There's this guy, Felix Pie (that's PEE-eh, not Pi). He's a Cub. Sometimes a Chicago one, other times an Iowa one.
As an Iowa Cub—that's the AAA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs—he's a terror. Last season he hit .362 and had an OPS of .973. On top of that he's got pretty good speed and an even better glove.
Oh, we're talking baseball by the way, and if you don't know what those numbers mean, just know they are good.
But once up in the bigs, Pie kind of sucks. He spent part of the '07 season in Chicago. There he hit .214 and had an OPS of .603. Those numbers are not good.
To put it in perspective, Micah Owings, a pitcher, is currently hitting .250 and has an OPS of .675. Sure Owings is a pretty good hitting pitcher, but generally, pitchers are so bad at hitting that, in the American League, they stopped making them do it.
Basically, Pie can hit the junk they throw in the minors but once he sees the wicked breaking stuff they throw in the majors, he swings and misses. A lot. Forty-three times in 177 at-bats in '07.
So what are the Cubs' options?
A) Send him to the minors where they know he gets more hits than an electrified hitting machine.
2) Keep him in Chicago and have him cost you an out four of every five times he comes to the plate, which is going to be such an offensive liability that they're not going to want to do it often enough for him to have the chance to improve.
But what if Monte Hall could offer them a third door?
3) Loan him out to a shitty team like, say, the Washington Nationals.
The Nats are currently in last place, 17 games under .500, and 11.5 games out of first place. Their RF is hitting .250 with a total of 17 RBI and their CF is in his third game ever.
Think they'd take a chance on a 5-tool player who has shown the potential to hit for power and average?
Seeing how their back-up LF is also their catcher (seriously, Paul Lo Duca is behind Willy Mo Peña on the depth chart?), I'm going to guess they would.
Cubs call Nationals. Arrange loan. Everyone happy.
Pie gets a roster spot and regular AB's (Bonus: He avoids Iowa). The Cubs get to see if their player can figure out how to hit a breaking ball. The Nationals get someone who has the potential to be a serious upgrade over anyone else currently occupying their outfield.
Okay, maybe the 'Burg isn't happy as someone might threaten them for not worst team in the NL. But let's not concern ourselves with third parties that also have bad teams, they'd be free to take Homer Bailey on loan from the Reds (suckas).
It's not just player development that could make loans an intriguing proposition for baseball. Think about the trade deadline. Usually what happens is you get teams that are out of the pennant race unloading valuable players that are going to be free agents (and really expensive to resign) in exchange for an array of prospects.
Okay, now suppose you could loan that free-agent-to-be out for the balance of the season for a huge chunk of change instead of trading for prospects. Generally, you probably would still want the prospects, but in soccer there is usually a provision that prohibits the loaned-out player from playing against the team that holds his rights, and that could make for some fun GM'ing.
So you're the Oakland A's. You have Rich Harden, who, when healthy is as close to a sure thing as there is on the mound. We're talking like 7 innings, 9 Ks, and less than 2ER per start kind of sure thing.
If you don't know much about baseball, he is to the A's what Van Persie is to Arsenal (and that's both in terms of "Holy shit he's awesome" and "Holy shit he's injured").
Anyway, you're going to lose Rich Harden at the end of this season and get nothing back if you don't move him before the deadline. But now in this hypothetical soccer-rule infested world, the A's could loan him out to some team that pisses cash, say, the New York Yankees.
Maybe they crap cash, who knows? But the Yankees pony up $8 million to the A's for half the season of Harden. If Johan Santana is getting more than $20M a year from the Mets, then Harden is worth at least that much for half a season.
But the A's aren't the Nats. They aren't awful. Quite the opposite. They've got more young arms (something they seem to have an endless supply of) on their staff and are currently just 5 games out of first in the AL West behind the Angels (and given the Halo's run differential, that gap is likely to close).
So the A's part with Harden, pocket the cash, and somehow make the playoffs, which isn't really out of the question (especially since Ellis and Suzuki seem to be swinging the bat a little bit better).
Now, on the other coast, Harden solidifies a currently-shaky rotation in the Bronx, the Yankees pass both the Red Sox and the Rays, and they also make the playoffs. As an aside, I'm not sure what's more bizarre: merely writing that sentence or thinking there is little chance of any thing after the word "Bronx" actually happening.
Finally suppose that the Yankees meet the A's in the first (or second) round of the playoffs. The Yankees wouldn't be able to use their best pitcher because he's still technically a member of the A's (remember the provision mentioned above).
So not only have you taken the Yankees money, but you've partially crippled them as they attempt to beat you. Imagine the Yankees paying the loan fee, then losing a series because they can't run out their staff ace. No, go ahead. Imagine it. It's fun. At least it is for me because I can't fucking stand the Yankees. Being a Yankee fan is kind of like being a United fan, only with better dental hygiene.
Anyway I'm sure there are other wrinkles I haven't even thought of (it's late and frankly I'm not feeling it upstairs).
Okay, admittedly, player loaning is the least sexy and most limited of all the things worth stealing from soccer. It probably has no applications in the NFL as roster spots are already at a premium and most teams are desperate for depth. So any player worth having is already on a team someplace, and any player that needs more work, well, that's why they have practice squads (and steroids).
The NBA has kind of the opposite problem. The guys on the end of the bench never get much playing time to begin with. A team would have to be Charlotte Bobcats bad for seasons on end to even want to consider taking other players that aren't playing elsewhere. Just because you made an NBA roster in one city, doesn't mean someone else in another city wants you.
Still, loans plus baseball, that equals potentially much cooler baseball.