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What if MLB introduced a loan system?

With the Yankees and Red Sox overseas, let’s consider what adding a feature vital to world soccer could do for MLB.

Previews - New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

As the Yankees and Red Sox fly over to London, it got me thinking about the United Kingdom’s favorite sport, soccer, and how their player loan system could effect MLB during the hectic trade season. Essentially, if you have a player you deem important to your organization, but know you have a very low possibility of winning enough games to make it to the playoffs, you can loan a player to another team, receive some form of compensation, and then get your player back at season’s end. Tons of rules and fees underline this system in soccer, and the same would go if such a system were enacted in MLB.

This isn’t a completely new idea. In 2015, Bill Barnwell of Grantland laid out the benefits of a loan system in the major leagues, and laid out some rules and a potential loan framework. Just last season, Jacob Shafer of Bleacher Report thought of a few possible loan scenarios for players, like Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, that basically could never be traded based on their combined service time and talent level. Shafer also mentioned Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, and the impact he could have on any given team during the playoffs.

Yankees fans are currently enjoying the riches of the most recent Aroldis Chapman trade, which brought Gleyber Torres over from the Cubs in 2016. This stands as one of the best examples of what was essentially a player loan, as Chapman later returned to the Yankees during the offseason on a long-term deal. Torres became one key part of a quick rebuild by the Yankees, who didn’t have to suffer multiple losing seasons in the process.

There are clear benefits to introducing a loan system. MLB would be able to consistently put out top talent during the most important time of the year. Someone like Trout, who has never participated in a playoff victory before, might actually be able to take center stage in October as the game’s top player. Teams could also put themselves back in contention quicker, as they could see their top players return from loan at season’s end, to go along with whatever other assets they received as part of the loan, thus potentially avoiding multiple losing seasons as part of a drawn-out rebuilding process.

These are just two ideas, but with how the two previous offseasons have resulted, I wanted to attempt to build a loan system that could boost not just competitiveness on the field, but help players get signed, so as not to have to witness what occurred with Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel again. Here are a few rules to help push a theoretical loan system in the correct direction.

Only players under multi-year contracts can be loaned.

At first glance, this rule makes complete sense because a player on a one-year contract loaned away basically just makes for a normal trade. However, this rule is put in place for players who are arbitration eligible. For example, if the Cleveland Indians feel they will miss the playoffs this season, they could not offer Francisco Lindor up for a loan. Before doing so, they must offer Lindor a multi-year contract extension. These days, as younger players make up a greater and greater chunk of overall production, we see players go through their most productive seasons as arbitration-eligible players, and later not receive the contracts they wanted because organizations feel their most productive days are behind them. In this case, if a team wants to loan their best player, they must also make a better effort to pay the player like their best player.

The 1-3 rule: Players can’t be loaned every year of their contract.

To the limit the amount of times a single player could be loaned, I would like to introduce the 1-3 rule. For every three years of a contract, a player can be loaned once. This helps ensure one thing; the team that signed a player will be the team the player plays the most often for. A fanbase should be able to have an Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, or Mookie Betts they can depend on most of the time.

Additionally, this rule could persuade teams to offer longer contracts to players. A player who would have received a two-year contract might now get a three-year contract, as it would provide the signing more flexibility in form of possible loans. Maybe a player who would have received a five-year contract might benefit from a six-year contract. This rule would help fanbases ensure that their favorite players aren’t loaned out every year, and could also help athletes get longer contract than the ones handed out in recent free agencies.

No draft pick compensation

If a player is loaned at any point of his contract, once that player reaches free agency, no draft pick compensation will be rewarded. Draft pick compensation is in theory implemented by MLB as a way to balance talent throughout the league. If you sign one of the best players, you lose one chance to draft a future player, so the thinking goes. The problem, of course, is draft picks don’t always develop as expected, so teams can lose some of their best players to free agency and gain little reward if they draft the wrong player. The loan system could replace draft pick compensation because it would allow teams to add players already in minor league baseball, rather having to predict their performance from amateur competition.

These few ideas could get arbitration-eligible players paid earlier, create longer contracts for players, potentially hasten long rebuilds, and decrease the number of free agents waiting until June to sign. Many other rules would still be needed to set up a loan system, such as regulations allowing an organization a maximum of two players to be loaned, the possibility of a loan for a loan, and players receiving a five-percent bonus on the rest of their salary remaining for the season when loaned. Even if everything isn’t ironed out just yet, let’s take a look at how this system could be used if available today.

Currently, the Yankees’ biggest concern is their starting pitching. What if they could acquire either Max Scherzer or Jacob deGrom for the rest of the season, and avoid sending away the big prospect haul each would require in a full-on trade? Both teams would benefit, as one gets a chance to win the World Series, and the other can recoup some value while knowing their best player returns in a few months. The Nationals currently don’t have to sell as they are hovering around .500, but if they soon fell out of the race, the Yankees would be knocking on their door.

Right now the Yankees and Red Sox are bringing our beloved sport to London, hopefully inspiring some future baseball fans and players across the globe. With this event, many people in Europe will be watching a MLB game for the first time in person, and they will learn about a whole different experience, and hopefully leave with an urge to continue learning about the sport.

Once the London Series is over, though, it would be great if MLB took home a souvenir in the form of the loan system that is already so integral to world soccer. This change would clearly take a while to implement and would have tenfold ramifications. But given the opportunities it could yield to players and teams, it’s about time the Player Association and MLB at least made it a thought.