Before You Blow A Gasket, Consider These Proposed Rules Changes For 2019
Whenever a controversial trade involving potential keepers is accepted, frustration boils over. Inevitably, at least one owner suggests we should just get rid of keepers completely, since we obviously can't agree on their trade value.
This idea bums me out. Keepers are fun. I would sooner increase our number of keepers (or add a spot for minor leaguers) than erase this strategic wrinkle in the league. Part of the reason we decided to add keepers was to give middling and low-end teams a reason to pay attention leading up to and after the trade deadline. I believe that's happened!
But trades for these keepers are prone to cause hyperventilation. What's fair for an owner to trade in exchange for a one-year keeper? Are two-year keepers worth twice as much? When, if ever, is it acceptable for an owner to give up on a season in preparation for the next? We will probably never come to a consensus on these questions, which is why I would like every owner to consider the following proposed rule changes for 2019:
Proposition #1: Increase The Number Of Votes Required To Veto A Deal
There is a perception (held by most owners who have had season-altering trades vetoed) that some owners veto every trade out of spite. Or that certain owners only veto when it benefits them directly. Or that vetoes are dictated by friendship cliques. Or that I encourage certain vetoes because I'm hellbent on parity and thus want to coddle new owners and/or have it out for the most successful players.
These claims are either greatly exaggerated or completely false. I can see the votes, I talk to the owners. There are no grand conspiracies. For most of us, the definition of a veto-worthy trade is similar to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's threshold test for obscenity in the 1964 case Jacobellis v. Ohio: We know it when we see it.
But I would rather not be accosted at social events every summer because an owner believes some conspiratorial brigade of jealous competitors with personal grudges secretly pulls the strings of the Serious League. So maybe let's tweak the rule.
The current number of votes required to veto a deal is five. There are 12 teams in the league. Two of those teams, presumably, vote to accept their own trade. I personally do not vote on any controversial deal unless it is necessary to break a tie (which has yet to happen). So that leaves five veto votes out of nine un-involved teams. A majority. Most vetoed deals reach the necessary voting threshold before three or four owners can even vote. (Often, presumed "veto bandits" did not even vote before the deal was canceled.) These vetoed deals are not close -- they have been, in every case, landslides.
To further drive home this point, I think we should increase the number of votes required to veto a deal from five to six. When six of nine teams say "no" to a deal, whatever their thought process, it's reasonable to require the trading teams to make the deal more palatable.
This is a mostly cosmetic change. Every five-vote vetoed deal would have reached six votes, I'm sure of it. But if it helps owners swallow the pill a little easier, let's do it.
Proposition #2: A Salary Floor
The year we added keepers, we also instituted a $350 total team salary cap. From what I've read, this is a very generous number, especially since free agent FAAB prices do not count against the cap. This rule essentially prevents a team with close to the original $260 salary value from trading one $10 or $12 keeper for two $40+ big-name stars ... twice.
It's very hard to reach $350 -- right now, Kyle has the highest team salary at $281, and this is after he acquired $24 Nelson Cruz in the preseason for FAAB only. If the current deal goes through ($12 Aaron Judge and $9 Ian Happ for $40 Paul Goldschmidt and $34 Dee Gordon), his team salary would be $336, still $14 below the limit.
So our salary cap is borderline pointless when it comes to preventing lopsided keeper trades. Not only is it tough to hit, it really only limits the forward-looking team's potential trade partners by one. If an owner is determined to give up on the season and dump his most prized single-season assets, the only thing stopping him is our subjective vetoes.
Enter the salary floor. In real life, a "minimum spend" ensures teams are operating in good faith by attempting to field a competitive product (that plays in an arena subsidized by local taxpayers, but that's neither here nor there). In the NBA, tanking is so blatant that without a $87 million salary floor, the worst franchises would probably try to put together a $15 million roster and lose as many games as possible. Curiously, MLB is the only major America professional sports league without a salary floor, and one could argue they are most in need of this regulation: The 2006 Marlins, two seasons removed from winning the World Series, had an Opening Day payroll of $15 million. The Yankees had $195 million on the books that year.
Anyway, the point is, a salary floor would prevent egregious shedding of high-paid players without a good chunk of value in return. For reference, if Pat's May 18 trades had gone through ($53 Altuve, $40 Goldschmidt, $34 Gordon, and $10 Gallo for $10 Severino and $10 Albies), his team salary would have been $118. It is impossible to compete for a podium position with a $118 team salary -- that's an average of less than $5 per player. Fielding a team like this in May or even June is not that different than having a deadbeat owner.
I believe a $180 salary floor is reasonable. My roster has sixteen undrafted players and I've essentially sold $50 worth of players for FAAB only (Lucas Giolito doesn't really count for anything). Even with all that, until this morning my total team salary was $180. If Pat and Kyle's deal goes through, Pat's roster will be worth $183, making it tough for him to trade Jose Altuve without a major haul in return. (I also think we should nudge the cap to $340 -- $80 on both sides of $260.)
A salary floor will be much more effective in preventing the absurd fire sales we've seen since the introduction of keepers. Will it prevent veto-able deals from being accepted? No, but it will force owners to field "competitive" rosters, even if it means throwing in a high-dollar albatross (i.e. the Lakers' Luol Deng) as a show of good faith.
We'll discuss these issues more in the offseason. For now, vote as you normally would on these trades and pump the brakes when it comes to talking about rage-quitting the league or petitioning for the banishment of keepers altogether. Keepers make the league more fun, and fellas,,, that's the goal here.
Update: Ols mentioned that a determined tanker could simply add the high-dollar free agents such as Corey Seager, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Sano, and Rougned Odor. A possible solution for this would be to not count suspended players, players on the disabled list, or optioned players toward the salary cap. (We will probably add another DL slot next season anyway.)