A year ago, one of the topics of conversation at the winter meetings had nothing to do with free agency or the trade market. Major League Baseball, historically hesitant to implement changes, had just announced a series of new rules intended to produce a more entertaining product for the 2023 season.
A pitch clock. Restrictions on movement in the field. Bigger bases. A limit on withdrawal attempts. It was a lot at once. The reviews were popular. But it all turned out to be a success. The games were shorter with as much action. Batting averages have increased. Stolen bases increased. An improvement all around.
But Commissioner Rob Manfred made it clear that more changes were coming. ESPN reported last month that MLB was considering shaving two seconds off the field clock with runners on base. Before the World Series, Manfred told reporters that he would like to further limit the number of pitchers allowed on rosters in order to indirectly counter the trend of starting pitchers logging fewer and fewer innings. The league is not over.
And as MLB explores other ways to improve its product, it should look into what’s happening in the NBA this week. As the baseball world gathered at Gaylord Opryland for this year’s Winter Meetings, the NBA continued its popular season tournament with two quarterfinal games Monday. The inaugural competition will conclude with the semi-finals and final this weekend in Las Vegas.
Initially met with skepticism and confusion, the NBA achieved its goal with this tournament: to generate more interest in regular season games. The players decided the tournament was important, and that’s what matters. Prestige will come with time.
MLB should be take notes from Nashville. Some sort of in-season competition would spice up a 162-game season that typically sees a third of clubs out of playoff contention by August.
Such an event should be collectively negotiated by MLB and the MLB Players’ Assn. MLB has not yet discussed the matter with the union, according to a league spokesperson, but that could always change.
So what would an in-season MLB tournament look like? This could go several ways. There would be logistical challenges to overcome. But here is a hypothetical framework:
- Five groups of six teams.
- Series of three matches between each team in each group for a total of 15 group matches.
- Pool games would take place during the regular season and would be considered regular season games (like the NBA’s in-season tournament).
- The five group winners and the three wild cards would advance to the quarter-finals.
- The quarterfinals are four sets of three games played on the weekend leading up to the All-Star break at the top-ranked team’s stadium.
- The semifinals are single-elimination matches held as doubleheaders on the Friday after the All-Star Game. The final takes place on Saturday or Sunday.
- Players and coaches receive monetary compensation for winning the tournament, finishing in second place and reaching the semi-finals.
- The champion team sees its first pick increased or receives additional compensation in the next draft. MLB could also add a playoff component as a reward.
- MLB donates to a charity of the championship team’s choice.
- The league sells television rights to a network or streaming service, adding another source of revenue to split between the parties.
Any change would undoubtedly be met with resistance. Players and clubs would be hesitant to add even a few games to the schedule. There are significant obstacles. But the parties worked together to ensure that World Baseball Classic occurred in 2005. They recognized an opportunity to grow the sport. This could be another one.