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Cincinnati Reds

Fixing the MLB: A Blueprint for a Modern Commissioner

Supposing Major League Baseball were looking to make a change at commissioner, Mike Mardis has five ideas how to better the game.

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© Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to my hypothetical campaign to be the next commissioner of Major League Baseball. What follows are 5 proposed rule changes that will provide a bright future for the sport we all love so much.

  1. The Strike Zone
  2. The DH
  3. Home Run Celebrations
  4. Playoff Format
  5. Rookie Contracts

It’s time to bring baseball into the modern era. Technology will help us along the way, but fairness and fun will anchor our vision for the future.

1. Implement a Digital Strike Zone

I follow a frustratingly amazing Twitter account called @UmpireAuditor. The account highlights particularly egregious calls by measuring how far out of the strike zone a called strike was based on the digital overlay of the zone we see during games now. The pinned tweet on the feed of that account makes the argument for a digital strike zone very well.

Fairness is one of our foundational anchors. This is a move to make the game more fair. Here’s how:

The strike zone is very clearly defined in the MLB rule book as:

“that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.”

The vanguards of the unwritten rules of baseball will argue that the human element provided by each umpire’s unique interpretation of the strike zone on any given day is invaluable to the sport. It’s the way it’s always been and it makes the game better somehow.

My response is that there is no mention in the rule book of “umpire discretion” when it comes to the boundaries of the strike zone. It is unambiguous.

The new digital strike zone would be the same width for every batter (the width of home plate) while being adjustable for the height of the batter. The technology exists now for AI to map a skeleton, mathematically determine the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the belt of each batter to set the top of the strike zone, and identify the knees for the bottom.

How this would work practically is as follows. Every stadium would be required to have a strike zone screen visible from home plate. This could simply be a live feed from the center field camera with a digital strike zone overlay. This way the umpire could simply glance up at the screen after each pitch to see if it touched the strike zone. We could even make it so if the outline of the ball intersects the strike zone, the box on the screen fills with a color or the word “STRIKE” for all to see.

Home plate umpires will still be needed for all other duties (fair/foul balls, plays at the plate, appeals, etc.) and for the inevitable weird outcomes baseball produces. For example, a pitcher might throw a 58 ft. curve ball that ends up bouncing through the strike zone. A human umpire would know to call that a ball while a digital strike zone might not be able to determine if the ball bounced prior to crossing the plate.

Imagine never having to watch a whiney player, manager, or fan argue and pout over getting “jobbed” by the umpire. And never seeing this stuff again:

2. Expand the DH to the NL

You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. The American League introduced the Designated Hitter in 1973 in an effort to increase fan interest by increasing the amount of runs scored. While the National League doesn’t suffer a dearth of run production today sans the DH, the AL is not getting rid of it.

While it can’t be completely contributed to the DH, the AL has a statistically significant advantage in interleague play. Since being introduced in 1997, the AL holds the overall record advantage (3,032-2,732) and has won the season matchup in 15 of the 20 seasons of interleague play to date.

Because overall record dictates playoff positioning, it’s only fair that the playing field between the leagues is even. So, in addition to expanding the DH, I’m also proposing an additional roster spot so NL teams can transition to the DH with minimal impact on how they’ve built the current roster.

Spoiler: I’m proposing a change to rookie contracts that will encourage managers to fill this extra roster spot with their best young hitters. Check it out below.

This adds a new level of managerial decisions for the club – something the opponents of the DH say is missing in the AL where managers never have to pull a pitcher who is dealing in fifth or sixth inning for a DH because the offense is struggling that day. Those decisions won’t exist with a league-wide DH. The trade-off being that managers now have to decide if they want to fill their extra roster spot with a high priced free agent DH, pitching help, or a young slugger in their farm system. Teams that can’t afford to throw huge contracts at free agents now have options and fans a new debate topic.

3. Install a Celebration Clock

There are currently two kinds of MLB fans when it comest to players celebrating home runs: people who think it ads excitement and flare to an otherwise relatively boring game to watch for most people and people who are wrong. The people who are wrong are not attempting to improve the appeal of or interest in the sport. They are simply asking everyone else to adhere to their set of morally ambiguous unwritten rules that were cultivated over a long (and far too often racist) history of professional baseball. This has no place in the MLB under Commissioner Mardis.

