Baseball brainstorm: How MLB's stars could play a bigger role in deciding the season

The fate of Major League Baseball’s 2020 season is up in the air as the world reels from the coronavirus pandemic. At the very least, its form will have to be altered. That is not what anyone wished for, but if public health eventually stabilizes enough to allow for sporting events, an unusual season could carry a small opportunity for America’s most tradition-bound game. A season that is already inherently different is a chance to float a trial balloon, to see how different the sport can be before we denounce it as too different.

So, we assembled the Yahoo Sports baseball staff in Slack, put the more pressing pandemic-related questions to the side for a moment, and took to the whiteboard, so to speak: What experiments could baseball run in 2020 that might stick around?

This is the last installment of our three-part conversation. You can read part one here, or part two here- Zach Crizer

EXPERIMENT: Home Run Derby for postseason seeding

Jack Baer: OK, my turn?

Mark Townsend: I've been waiting for this moment.

Baer: It is very dumb.

Chris Cwik: Two balls in play at the same time?

Baer: So, the regular season is going to be drastically shorter and much less of an indication of who the best teams are. How about instead of proceeding with business as usual in the playoffs, we make the seeding a little more interesting?

Every division-winner sends their best slugger to one stadium and we make the Home Run Derby worth something more than a truck. You can do it tournament-style like it is currently, or just go for total to avoid an Alonso-over-Vladito scenario.

Winner gets the No.1 seed and choice of opponent. And still a truck, I guess. You could also expand the playoff field (like they’re reportedly hoping to do already) to eight teams in each league and have a wild-card derby where the winner gets the No. 4 seed.

Zach Crizer: Power somehow back to being a premium.

Townsend: Can the other teams choose who pitches?

Crizer: How many more years would Wily Mo Pena have been in the big leagues?

Baer: This ends with Aaron Judge signing a $500 million contract.

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge dominated the 2017 Home Run Derby, which draws eyes to premier power bats even without team stakes. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images)

Cwik: The home run is overplayed and as much as I love the Home Run Derby, once a year is enough.

Hannah Keyser: This is far from the most interesting follow-up question but: Does that mean the HRD is played in September and not alongside the All-Star Game? Or do you still play it midseason and then we wait to see how the results matter?

Baer: You could do two, you could move it, you could move the All-Star Game with it. I just want meaningful dingers.

Keyser: I actually think I like it more if it's still midsummer, each team has to send someone. And then when it matters, it matters.

Kinda like the idea of the All-Star Game determining home-field advantage.

Crizer: Do I hear Bud Selig clapping?

Baer: Bud Selig picked the wrong All-Star event to matter.

Mike Oz: I like chaos, so I'm in. My only requirement: You have to pick your opponents live on TV. Preferably while doing donuts around the field in the truck.

Townsend: I mean, I'm all for Giancarlo Stanton swinging for the Yankees seed just to see that fallout.

Cwik: I hope the event is in May because Stanton will be hurt by then. My goal here is to make everyone hate me.

Townsend: I mean DJ LeMahieu.

In the end, one home run derby is enough for me. So either move it to the end or keep as is.

A BRIEF INTERLUDE

Baer: My other idea was to paste in the tweet where each team has to replace one player with a dog each inning in extras, but I couldn't find the tweet.

Oz: I'm oddly into that, though.

Townsend: More dingers and more dogs. All good.

Cwik: More dogs, yes. More dingers, no.

Baer: And teams would train a pack of dogs to retrieve balls.

Cwik: You should have led with this.

EXPERIMENT: One player re-entry per game (AKA The Plot to Get Mike Trout the Last Shot)

Crizer: I think baseball should allow players to re-enter the game once, the only rule being you cannot re-enter in the same inning. 

This allows for some additional roster flexibility, helps two-way players add spice to the game and so on and so forth. 

But, MOST IMPORTANTLY: It allows for teams to maneuver in attempts to make sure that the best players come up at the biggest moments of every game. Any tied or one-run game in the seventh? Let’s talk about when to pull Mike Trout. Eh?

Keyser: So you would have to first take Mike Trout OUT of the game so you could put him back IN the game at the opportune moment?

Crizer: Correct. It’s a risk.

But it creates bigger moments for stars — the quarterback effect that baseball never has.

