Trying to improve baseball has become an obsession of mine. Last week I explored ways to make individual games less boring. Now it’s time to look at the bigger picture. Specifically, maybe there’s a way to bring more excitement to both the postseason and the draft. If the All-Star Game determines home field advantage in the World Series, why can’t an alternative postseason tournament determine draft order?
As it stands, draft order is based on the reverse order of the previous season’s regular-season standings. For the most part that’s fine, but it ignores two factors:
- There is incentive for teams to “tank” in a rebuilding year to improve draft position. As the Washington Nationals will tell you, there can be a huge difference between picking first overall and choosing second. Consider where the Nats would be with Dustin Ackley and Jameson Taillon instead of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. With all due respect to Taillon, it isn’t pretty, is it?
- There is nothing for fans of bad teams to do while good ones are fighting for the championship. Sure, folks can pretend to develop a rooting interest for one of the combatants based on such important criteria as team colors, where a favorite aunt lives, and the like. But wouldn’t it be better to reward fans of the Twins and the Braves for suffering through a year of terrible baseball… with even more terrible baseball?
My proposed solution is simple and elegant: Have the four worst teams in MLB play each other for the right to next year’s first overall pick. For example, in 2008, the Nationals (102 losses), Mariners (101), Padres (99), and Pirates (95) all stank. But by virtue of stinking a little more than all the rest, Washington ended up with Strasburg, while the other three teams ended up with Ackley, Donavan Tate, and Tony Sanchez. If you don’t recognize those names, you’re not alone.
To discourage the Nationals from losing games late in 2008, an anti-World Series would have forced them to compete for the right to claim their prize. The setup is easy enough. Pit the top seed (the Nationals, in our example) against the fourth seed (the Pirates) in a best-of-five series, with the higher seed getting home-field advantage. Do the same with the second and third seeds. The winners of each bracket face each other in a best-of-seven series (with the higher seed again getting home-field advantage) to earn the first pick overall, while the losers battle for third.
There are logistical concerns. First off, we’d need a name better than anti-World Series, which both suffers by comparing itself to the more prestigious World Series and sounds really stupid. I suggest calling it the Lentz Cup, in honor of Mike Lentz, the first second-overall pick in MLB history (1975, Padres) never to reach the big leagues. (Never mind that the guy taken ahead of him, Danny Goodwin, had an unproductive career as well. Honestly, this was a terrible first round, with Rick Cerone being the best player taken… but I digress.)
Second, how many people would be interested in watching the Lentz Cup? Not many, at least compared to the playoffs between good teams. But if Lentz Cup games were played during the day, with the other playoffs taking place in primetime, they could serve as a warmup of sorts while also avoiding conflicts that might otherwise arise.
Another benefit of playing during the day is you don’t need to run the stadium lights, which will help mitigate the losses resulting from low ticket sales. Sure, you and I might run out this year to watch a Tyler Duffey/Matt Wisler pitching matchup in October, but not everyone is as cool as us.
Speaking of ticket sales, to create incentive, make all seats $10 general admission. Have the home team give the proceeds to a local charity of its choice (not including said team). Sure, teams will take a hit on the bottom line, but they’ll get good publicity in the community. And they can claim even greater financial hardship the next time it’s their turn to extort taxpayers for a new ballpark.
The time for draft reform is long overdue. The time to honor Mike Lentz is long overdue. The time to combine these two into an alternative postseason that is sure to be met with mass apathy is right now. Let’s make it happen.
Geoff Young is a writer whose MLB career was as distinguished as Mike Lentz’s. You should follow him on Twitter.