The current system vs. the European model
This week’s Hustle Double question is whether or not MLB should adopt a European-style promotion and relegation system.
The winner of the debate will be decided by your votes in the poll at the bottom of this post. The debater with the largest proportion of votes will be crowned as the winner and the loser will be ejected from the game and fined an undisclosed amount.
Davies: Introduction, arguing on behalf of promotion-relegation
We tell ourselves MLB is egalitarian, with eight different clubs winning the World Series in the last decade as proof. But of those eight, six are among the 10 most valuable clubs (and Houston is this close), and after watching Cleveland trade anyone with value over the last decade-plus it’s hard to feel like MLB is anything close to equal. Adding promotion and relegation isn’t a cure for inequality, but it would make seasons like 2021 in Cleveland more interesting. Rather than watching a team with little offense struggle pointlessly, the threat of relegation would inject drama into every game as Cleveland fights to stay in the top tier. Every decision would be a big one, and a manager might not be comfortable inserting a position player as a pitcher, for example, because preserving a possible comeback is more important than saving an arm. This would be as true in May as in September: every outcome would matter more, even over 162 games. An added benefit would be a much better system for players because MiLB teams would have to compete for talent and not be at the whim of the parent clubs. The Clippers wouldn’t just be a shuttle organization for Cleveland but would have to build a roster that could reasonably compete with Cleveland next season. This would give players more choice and force owners to fork over more money to build the best clubs. Overall, it would make baseball a more interesting endeavor, from management to gameplay.
Ruane: Introduction, arguing on behalf of the current system
First, I want to applaud Chris for his ingenuity. What he is proposing is an intriguing attempt to address the lack of parity in MLB and the failure of team owners to invest in putting a competitive product on the field. But I’m not sure promotion and relegation is the answer. Logistically, how would it work? If every minor league is eligible for promotion, where would they play once promoted? For example, Huntington Park, home of the Columbus Clippers, has a maximum capacity of 10,100. Progressive Field, for comparison, can hold up to 35,041. Actual attendance for Cleveland may end up closer to 10,100 on an average day, but the point remains. More fans generally means more revenue. Is there a sustainable revenue model for a Triple-A or lower-level team to sign major league talent? And even if you were able to level the playing field, it could actually hurt the chances of an organization like Cleveland improving their team if suddenly there are a number of up-and-coming teams that are more appealing to free agents. And fans may fear relegation, but are we certain it would light a fire under owners like the Dolans, who seem to prioritize their bottom line first and fielding a competitive team second? I’m not so sure it would have the intended effect, and it may end up creating more opportunities for other teams than it would for a team like Cleveland.
I love when a massive soccer team plays in a stadium that holds a fraction of their home ground, so I think Cleveland playing at Fort Wayne would be awesome. Plus, less seating and a big team means more demand, so hosts can make more money to reinvest. If those small teams use that money wisely and beat the big teams, then it should light a fire under ownership to do better and invest smarter. Otherwise, fans will vote with their wallet and ruin the investment, which is a consequence the Dolans don’t have to fear currently.
Can those smalls use their money wisely and beat the big teams, though? Look at the Tampa Bay Rays, the poster child for “fiscally responsible” baseball organizations. They’ve built a reputation as one of the craftiest teams in MLB, and all they have to show for it is a couple of pennants, one of which came in a freakshow COVID-shortened season. If the Rays can’t get over the hump and dethrone the Dodgers of the world, what makes you think the Toledo Mud Hens can? The balance of power still rests with the big spenders.
Europe’s best leagues still have problems, but fan power has large sway there, as seen in the Super League drama. Even without addressing inequality, I think promotion-relegation could add entertainment by making more baseball games mean something and expanding interest to areas with smaller teams and promoting local pride.
I’m all for a more entertaining league, but I worry that a system of relegation and promotion would only further the inequities between the haves and have nots in the league, creating more competition for a team like Cleveland and less for a team like the Dodgers.