However, celebrations need restraints like everything else in sports. So, I’m proposing a 30-second clock for celebrating your home run. Once the baseball hits the outfield seats for a home run, the batter has 30 seconds to round the bases and celebrate any way he likes. There would be caveats around props and the like. But if you want to flip your bat, go pick it up and flip it again, then do a cartwheel – as long as you cross home plate and are clear of the field of play within 30 second – go for it.

Pitchers who retaliate for this will be ejected upon the judgement of the umpire. The retaliation does not need to hit the batter. Throwing a 100 mph fastball at someone’s head from 60 feet away would be attempted murder anywhere outside of a baseball stadium. So it’s enough to get you kicked out of a game.

Give me more of this….

This. Will. Make. The. Game. So. Much. More. Fun.

4. Fixing the MLB Playoffs

The playoffs seedings and home field will be completely based on regular season records. This is why it’s important to level the playing field in regards to the DH – one league shouldn’t have an advantage in interleague play.

Here’s how the playoffs will work:

The 5 teams from each League to make the playoffs will be re-seeded for the playoff bracket. The 2 worst records from each league play in the one-game wildcard. If a Division Champion plays in the Wild Card game, they get home field advantage regardless of record. If two Division Champions play in the Wild Card game, home field advantage goes to the team holding the better record. Regular season records determine home field advantage through the rest of the playoffs.

This format makes it imperative for all teams to compete to win every game of the season. Even if you’ve clinched your division, you may have to play in the Wild Card game if your record isn’t better than three of the other playoff teams in your league.

The rule also means that a team that doesn’t win their division, but has the second or third best record in their league, will not have to play in the Wild Card game simply because they didn’t win their division. Why punish a team that won 100 games in the regular season by making them play an elimination game against a team that won 85 games that season? I won’t.

Case in point, here’s the 2018 playoff bracket:

In the new format, based on their regular season records, the Yankees would have been the 3-seed and Cleveland would have played in the Wild Card game instead. Same thing with the Cubs – moving the Braves into the Wild Card game.

This makes the playoff structure more fair. It still rewards Division Champions while encouraging every team in the playoff race to win as many regular season games as possible right up to the last day of the season.

5. Rookie Contracts Based on Player Age, Not Service Time

The way rookie contracts are structured now, players who sign them are giving exclusive rights to the team until he accrues six years of MLB service time. Until then, he can only seek contracts from the team that signed him originally. MLB rules define a full season of play as spending at least 172 days of the 187-day season on the MLB roster. The issue here becomes teams that monitor those days spent on the MLB roster and send players to Triple-A just before the 172-day mark so it doesn’t count as a full season played at that level. Thus extending the time they have control over the player.

This dynamic leads to fanbases being deprived of potential superstar young players helping teams reach their full potential (e.g. Nick Senzel, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Kris Bryant, etc.)

My solution is to use player age to structure rookie deals and remove the service time rules that dictate free agency eligibility. The rule is simple: A rookie contract can be no longer than six years and must end by the season the player turns 26.

Under this rule, an 18-year-old player could sign a six-year deal that would end when he’s 24 years old, at which time he could seek free agent contracts. This would give the team who signed him incentive to develop him and get him to the MLB as soon as possible to take advantage of the cheap contract. Fans would get to see the best young players at the big league level and the young players would be more willing to sign long-term deals prior to hitting free agency knowing the team is building around them.

On the flip side, a college Senior who signs a rookie contract at 22 years old can only be signed for four years on a rookie deal. This makes sense as players who developed for four years in college should be ready to play at the MLB level much sooner than younger players who have not.

Also, let’s be honest, if a team doesn’t know if a player is worth a long-term deal by the time he’s 26, it’s time to let him explore other teams/options.

This set-up ensures players are not handcuffed by their rookie deals or late development. It also incentivizes front offices to call these players up when they’re big-league ready instead of manipulating service time to ensure an extra year of control. Major League Baseball teams are massive companies with contract experts and attorneys at their disposal. Placing strict protections for young players trying to negotiate their professional career is in everyone’s best interest.

Let me know what you think about my platform to become the next MLB Commissioner in the comments below.

