Every year at this time, a fat book helps me fight through the darkness of February. The book I’m talking about is Baseball America’s annual prospect handbook—a baseball nerd’s version of Playboy. Unfortunately though, not many share my baseball geekness, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With some changes, many more could care about minor league baseball. It’s time for me to put on my future commissioner cap. It’s time for me to save baseball.

I love America. I really do. I want us to be number 1 in everything, but as the Olympics pointed out to us the past few weeks, that just isn’t always true. And England’s Premier League is another prime example. The EPL is the Franklin BBQ of sports leagues. Games are intense because every one matters, and the biggest reason for that is their system know as relegation: basically, there is a hierarchy of leagues (much like baseball’s already existing A, AA, AAA, MLB, etc.), and the top-3 teams from each league move up a league, while the bottom 3 move down.

With the leagues already in place, the only thing left to do is make every team independent of a current MLB team. It could be done by tomorrow.

Baseball’s biggest problem right now is its boredom. The monotony of seeing the same players play similar teams for 162 straight days is too much to bear for some, and one of the biggest causes of that is that losing one game seemingly doesn’t have a profound impact on the season. If having an off day meant losing a spot in the MLB, though, all 162 games would become fascinating. A Cubs-Astros game in late August would be as exciting as the Yankees battling the Red Sox for a playoff spot, because the loser of Cubs-Astros would lose their MLB status. They’d be playing with the El Paso Chihuahuas.

I travelled to the future and found this picture with this caption: CUBS WIN THE PENNANT! CUBS WIN THE AAA PENNANT!
I travelled to the future and found this picture with this caption: CUBS WIN THE PENNANT! CUBS WIN THE AAA PENNANT!

With relegation, just like soccer in England, every single city has its own team. Baseball is America’s pastime, but only 26 cities in America currently have a team that could win a World Series. Isn’t Billings, MT., America too? Don’t they deserve a shot—however slim it may be—to win the WORLD Series?

Hardly any baseball players in the Draft Era have ever been able to completely skip the minor leagues and immediately play in the majors, which brings up the question “How will players develop if today’s minor league teams are independent of a major league club?” The solution is already in place and to find it, look no further than Japan and New York. Masahiro Tanaka has been pitching professionally in Japan since he was 18, just about when most American pitching prospects begin their trip through the minors. In that time, he’s morphed into the best player in the Japanese league, going 24-0 in starts last year with a 1.27 WHIP. Naturally, major league teams were intrigued, and the Yankees dished out a total of $175M to get Tanaka in pinstripes. $155M of that was given to Tanaka as part of his contract, but the other $20M was given to the Rakuten Golden Eagles as a sort of repayment for allowing them to sign Tanaka. Again, this system is very similar to soccer’s transfer system.

The $20M that Brian Cashman paid the Rakuten Golden Eagles to get Masahiro Tanaka is only the beginning. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)
The $20M that Brian Cashman paid the Rakuten Golden Eagles to get Masahiro Tanaka is only the beginning. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

Having players develop independently and then singed by teams with a large enough checkbook would be beneficial to all parties. Major league teams would like it, because they don’t have to spend their time worrying about how a player will develop and paying for coaches and equipment to make that development a reality. Smaller, lower level teams would be in favor, because not only does a Mike Trout or Stephen Strasburg-esque prospect bring attention to their team but tons and tons of cash. The $20M that the Yankees paid Rakuten for Tanaka would dwarf in comparison to the bulldozers of cash teams would be sending out to get the best prospects in the game. Maybe some of the cash would go towards players that help even the playing field and make it possible for teams like the Billings Broncos to win a World Series.

Hopefully, next time I tear open the brown Amazon box holding my prospect handbook, its title of Baseball America feels a little more genuine as baseball becomes America’s national pastime once more. Hopefully, legions of baseball nerds will study the handbook as gospel, trying to figure out which players their team should sign. Hopefully, relegation becomes a reality. Hopefully Bud Selig gets fired.

Hopefully yours,

Commissioner Levin

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