Major League Baseball is once again considering an expansion of their playoff format, according to a report from the New York Post. Per Joel Sherman, the league is weighing an augmentation of the postseason from the current five teams in each league to seven.
Furthermore, the top team in each league would receive a bye for the first, “Wild Card” playoff round. The other two division winners, the top Wild Card team, and three lower Wild Card teams would face off in a best-of-three series. Among those six teams, the division winner with the highest winning percentage would get first choice of opponents among the three lower Wild Card teams, with the other division winner getting the next pick of potential foes, leaving the top Wild Card team to face whoever is left. Under this proposal, the team with the better record would get to host each game in the best-of-three series. No travel between games would likely mean they would be played on consecutive days, so as not to push the postseason much deeper into the year (typically the beginning of November) than it already goes. Sherman suggests that this could lead to six playoff games being played on the same day, with a staggered format throughout the day, like during the early rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament. Borrowing further from NCAA, the league envisions a “Selection Sunday” style show that would feature the teams choosing their Wild Card round opponents, theoretically creating tons of drama and content and debate among the talking heads on TV and radio.
The primary driver of this potential alteration is, of course, money. MLB has a deal with Fox for the rights to the World Series in addition to several LDS and LCS games that runs through 2028, but deals with their other broadcast partners, ESPN and Turner Broadcasting Company, only go through 2021. So Major League Baseball hopes to have this new postseason system in place for 2022 in order to lure broadcasting companies to bid on all their new Wild Card games and the selection show. That could pit industry giants like the four-letter network against newer streaming services like Amazon.
Sherman states that the increase in postseason spots, as well as the guarantee of playing in a series versus the current sudden-death Wild Card game, will lead to increased spending by owners and a greater desire to try to win — “If more teams are viable for the playoffs, they will spend more to chase a spot. A club that projects itself internally to, say, 81 wins would think about adding to get to 84-85 and have a chance of being even one of seven playoff teams per league.” On the other hand, making it easier to make the playoffs certainly makes it easier for teams to justify building only cost-efficient, teams with enough talent to win 80-something games (like the Brewers have done in slashing payroll as they head into 2020) because “once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen.” Last year’s postseason would’ve featured an 84 win team in the AL and an 85 win team in the NL; in 2018, one of the 82-win Nationals, Pirates, or Diamondbacks would’ve made it in the National League; in 2017, an 80 win club — a below .500 team — would have made the postseason from the AL.
Basically, if a team finishes with a winning record under the proposed format, they are almost assured of making the playoffs. The lower three Wild Card teams also are not even guaranteed any home playoff games and the accompanying revenue that comes with.
Sherman also suggests that a change to this format would be a plus for fan interest. He believes more available playoff spots could lead to fewer rebuilding teams on an annual basis. More pennant races means would also more meaningful regular season games, which he posits could help the league’s sagging attendance (which was down for the seventh straight year). Of course, the league could also try to do something about the soaring cost of ticket prices and the fact that teams are increasingly catering to wealthier fans looking for a premium experience rather than the average family looking for reasonably priced entertainment.
Any changes to the postseason format is something would need to be collectively bargained with the Players Association, and as it happens, the current CBA expires after the 2021 season, just like the league’s broadcasting contracts. PA head Tony Clark sounds as though he’s open to the idea of playoff expansion, but doesn’t make it sound like it will be a priority on the players’ side of things during the upcoming negotiations.
Union head Tony Clark said this was the first the PA has heard about expanded playoffs. “Expanding the playoffs in a sensible way is something worth discussing when part of a much more comprehensive conversation about the current state of our game.”— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) February 10, 2020
The reaction from fans and independent analysts has been, well, largely negative:
these are all cold financial calculations.— WORLD CHAMPION Contrarian! (@bogcommenter) February 10, 2020
the extra wildcard reduced the expected profit (the rate of return) of a wild card berth by half.
it literally made it harder, with the way these ghouls calculate things, to justify trying to win by A LOT. https://t.co/JmTw0hZGHj
Fix instant replay and in-game video. Improve pace of play. Pay minor leaguers a real salary and upgrade their quality of life. Pay young MLB players better. Improve minority hiring in front offices and dugouts. Disincentivize tanking. All much more important than this junk https://t.co/gbqbdWUg27— Jay Jaffe (@jay_jaffe) February 10, 2020
What if we made the WHOLE SEASON out of meaningless games? https://t.co/6ulSwnP7fL— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) February 10, 2020
IMO the proposal to extend the playoffs is ridiculous. Designed to peak interest late in the season, the proposal further waters down the game and rewards more mediocrity. Stop changing the game we love. It isn't all about making more and more money for already rich owners.— Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) February 10, 2020
My proposed solution:— Financial Flexibility Enthusiast (@greatstuffTM) February 10, 2020
- To discourage tanking, all 30 MLB teams make the playoffs.
- All 30 playoff teams play in a 162-game tournament, starting in April, to see which 10 teams will make the playoff semi-finals.
- The 10 semi-finalists are seeded by record.
Some baseball people are skeptical it would incentivize teams to spend more, but one prominent agent brings up a good point: More playoff spots lengthens an already long baseball season, allowing less time for players - especially pitchers - to recover.— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) February 10, 2020
Baseball’s regular season is what makes baseball great. Eventually, we’ll have people running the game who understand that. Until then, sure, let’s make the crapshoot even more of a crapshoot. Morons.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) February 10, 2020
Manfred is really good at coming up with ideas that will net zero new fans and most existing baseball fans will hate https://t.co/0gPHc6MGZu— akschaaf (@akschaaf) February 10, 2020
But what do you, the Brew Crew Ball reader, think about these possible amendments to the playoff setup?
What do you think about the proposed changes to the postseason format?
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Love the idea.
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