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Cincinnati Reds

How To Rebuild The Cincinnati Reds Fan Base

They haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. They haven’t won a World Series since 1990. Not many kids these days are seriously excited about the Reds. Not many kids these days want to go to the ballpark to watch at best a slightly above mediocre team. For years it had always been Mike Brown doesn’t care about winning a Super Bowl. All he cares about is making money. That is the sentiment now for most of the die hard fan base now for the Reds ownership.

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Over the past few weeks it’s been a great moment to be a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. As a die hard fan who grew up during the lost decade of the 90’s when the Bengals became the Bungals it brings me joy to see Bengals fans coming out of the woodwork to join the bandwagon. I remember being one of only a few kids that was brave enough to wear a Bengals Starter jacket to school. I remember being one of a few kids that didn’t have to be begged in order to go to a Bengals game. The 90’s were dark times us Bengals fans for a franchise that seemed to have no direction or possibility of being a serious contender.

How the tables have turned. The Reds haven’t been to a playoff (excluding the 2020 COVID season) since 2013. They haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. They haven’t won a World Series since 1990. Not many kids these days are seriously excited about the Reds. Not many kids these days want to go to the ballpark to watch at best a slightly above mediocre team. For years it had always been Mike Brown doesn’t care about winning a Super Bowl. All he cares about is making money. That is the sentiment now for most of the die hard fan base now for the Reds ownership. #SellTheTeamBob is rallying call for our current die hard fan base. This is what happens when you lose a generation of fans. All you have to rely on is die hards and nostalgia to keep people coming to the ballpark.

How do you rebuild the fan base? For starters, a plan. Dick Williams had a very transparent plan of adding the puzzle pieces to turn this team back into a contender. Then in 2020 right as the playoff contention window opened, COVID smashed the window on our hand and caused ownership to hide behind the bottom line. Dick Williams saw the writing on the wall and left. The plan now for the future of this franchise now seems to be stay the course and run the franchise based on the bottom line. That’s not a plan, that’s a joke. The Reds were maybe one or two parts away from being a contender at the end of 2020. Either through free agancy or trades the Reds could have been a serious contender last season as well as good chunk of this decade. Instead now it seems we are destined for third place with our mediocre roster this year. The ownership needs to make up it’s mind on winning a World Series and fast. Are we going to do it the traditional way of piecing together players we’ve developed, trades, and free agency? Or are we going to go full Tampa Bay Rays and put all of our eggs into player development building and trade away everyone else? Either way I don’t care because it gives a sense of direction to the fan base. Right now they seem to have us fans in a sense of being lost at sea with nothing on the horizon. At some point even the most faithful will give up hope. The simplest answer to rebuilding your fan base is winning. Winning cures all. The Bengals have made that crystal clear.

Next the Reds have to give easier access to watching the games on television. Probably the most common complaint among Reds fans is how difficult it has become to watch the games. Most of us from the younger generation have cut the cord. Using services such as Hulu Live, YouTube TV, or Sling to name the more popular streaming services for live sports. Every single one of them lost Bally Sports this past season. Even the actual Bally Sports app for streaming was not the greatest because of a poor interface and constant issues. MLB TV, MLB’s counter to the NFL Sunday Ticket, has the most outrageous blackout maps for local teams. Just another way they’ve blocked fans from enjoying and spreading their sport. There is talk of the MLB making it a la carte so you could purchase your franchises games to watch. The Reds and Major League Baseball need to figure out how to make this possible ASAP. There are not many people going the extra steps in order to watch an average baseball team right now.

Ownership must get back to their old ways of fan engagement. Some of which was out of their control because of COVID. These past two years of Redsfest being cancelled has been difficult. It doesn’t matter what the team looks like because Redsfest always gets you pumped about being a Reds fan. Reds Caravan was also a great way to engage the community where they lived by visiting the entire Reds nation with bus stops, interviews, and autograph signings. I am a season ticket holder and in it’s absence they provided us with goody bag of stuff in the absence of Redsfest. This years goody bad looked like the clearance rack the day after Christmas. Kind of a slap in the face for us loyal fans. If they’re smart they go above and beyond to bring as much interaction as possible to those who attend Redsfest and the Reds Caravan this year. Another huge even I think many people forgot about was Reds Rockin’ 150. In 2019 to celebrate it’s 150 birthday ownership hosted the event at no cost to the fans. Anyone was welcome. They had 3 bands in concert. Huey helicopters were flown onto the field. Nearly all the players and coaches were present for fan activities throughout the ballpark that evening. This needs to become an annual event mid season. It shows commitment to the fans that no matter how well our record is that were dedicated to making you apart of the experience as much as possible.