Baseball's rules limit how often Angels superstar Mike Trout, the sport's consensus best player, can affect play in the most charged situations. His last walk-off hit came in 2015 against the Red Sox. (Photo by Matt Brown/Angels Baseball LP/Getty Images)

Oz: Can we have Mike Trout ride in on an ATV from center field like a mascot while the crowd goes wild?

Cwik: So, hypothetically, if Trout bats in the bottom of the seventh in a tie game, you take him out for the eighth so you can bat him again in the ninth?

Crizer: Yes.

Baer: Finally, a way for Madison Bumgarner to start AND close a playoff game.

Keyser: Think about All. The. Pitching. Changes.

Cwik: I only like it if you can only do it once a game with only one player.

Keyser: Ohhh that's a good addendum.

Crizer: I’m actually not sure the pitching changes would be that dramatically different. It might mean the same guy enters twice, but if he can’t come back within the same inning, you would just get him going back out there when they would have brought in a third guy, if that makes sense.

Townsend: I love the possibilities. And watching managers not know how to do this would be entertaining content.

Baer: This ends with a manager explaining why he gave a .250-hitting slap-hitter eight at-bats in a game.

Cwik: I don't know if I like the idea of managers designating that player before the game or not. Do we want to know who the magical re-entry player is or do we want it to be a secret?

Crizer: No! You want flexibility! Or at least I do. If Juan Soto hits three homers, guess what, he’s now the guy. Put him back in no matter what to see if he gets four.

Cwik: But if they designate Trout, then they might be tempted to pull him in the fifth or something. I see your point, but I want managers to be exposed.

Crizer: I could see the trigger-happy Trout manager, yes.

Baer: Are positions switching in this too? As in, if you pull Trout in the eighth so he can be next up in the ninth, does he have to play, like, second base?

Crizer: You would have to make it work. More Ben Zobrist types would be helpful.

Oz: I think where baseball often loses people is not having the moment where Jordan/LeBron/Brady/etc. can win the game in the last moment, so I think that solves this problem for baseball. Or at least gives the game an opportunity to seize it. So I can get behind that.

LeBron James, seen here at a Cleveland Indians postseason game in 2016, is able to have the ball in his hands in crucial moments far more often than baseball's best player, Mike Trout, can take an at-bat at the key juncture. (2016 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Baer: Would definitely increase the game's star power.

Keyser: I stillllll think you just get like managers going to the bullpen super soon, knowing you could go back to the starter for one inning later. And that’s not that good.

Townsend: Yeah, I agree with Hannah in that regard.

Cwik: I don’t know, getting starters out of their rhythm wouldn't fly, I don't think.

Baer: A lot of them would HATE it.

Crizer: I guess I’m skeptical of how much worse that could even get. Have y’all seen the Rays?

Townsend: The Trout point would be moot too since Joe Maddon has Tommy La Stella on his roster.

Cwik: You see how much relievers talk about the routine of knowing what inning they usually pitch all the time. A starter would be pissed to sit a couple innings and then come back.

Oz: Why not just apply it to hitters and say "you get one golden ticket pinch-hitter" per game. Any player, any moment? That seems to get the best of this with less confusion.

As long as, say, that guy isn't already on the bases or something.

Townsend: Ghost runner rules apply …

Keyser: Yeah I think it's much more fun with hitters than pitchers. (This is sooort of just an aesthetics issue but I don't want a starter to have gone seven innings except that one lefty he didn't throw to at the end of the third.)

Crizer: It certainly is mooore fun with hitters, and I’m willing to compromise but … really … you don’t want to see Max Scherzer or extremely hyped Walker Buehler coming back out to face specially pinch-hitting Trout with the game on the line?

Cwik: The first time a guy like that blows out his arm, that ends.

Keyser: Well, because of the cool-down issue I think you only could use it where like, a pitcher is replaced at the end of one inning and he comes back the next inning. Sorry this is very in the weeds on your cool fun Mike Trout in the bottom of the ninth idea!

Baer: What if you just reset the lineups in the final three innings? So, top of the order hits every time.

Oz: Jack, that's a better idea than the derby thing, tbh.

Townsend: Or pick one inning to restart the lineup.

Cwik: But I love it for hitters. People say MLB needs to market its stars better, well, this is a fantastic in-game way to do that.

Townsend: Absolutely, Chris. If limited to once a game and only position players, sign me up for this.

Cwik: So, who's sending this to Rob Manfred?

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