MONTREAL – That’s it: it’s the day of the season when all Major League Baseball fans see their club have an equal chance of participating in the playoffs next fall. Some will become disillusioned very quickly, but will the new rules that came into force on Thursday have the effect expected by MLB on the level of competitiveness? That remains to be seen, say two experts consulted by The Canadian Press.
A brief reminder: the 30 clubs will be able to have 28 players instead of 26; six teams per league will make the playoffs; the designated hitter will now be used in the National League; teams will no longer be able to constantly yo-yo with their players, who can only be traded or recalled a maximum of five times per season; teams will have strong incentives to play their best players in the Majors instead of controlling seniority, and a lottery has been introduced for the top six draft picks starting in 2023.*
“It’s certain that the designated hitter will change what,” says Marc Griffin, MLB game analyst on RDS. In today’s baseball, about two ‘free’ appearances per game will be avoided. On 35 departures, it is perhaps 50 `automatic’ withdrawals less: it will have an impact on the earned run averages.
“On the other hand, it is perhaps not the regulations that will have the most influence on the season. I would have liked there to be 14 teams in the playoffs, but with 12, it’s still four teams who will be competing for a ‘2 of 3’ to move on to the sectional playoffs. If you play for .500 halfway through the season, you’ll be in the game. I can’t wait to see what it will create after the All-Star Game break. It could be ‘fun’. »
André Lachance, who now serves as Cirque du Soleil’s human performance director after serving as Canada’s national team manager and Baseball Canada’s technical director for nearly 20 years, believes this new playoff format will change the situation.
“Having more teams in the playoffs is going to change the dynamic in terms of the periodization of the season. […] When you add teams, you can allow yourself as an organization to pace your season differently. Some will try to enter the playoffs with more energy. A season of 162 games is super long and super difficult, which makes recovery management very important. We have this phenomenon here at Cirque, where certain athletes give 450 performances a year. »
According to Lachance, this playoff format and the expanded roster of 28 players will help change athlete development at all levels.
“We’re going to see more multi-position players, like the Yankees last year. This means that every two or three days, you can give your pillars an extra day off, which allows for better recovery.
“If we extrapolate, in 5-10 years, this kind of multi-position player is likely to be very important. It could change the dynamics of player development, both in minor league baseball, in college, and in the minor leagues. These players, who had no real position and therefore no real place in the Majors, you will now be able to keep them with a 28-player formation to give your stars a break.
“People often ask me how we managed to be second in the world with my women’s team. I always come back to multi-position: we always had options. I think this is a trend that will become more and more important. »
No more endless reminders
Teams that constantly yo-yo their pitchers or their players ‘on the threshold of the Majors’ with infinite recalls and demotions will no longer have that luxury, as a player cannot be moved more than five times per season.
“It’s going to hurt the Rays!” They used 37 pitchers last year; 14 different guys got a save, Griffin notes. I don’t think it’s going to change anything for the Blue Jays, Yankees or Red Sox, but a little more creative teams on development, it can have an effect. It’s like any rule, some have abused it. »
The manipulation of service time has also been addressed with the introduction of strong incentives so that young stars reach Major League Baseball more quickly.
“Baseball careers are generally short,” says Lachance. The peak performance of a player in a team sport is between 26-28 years old. It takes longer. But there are always exceptional people who are able to contribute more quickly. To count them in your training is beneficial. »
Baseball also found itself with a major problem, as some of the best athletes at the university level chose a sport other than baseball.
“It’s clear that financially, if you have the chance to break into football or basketball right now instead of spending three or four years in the minors, with your ‘baloney’ sandwich, your soft bar and your orange for lunch, you’re going to choose one of these two sports,” says Lachance of gifted athletes who actually have a chance to break into more than one sport, which is not so rare in the United States.
MLB has also missed a great opportunity to solve its most serious problem: the disparity between the payrolls of the teams. He even exacerbated it by pushing up the salary limit resulting in a penalty, what is commonly called the luxury tax.
Despite highly advantageous revenue sharing, clubs all receive US$200-225 million before starting their season, 10 teams have a projected wage bill of less than $100 million for 2022, according to spotrac.com. The Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles plan to spend just $32 million and $30 million respectively.
“Oakland is a disgrace,” laments Griffin. That the Expos had a fire sale in 1995 is one thing. But with the current revenue sharing, it’s outrageous. In 1991, the A’s had the highest payroll in baseball at 35 million. In 2022, they will have practically the same one, which is going to be one of the smallest.
“Could a wage floor have been the solution? Force these bottom teams to spend a minimum? I don’t understand: it’s the players who didn’t want a floor and a salary cap. However, if you have 10 teams that spend more, it’s more money for the players. »
* Some details about the rules:
– Teams with the two best records among Section Champions will be seeded #1 and #2 and will enjoy a first-round bye. The other four will play a best-of-three series to move on to the sectional series. The No. 6 team will face the No. 3 team, and the No. 5 team will face the No. 4 team. All three matches are played at the stadium of the highest-ranked club.
– Teams no longer have any reason not to keep their best hopes in the Majors. The new agreement provides compensatory choices for a club whose rookie would finish in the top-3 of the ballot for the most valuable player, rookie of the year and Cy Young trophy. In addition, finishing first or second in the title of rookie par excellence automatically grants a full year of service to the player. If a club believes that one of its recruits will be part of the discussion for this honor, it no longer makes sense to keep them waiting in the minors until May or June, as we have seen in the past with Mike Trout and Kris Bryant, for example.