The 10 Things I Would Do If I Were MLB Commissioner

Expansion to 32 teams and ending TV blackouts are top of my agenda.

“I’m the captain now.”

It is the line everyone remembers from the 2013 Tom Hanks movie “Captain Phillips.”

Well, I have one thing to say to Rob Manfred: I am the commissioner now.

After rubbing the magic lamp, the genie granted me one wish and I choose to become the commissioner of Major League Baseball. Why? Because while I love baseball, I think there are some things that should be changed, mainly to make the experience better for fans.

It might disappoint a few of you that I didn’t do some outlandish things. Too bad. This is my commissionership and I don’t want to tinker with the basic concept of the game that we all love.

Here are my 10 commandments that would be imposed on my first day in the big chair (in no particular order):

 

1. Expand To 32 Teams

 

The playoffs expanded to 12 teams this past season with some pretty good drama. Now, it is time to add two more teams (especially with MLB pulling in $900 million from Disney) and create eight four-team divisions in each league.

I tried to approach this logically by first splitting up the current 30 teams into four-team divisions. Most of it sorted itself out, but there were a few things to work through. Once that was done, I was able to award franchises to two cities: Portland and Nashville.

Before you pelt me with poutine (which actually might be a dream of mine), I did consider Montreal instead of Nashville. But Nashville currently has an ownership group in place and I think it just fits in better. Portland gets the other nod to pair with Seattle in the Northwest. Two notes on the division alignment: I initially wanted a South Division, but there weren’t enough teams to make a good geographical argument. Instead, I went with a North Division. That brought the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins pairing back to the NL East and shifted the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates to the NL North. The biggest dilemma was where to put the Colorado Rockies while keeping them in the NL. The Arizona Diamondbacks felt like a better choice as the fourth NL West team (joining the three NL California franchises) and the Rockies do have little more of a Midwest flair, so they ended up in the NL Central.

Keep in mind that I tried to keep regional teams or top rivals together as best as possible.

* expansion team

 

2. End MLB Blackouts

 

Streaming has changed how we watch TV, but even before that, the way MLB carved up some parts of America for telecasts was ludicrous. There are plenty of examples that make no sense whatsoever, but I will just use this as an example.

Iowa does not have an MLB team, but borders four states with six teams: Minnesota (Twins), Wisconsin (Brewers), Illinois (Cubs, White Sox), and Missouri (Cardinals, Royals). But the folks in the Hawkeye State are classified as the home area of those six clubs and are therefore blacked out on various platforms if a TV channel doesn’t carry it in their area, which includes regional sports networks such as Bally or Root.

MLB Blackout Chart

Chart from USA Today

MLB irked some fans by giving Apple TV+ and Peacock exclusive rights to games. (To be honest, if you don’t have a smart TV or one where you can use apps, you better get one soon. Finding these games isn’t that difficult.) But the blackout rule really affects those who use MLB.tv. On a day with 15 games, those poor Iowans could be missing 40% of MLB games.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has talked about making it easier for fans to watch more games, but his talk is cheap. When I take over, I will make this happen.

Something else I would add to the TV portion is having players mic’d up during the game. We saw during the All-Star Game this past season how much fun it was to hear the players going through their thought processes on in-game decisions or just random subjects while at their positions. More of this would make the game more attractive to everyone.

Also, MLB Network would be available on all TV-alternative streaming services, including Hulu, a service that advertises it has live sports but doesn’t have MLB Network (or NBA.tv).

 

3. Salary Cap, Salary Floor

 

Time to address competitiveness. MLB is a big-time business that is swimming in cash and there is no reason for any of the 32 franchises (see what I did there?) can’t be operating on a similar salary scale, much like the NFL or NBA.

As I write this, I took a look at Cot’s projections for Opening Day salaries and there is nearly a $200 million difference between the top team (Mets at $226M) and the lowest team (A’s at $31M). Meanwhile, the difference, per Spotrac, in the NFL (hard cap) is about $50 million and the NBA (soft cap) is about $107 million. I would lean toward the NBA model, allowing the large-market teams to spend as they have, while implementing a floor for the small-market teams.

The goal is to get NFL-type parity, where a small-market team such as the Green Bay Packers can be a force for years by having the ability to spend in a similar fashion to much bigger cities. A salary floor would have to be at least $100 million per team.

