It’s an interesting concept.
A split-season in the MLB. Two 81-game affairs to determine the postseason field with the All-Star Game sandwiched right in the middle.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, that just might be the answer to baseball’s decade-long conversation about decreasing the current 162-game schedule for the sake of creating a season-long buzz around the sport.
Baseball, through new commissioner Rob Manfred, has acknowledged the potential need to decrease the number of games played and even return to a 154-game season.
Rosenthal, though, presents an idea that could keep the current 162-game slate intact while also accomplishing the obvious goals. It would give baseball an opportunity to generate new buzz around the sport, creating a sense of urgency throughout both halves of the season.
Don’t knock it just yet.
Changing the season format to encompass what is essentially two 81-game seasons would allow for a greater competitive balance across the game. While many low-revenue sports, such as the Cleveland Indians, struggle to compete annually in a 162-game gauntlet, it’s quite plausible to assume the Tribe could keep up with the bigger spenders for the duration of an 81-game slate.
The change would also allow for essentially provide baseball fans with two of their favorite days: Opening Day and the Trade Deadline. A split-season would almost certainly demand for two trade deadlines, which would lead to an increase in action and more strategic decision-making within the organization.
Would teams be as inclined to trade away key pieces of their franchise if they were guaranteed a second half-season to start anew? Or would teams be more apt to relish the opportunity for a second chance and load up for the stretch run?
May 7, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; MLB commissioner Rob Manfred speaks at a press conference before the game between the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
A split-season format lessens the impact of short-term injuries and gives impacted teams a fair shake to compete in the second half of the season. Perhaps best of all, a split-season makes every game – not just games from June forward – important. Such a schedule might deemphasize the perceived importance of service-time considerations.
I see you perking up now, Tribe fans.
The change might dissuade teams like the Tribe from holding top prospects (see: Francisco Lindor) in the minors simply to garner another season of service – despite what the Tribe says publicly. Teams may not be quite as willing to leave their future franchise cornerstones in the minor leagues if they were trying to steal the first-half crown.
As for the postseason, Rosenthal offers a change in structure that would reward the best teams of both halves of baseball all while preserving the current – arguably broken – postseason affair:
“The split season is not foreign to baseball… Most players were accustomed to it once; they could grow accustomed to it again.” -Ken Rosenthal, FOX Sports
"The AL and NL teams with the best overall records in each half would qualify for at least the wild-card game.The division winners after 162 games would qualify for the Division Series.If either wild-card qualifier won its division, the team with the next-best record over 162 games would go to the wild-card game."
Certainly, the league would have to get creative in the design of its postseason field. Placing an overwhelming emphasis on half-season winners puts the game’s most consistent teams (i.e. the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals) in jeopardy of elimination simply because they do not win either half despite finishing with the best overall record.
As with anything, there are major bumps that would need to be ironed out.
Such a proposal presents a rather significant scheduling conundrum. It would be increasingly difficult for schedule-makers to balance home and away games, division and non-division games, evenly distribute days off all while achieving the proper competitive balance.
The league would have to do an enormous amount of work to kick this plan into gear and, even then, would baseball fans embrace the change? If history is any indication, baseball traditionalists are among the most stubborn fans in the world when it comes to drastic changes.
Give it some thought, though. It could work.
How do you feel about a split-season in the MLB? Tell us how you would make the scheduling adjustments in the comments section below.