career hitter. But he doesn't have a hit since 2010 so clearly in rapid offensive decline.
the4seamer
3/23
Better yet, A defensive team and offensive team like one of the other commenters said for football. Adeiny Hecchavaria will never have to bat and David Ortiz could keep doing what hes doing.
Plucky
3/24
A couple ideas

1) Switch the FA eligibility from service time to age, in which a player will become a free agent in advance of his age-29 season. This will cost the truly elite stars 1 or 2 years of FA eligibility, but will give an extra year or two to many more average/mediocre players, which should be a slight net win for the MLBPA. Teams are guaranteed to control a player's statistical peak (26-28) regardless of their promotion decisions, and players are guaranteed several near-peak years for which to get paid market rates even if they are late bloomers.

2) Schedule: Trim the schedule to 160 games rather than 154, get rid of interleague games except for the 'natural rival' series, expand the Divisional series to 7 games, and start the regular season a week earlier (with a bias towards the first series being in domed/warm weather environments. This would give more rest days to players, only cost 1 home game and 2 regular season TV dates, but give MLB 2 more playoff games to televise, and ensure no November WS's. The schedules get more balanced, the owners get to keep the rivalry series, and the nature of the rolling interleague means there will always be 1 rivalry series at any given time that could serve as a national broadcast game (Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday).

3) Keep the QO for receiving draft pick compensation, but get rid of if when it comes to forfeiting picks. i.e., just invent sandwich picks similar to the old class A/B system and don't take any away from the signing team. It removes the mark of Cain (mark of Drew?) that nukes players' signability but still maintains the competitive balance aspect of giving a leg up to smaller market teams who are about to lose their stars.

4) Instead of incorporating international players into a draft, merge the domestic and international systems into a single pool that operates in the same manner as the current international rules: Teams get dollar allocations for >100k bonuses, who-signs-where becomes a complete free-for-all. MLBPA gets to keep stiffing amateurs on the aggregate payout, but gets to give them freedom on choosing their employer and more negotiating leverage at the individual level, both of which will be huge advances for them. Owners don't really lose much of anything. Given how the international rules have been broken, the penalties for going over-cap will have to be really stiffened. Side bonus: massive incentive for teams to invest in player development/safety, which will become part of their sales pitch to amateurs.

Other Observations
-All serious CBA modification proposals have to have something in it for both sides, at least in aggregate. Pretending this is the frickin homestead strike and railing against Evil Robber Baron Management may make for a good political column (actually wait no, it makes for a hackneyed and stale one, but I digress), but will have zero chance of getting done.

-The nature of MLB contracts and baseball as a sport means players will always get a lower percentage of revenue than NFL or NBA. First and foremost, contracts are fully guaranteed and have very limited allowances for performance incentives, which means teams absorb all the injury and performance risk. This may be better on the whole, but it means teams have to build in an insurance premium and players have to take less in expected value. Players seem to be on the whole OK with this system, since very few seem to be angling for shorter contracts with bigger $ (which would probably raise their career earnings but expose them to much more longterm risk). Secondly, MLB franchises have to spend substantial sums on player development in ways NBA and NFL franchises do not. The fixed costs of running a franchise are simply higher, and a lot of the labor they have to pay for doesn't get their names in the box score.
NathanAderhold
3/24
Sixty-four comments? I think you might have struck a nerve, Matt.

The potential change I find most intriguing is the international draft. It's not that I'm excited about it -- I'd rather not give owners another means to dilute amateur spending -- it's more that it just seems like an impossible undertaking.

Does MLB make individual agreements with each country involved? Do they put together a blanket rubric and tell governments, "sign this, or else"? What happens if a country like the DR or Venezuela, which teams are already heavily invested in, decides they don't want in? What about East Asian and European countries? How is draft eligibility determined? etc. etc.

The logistical hurdles seem endless.
Plucky
3/24
22 of them belong to the author
ravenight
3/24
I don't know if agreements are needed unless the countries impose restrictions on their citizens. I mean, what agreement governs the current system? All this would be is the teams agreeing on a standard for who is and is not subject to the draft. Presumably, professional baseball players from other countries would remain free agents with respect to MLB.
mattidell
3/24
Matt, I agree that pitchers hitting is objectively bad, and I commend you for sticking to your guns. Although it doesn't happen often, it seems to me that a pitcher hitting poses a significant injury risk due to performing an extremely difficult physical activity requiring much training, timing, and a fast moving projectile. We should risk health, even slightly, for gifs?
mbodell
3/26
I don't want to decrease the regular season from 162 games, but do support increasing the playoff games. Heck you could do 3 games for WC, 5 games for div round, 7 games for lcs, and 9 games for world series. Just eliminate off days mid-series (or, at a minimum, have off days only when travel absolutely forces it).

We have modern travel, you can fly from coast to coast in 5-6 hours at worst (BOS-SDN is 6 hours), and the starting pitchers can fly out the day before. The get away game can be a day game. The teams have private charter planes, so it isn't like a random person trying to work a business meeting or vacation flight in.

I think the best way to help make the grind easier is to increase the rosters (both 40-man and 25-man). And possibly decrease the gaps between off days (I believe teams can currently play up to 20 straight days without a break).

For service time, I think the best way to do it is base it on a combination of age of the player + years since drafted/signed on a major league team.

Like you become arbitration eligible when your age+years since drafted becomes 27, and you become a free agent when your age+years since drafted hits 35. So a high school player drafted+signed at 17 thus hits arbitration eligibility at 22 (because at 22 there would be 5 years since drafted and 22+5 = 27) and becomes the free agent at 26 (9 years since drafted plus 26 = 35). By contrast a late signing college who was 22 when signed out of college becomes arbitration eligible at around 25 (24+2 < 27 < 25+3) and a free agent at around 29 (28+6 < 35 < 29+7). This way when they make the majors doesn't directly enter into it. You can choose different numbers or a different weighting but I think the person's age and when they joined the team (drafted/signed) are two numbers that can't be manipulated as clearly.