With this system, I would also do something to address the albatross contracts in MLB and the ability of clubs to get out of them. Any contract longer than four years and at a value of $20 million per year would be subject to the rule. MLB contracts, as we know, are guaranteed, but this would help some teams escape bad deals by making the release of a player more of an option. Players would be guaranteed 50% of the final year of their contract. There would be a sliding scale depending on the length of the contract starting with Year 5 of the deal. For example, on a 10-year, $200 million contract, the player would get $10 million if released before Year 10. This would cut down the length of contracts and create more player movement.

 

4. Free-Agent Frenzy

 

The NBA and NFL have an advantage from a headline-grabbing perspective with the start of their free-agency period. That doesn’t happen in MLB. While free-agent negotiations technically can start just days after the World Series ends, the big deals generally don’t go down until the winter meetings.

So how do we fix this and make it more of an event? The winter meetings can still be the centerpiece event, but we need to condense the window in which these transactions happen. The general managers and owners meetings can still take place as they do since there is other MLB business that transpires there, although personnel decisions certainly are discussed, often laying the groundwork for trades.

Here is what I would do:

Open a negotiating window two weeks before the winter meetings. What would be allowed is face-to-face meetings and contract offers. No deals could be consummated. With the winter meetings starting on a Monday, a trade window would open on the Friday before. Then, beginning on that Monday, signings can be agreed upon (pending physicals, of course) and then announced. Sure, there would be some obvious holdouts (see: Boras, Scott).

The winter meetings already have some hype to them, because we are starved for solid baseball news. Some arm-twisting of agents would need to happen to get this to happen, perhaps with some sort of incentive if deals are made official before Jan. 1.

 

5. Extra Innings, Doubleheaders

 

Ghost runner. Manfred Man. Whatever you want to call it, the placing of a runner on second base to begin extra innings has created more drama and eliminated those really long games. But here is what I would do: I would keep the previous setup of no runner on second base for innings 10 through 12. Then, the runner on second would be used from the 13th inning on. According to one report, there were 350 games that went into extras in 2022, but only one went past 15 innings.

Overall, the Manfred Man rule has been good, basically eliminating the 17- and 18-inning games as well as not depleting the depth of bullpens, but this just dials it back a little bit.

Now, a little something for fans: Doubleheaders can no longer be split day-night twinbills, with the second game starting no longer than 1 hour from the completion of the opener. Tickets for games are mostly sold in advance, so owner revenue isn’t really changing. The only conundrum that comes up would be with ticket-holders who hold the same seat. With doubleheaders very unlikely to be sold out, barring some special circumstance, clubs can come up with a suitable alternative.

One other thing to address here: No game can start before noon local time, again, depending on special considerations.

 

6. Playoff Format

 

The way the 2022 postseason went off was pretty good. All games of the best-of-three Wild Card Series being held at the higher-seeded team’s stadium turned out very well. Three of the four road teams advanced in the debut of this format, including both teams that made the NL Championship Series (Phillies and Padres). No days off in this round was perfect.

The Division Series will be expanded to seven games, to match the League Championship Series and World Series. In those best-of-seven series, the format will change from a 2-3-2 series to a 2-2-1-1-1. There would be a travel day between each change of city. The higher-seeded team still gets a maximum of four home games, including the decisive Game 7. Home-field advantage tends to mean less in MLB, but this just creates a little more drama, in addition to two extra days off if the series goes the distance. Sure, the travel would suck if you have teams from opposite coasts, but it would lengthen the postseason by a few days, create extra media attention and allow teams to reset bullpens or bring back a starting pitcher later in the series.

 

7. International Draft

 

It was a long overdue move to unionize minor-league players, a process that is still playing out as the MLB Players Association negotiates with MLB ownership on a collective bargaining agreement. So this seems like a good time to create an international draft.

Some franchises don’t get involved with the international system, which is unfortunate. At worst, it is a way to find some hidden gems in talent-rich Latin American countries. I’m sure some of those franchises (re: owners) don’t participate in order to save money investing in the infrastructure of scouting those players and having teams in the Dominican Summer League.