There are the changes needed on a macro level from the MLB in order help get fans excited about baseball. One of the biggest has to be fixing the inequality among franchises payrolls. Part of the solution is giving baseball something it has desperately needed in a salary cap not just a luxary tax. The second part of that solution would be a salary minimum. If this could slowly be implemented over the next 10-15 years to mirror that of other major professional sports it would take away ownership’s excuse for the bottom line being the key reason for owning the team. It does seem as though the MLB Players Association wants this to be addressed in the current labor dispute. The disparity payroll has destroyed baseball. There are players earning a higher yearly salary then some teams entire payroll. The incentive for these small market teams to own the team is strictly financial. Winning is an after thought. Tanking is transparently encouraged. There is no reason that small market teams should have a small 3-4 year window if they’re lucky once a decade in order to put a competitive team on the field. Otherwise at least a third of the league is guaranteed to be tanking before the seasons stated.

Something else I would love to see the Reds celebrate is their actual fan base. The Bengals have done a tremendous job this season highlighting their die hard fan base. Characters like Bengal Jim, Tony Da Tiger, and Bengals Captain to name just a few. They give out a fan of the year award. There fans are celebrated on social media as well news media. You see just a fraction of that with the Reds fan base. Probably because we’ve grown so accustomed to losing that their isn’t much to celebrate. It would be nice to see ownership commit to celebrating their fans who’ve continued to show up and root for the Redlegs during these dark ages.

Finally they have to get creative with getting fans to come to the stadium. 2020 there were no fans allowed. 2021 was an odd year for fans. We started the first two months of the season with a 30% cap on attendance. However things will probably continue to trend down for attendance if Opening Day doesn’t start on time because of the labor strike. Regardless of which side your on, players or owners, the fans are always the ones who lose. The fans had no problem showing their disdain during the shortened 1995 season when play resumed after they stopped playing mid season in 1994. The result was a 25% drop in attendance league wide. Fans find it hard to sympathize when it’s millionaires versus billionaires. Combine that with ownership that has shown no signs of taking winning seriously, things don’t look good for drawing fans down to the ballpark. They need to be aggressive by offering discount days and free tickets to fans. Maybe a five games of a steep discount on concessions and merchandise. Perhaps even a $10-20 credit with the purchase of a ticket. The Atlanta Falcons ownership did this with their concessions and found they made even more off concessions since people were willing to buy more with the money saved. Another five games in which for every adult ticket purchased two kids 18 and younger get in free to certain sections in the ballpark. The Baltimore Orioles started doing this a few years ago. Probably because they knew people weren’t gonna show up anyway but those free tickets fill seats and the savings given to the fans are probably put towards concessions and merchandise.

I always used to tell people we were more likely to see multiple Reds World Series victories than I would ever see a Bengals Super Bowl win in my lifetime. I sadly believe we’ll be lucky to see a World Series from this franchise for the foreseeable future unless ownership decides to making winning their number one priority.

 

 

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Cincinnati Reds

The Positives for the Cincinnati Reds of Keeping Nick Senzel in AAA

The Cincinnati Reds are telling us it is time to change our expectations of Nick Senzel, writes Clay Snowden

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Things have not gone as planned. Nick Senzel was selected with the second overall pick in 2016 and was praised for his plus hit tool. Fast forward to now and Senzel is an often injured player who currently sits in AAA Louisville. I am not sure if I remember a player with as much frustration attached to his name, maybe Billy Hamilton? I am not writing Senzel off as a bust just yet, but things are trending that way. With him in AAA what should we make of this?

I think it is time to change expectations. Once thought of as a potential building block of the Reds rebuild and future, Senzel has proven he cannot be that. Injury after injury has limited his time on the field, but even when he has played he has not been very good. Definitely not second overall good. Hell he’s a negative WAR player. He’s still young(ish) and has not had enough at bats to really determine what he will become. If I was a betting man, I would bet he wouldn’t reach the potential we once though he had. A lot of the blame falls on….well….bad luck. Injuries stunting development is not something I like to blame on players. The organization has not exact made it easy on him. Changing his positions several times including a drastic change to center to fit team needs was not easy on Senzel. Changing his swing/stance during his rookie season was crazy. And here we sit on August 16th, 2021 with Senzel playing for the Louisville Bats. You can debate if it’s the right move or not, but its where we are. What positives can come from this move?