One of the last proposals on the table before the international draft fell through in July called for a 20-round draft that calls on all 30 clubs to make picks — no team can pass, although selections can be traded. This is fine, but I would limit the number of draft picks a team could trade in one year so a club can’t circumvent the integrity of this effort. I would also create a committee of Latin American players to act as advisors to the potential picks as well as keep an eye on clubs to make sure they are actively participating in this process.

MLB had proposed three groups of 10 teams rotating draft positions, so as not to tie a team’s record to the international draft. I would go further and do six groups of five so that a club would be guaranteed a top-five selection and another in the top 10 in a six-year span.

In addition to guaranteed signing bonuses, each draft pick would be guaranteed $50,000 in education funding. Remember, the players being drafted are 16 years old — basically sophomores in high school.

 

8. Minority Hiring Rule

 

Even leagues with a minority hiring rule struggle in this area, often with candidates feeling like they are given token interviews. Just see all the chatter during the NFL’s coach-hiring process. MLB might have an advantage in this area due to the minor-league structure and being able to have minorities be managers, pitching coaches or hitting coaches from the rookie levels to Triple-A, learning the ropes along the way.

This is not mandating minorities be hired, but it is mandating opportunities to interview for MLB positions. Women would be included in this definition of minorities.

As in the NFL, MLB would have a committee that would have a list of candidates deserving of interviews for on-field and front-office positions. For each opening (head of baseball ops, general manager, manager, pitching coach, hitting coach), a club must interview two minority candidates. Rewards for hiring a minority for baseball ops, GM or manager would be a third-round pick after the competitive balance selections. For pitching coach and hitting coach would be a fifth-round pick.

Diverse candidates make the game better. They bring different perspectives that white counterparts are not necessarily privy to.

 

9. MLB Celebration Week

 

I have railed against MLB for always stepping all over itself with certain big events. Take the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, for example. It is always held on a Sunday, when MLB games are generally day games to accommodate travel for the next series. Current players often don’t get a chance to watch the ceremony, much less attend the festivities in Cooperstown.

A much bigger problem is All-Star week, when the festivities surrounding the All-Star Game are intertwined with the MLB Draft, at least in the last few years. So with the caveat of not moving the dates around too much, my dream is to create a week of celebrating the game. There is an added benefit that I will address later.

Here is what I would do with the All-Star break:

First, I would make sure it is in the first full week of July unless that coincides with the Fourth of July, which is a big draw for all MLB franchises.

Monday: Announce All-Star starting lineups, celebrity softball, and old-timers games. How about that? A new event! Get some of the recent retirees to come and play a five-inning game.

Tuesday: First round of draft, Futures Game, high school All-Star Game, MLB All-Star batting practice. Time to celebrate the future in a variety of ways. Did you know that there was a high school game played in conjunction with the All-Star Game? Probably not. In 2022, it was played on a Friday. Also, the first round of the draft would take place earlier in the day. This past draft’s first round ended around 12:30 p.m. ET on a Sunday. Not ideal for exposure.

Wednesday: Home Run Derby, second through fifth rounds of draft.

Thursday: All-Star Game, completion of draft. Moving the All-Star Game back from its traditional Tuesday will give pitchers who start on Sunday a few days of rest and allow more to be available to pitch in the marquee event.

Friday: No events. Travel day.

Saturday: Hall of Fame ceremony. The biggest move in this whole process, but it would allow current players to travel to Cooperstown and take in the ceremony as no MLB games are scheduled.

Sunday: No events. MLB schedule resumes on Monday.

All of this gives each team a full calendar week off and doesn’t stress the players with quick travel turnarounds if they are picked for the All-Star Game or Home Run Derby. It is a week of celebrating baseball on all levels — with maximum media exposure — and gives rotations and bullpens a chance to reset for the stretch run.

 

10. Baseball Is A Game For Kids

 

We all know it. Prices at the ballpark are out of control. It is tough to take a family to a game and not break the monthly budget. Tickets, parking, snacks, food, beverages, souvenirs. I have a solution for that.

One Sunday every month, kids 18 and under get into the game for free. Plus, they get free food and drink (with limitations, of course). The more fans you build at a younger age, at all economic levels, the more they will keep coming back.

One more thing for kids: Offer some sort of a season pass so that they get food at 50% off and a reduction in ticket price to 10 games other than the freebies mentioned above.