 

Let’s go back to expectations. It’s time to shift from all star build block to useful utility player. We can be mad about it all we want, but it won’t change anything. My hope is Senzel is used all over the field in Louisville. He’s played some SS down there which makes things interesting. We know he can play second, third, and center. Adding short to that resume makes him a very useful piece. If the plan is to transition him to a utility role, he could get plenty of starts at multiple positions, cover pinch running, defensive subs late in the game, and be a back up shortstop (especially in 2022).  

 

Bottom line, Senzel needs a role and they need to stick to that role. I think the utility role with more playing time than an average bench player is the best role for him. No, it’s not the role we all expected when the Reds selected him in 2016, but it could be the best role for him and the Reds going forward.

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Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds July Reds Mailbag

The Cincinnati Reds are battling to retake first place in the NL Central, here in July, and questions abound. Clay has some answers for you!

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Here we are, a few days before the deadline and more than a couple spots outside of first place. The Reds are looking less and less like a playoff team, and have yet to make a move (7/27/21 2:24 pm). Let’s get to some questions.

 

Miguel Rojas and Yimi Garcia for Allen Cerda and Alejo Lopez?

These are the caliber of players the Reds seem likely to get. I think World Series contenders are more likely to overpay for some all star caliber players than the scratching and hoping for playoff Reds are. I do think the Reds will get someone, but not a splash move. I would love to add Rojas and Garcia. However, I think the Marlins say no to this. Lopez projects to a bench bat and Cerda has been good, but not a high profile prospect. I think the Marlins could get someone in the 8-11 range plus another top 30 from a team. OF course, each team ranking is different, but you get what I am saying.

 

What do you see in the future for Castllanos? Do you think the Reds will sign him to another deal?

I hate to say this, but I do not think Castellanos will be a Red next season. His agent, Scott Boras, is tough. An he loves to have his clients test the market. Castellanos will opt out, as he is worth more than the $16 million option. Once he hits free agency, another team will outbid the Reds. This isn’t me being some grouch, this is me being realistic. One of the best bats hits free agency at age 29, he will be looking to get locked up to a big money/term deal into his mid-late 30s.

 

Will Alejo Lopez get a chance? Does Jose Barrero get called up? What about Phil Diehl?

Lopez has been mostly up and down from Louisville and Cincinnati, and has received a spot start here and there but mostly has been a bench bat. I’d like to see him play some third and give Suarez time on the bench. However, that doesn’t seem likely. To me Diehl is a classic example of a AAAA player. I don’t expect him to come up and make an impact but with the way he’s pitched in Louisville and the current state of the bullpen, he’s earned a shot.

Jose Barrero has been outstanding this season. He was recently moved to the number 20 overall prospect for Baseball America. The deadline will determine the rest of his season. If a SS is acquired, he will stay down. If not I think he would be their “deadline addition”. For the record, I would keep him in AAA the rest of the year and go acquire a SS. Bringing him up as the answer is a lot of pressure. Also, he has less than 250 at bats above single A. If his lack of experience was the issue less than 12 months ago, 245 at bats isn’t a huge amount to prove otherwise. But the way he’s hitting…I would understand if he’s brought up.

 

What should the Reds do with Shogo? Does he stay or go?

He stays. Too much money with another year left for an older outfielder with zero (proven at MLB level) hit tool. I doubt there’s much of a market for that. Maybe he “needs more playing time” to get comfortable, but he has done nothing to earn that. I love Shogo, but it’s getting harder to justify playing him. Keep him on the roster for a defensive replacement/pinch runner.

 

Will the Reds do anything to strengthen the bullpen? Will the starters be stretched out to go 7 innings?

I think the Reds will add a bullpen arm. I don’t think it will be some all star closer, but an above average guy. Givens/Bard from Colorado come to mind.

The issue with a lot of these starters isn’t David Bell *not* letting them go deep, but instead, they are throwing too many pitches. It’s on them more than Bell most of the time. We need to advance past thinking every starter should go 7 or 7 plus innings.

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