 

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Steve Drumwright

Steve Drumwright is a lifelong baseball fan who retired as a player before he had the chance to be cut from the freshman team in high school. He recovered to become a sportswriter and have a successful journalism career at newspapers in Wisconsin and California. Follow him on Twitter @DrummerWrites.

6 responses to “The 10 Things I Would Do If I Were MLB Commissioner”

  1. Chris says:

    Love the idea of expanding to 32 teams, but would be interested in scrapping the AL/NL split as the DH rules no longer differentiate them and going with divisions that are more closely based on geography. This will cut down travel time and expenses both for the teams and the fans, which should also help to boost attendance. Here’s how the 8 divisions could breakout if we’re adding your two franchises in Nashville and Portland, but also moving the Rays to Montreal. Nearly all teams would retain either a current divisional rival or a natural geographic rival.

    BOS
    NYY
    NYM
    PHI

    WAS
    BAL
    TOR
    MON

    PIT
    CLE
    CIN
    NSH

    CHC
    CWS
    MIL
    DET

    KCR
    STL
    COL
    MIN

    HOU
    TEX
    ATL
    MIA

    SDP
    LAD
    LAA
    ARZ

    SEA
    POR
    SFG
    OAK

    • Steve Drumwright says:

      Love your alignment. Despite the presence of the universal DH, I didn’t want to eliminate the history of the teams in the American and National leagues. If I had disregarded that history, it would have looked an awful lot like what you come up with.

  2. Idli Amin says:

    Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be able to eliminate blackouts on MLB.TV if you were commissioner. It’s not the league; it’s the RSNs and the distributors. In the era of cord-cutting, they are DESPERATE to retain subscribers, and carrying live sports is kinda the last arrow in their quiver. I think it’s a little short-sighted on their part, but it’s hard to take a long-term view when you’re just trying to stop the bleeding, which is how they see it. And the teams are unhappy. I think we will start to see blackouts end, but not all at once, and maybe not for all 30 (maybe 32?) teams. I do think MLB (along with the NHL and NFL) will end up buying out Diamond Sports, which operates Bally Sports, and if that happens, they won’t be blacked out. In the meantime, from the perspective of fans, we all know that there are workarounds…

    That divisional alignment is REALLY friendly to the Phillies, but 32 teams would be cool. What about four eight-team divisions (à la the NHL)? Four teams per division just feels too small, and potentially too easy for one team to just totally dominate a weak division, like in your proposed NL North. Larger divisions would likely be more competitively balanced with one another, and off the top of my head, I don’t think the travel would be all that different from what it is now. I suppose you’d have to do a full geographic realignment to really make it work, but the AL and NL are just formalities now anyway, so they might as well just keep using the names, even if the teams within them change. (I mean, forget interleague play and the universal DH. Anyone else remember when there were different league presidents, umpires, strike zones, and actual baseballs? No, you don’t remember that? Uh…neither do I! How do you do, fellow kids?)

    • Steve Drumwright says:

      Thanks for your feedback. The blackout rule is negotiated in the contract between MLB clubs and the RSNs, so that is where my power as commissioner would come into play. And I do remember the leagues with different sets up umpires and league presidents. That was a different time. I think we are better off working with the same rules in both leagues. Can you imagine the NBA or NFL having different rules in the conferences?

      • Idli Amin says:

        Oh, I’m with you on the league rules. I just meant that, since the AL and NL mainly exist in name only, the next expansion should also include a full geographic realignment that retains the AL and NL labels for the sake of tradition, rather than calling them eastern/western conferences (something I wish the NHL had done, frankly). And I just wanted to demonstrate how young and youthful I am!

        As for the blackout rules, they are negotiated with the league, but the RSNs also have to deal with the distributors, and given the desperation they all feel to mitigate losses from cord-cutting, it’s hard for me to imagine any blackout rules changing without at least a partial buyout, or some other major change to the structure. That could very well happen with Bally Sports, but I doubt networks like SNY and YES, for example, have any interest in being bought out.

  3. Chris Griffin says:

    here in Vegas we’re also blacked out of 6 teams (LAA, LAD, OAK, SFG, AZ and SDP) it’s super frustrating as the dodgers and Padres expect to be among the best in the league next year and no ohtani either :(

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