If there’s one thing we know the league wants as part of a new CBA, it’s an expanded playoff field. Major League Baseball’s broadcast rights are based largely on the postseason, so more teams and more games means a lot more money. The 2020 season took so long to hammer out in part because players believed owners’ share of the pie would increase disproportionately from a new playoff format, a belief that almost certainly hasn’t changed.
That topic is back on the table again, this time with a proposal from the league that would see the postseason expanded to 14 teams, seven in each league. That comes from ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, who I have no problem crediting since he was the first to lay out the structure of the potential changes. Before I get into that, let me just go ahead and say up front that I hate this concept.
According to Rogers, the three division winners would be joined by four wild card teams — two more than current — and the best overall team in each league would get a bye to the divisional round. The two remaining division winners would choose their opponents from among the bottom three wild card teams, with the final matchup being the top wild card facing the unpicked team. The higher-seeded teams would then host all the games in a best-of-three series, followed by a divisional round and beyond just as they have been in the past.
This creates a tremendous advantage for the No. 1 overall seed because that team can rest up its starters and set an optimal rotation. The players fear, understandably so, that adding two teams to the mix and getting rid of the win-or-go-home round would discourage really going for a division win. It’s easy to see how having one team established as the top dog would create a less competitive environment as teams wouldn’t want or need to push for an extra win if they’re already in and can’t get the top spot.
The whole thing about picking your opponent is goofy to me as well and feels like a made-for-TV gimmick. Wait, that’s probably because it is.
As a small counter-measure against any competitive concerns, the league is also proposing a draft lottery in which all non-playoff teams would have a shot at the top three picks. The worst teams would still have better odds, but the thought is that this would discourage tanking by removing guaranteed slots. Only those three picks would be up for grabs, though, so the highest/lowest the worst team could possible pick would be at No. 4. That’s not much of a disincentive for tanking.
If they’re going to expand the playoffs, I’d just as soon seen eight teams per league with the division winners and five wild cards. Seed the teams from there and play a best-of-three opening round to get to the divisional series. I don’t really want that, mind you, I’m just saying it’s better than what’s laid out above.
As with pretty much everything else we hear about proposals from the league, this appears to be little more than eyewash meant to cater to fans. These are shiny baubles with little actual value, other than what they would mean to the league in extra TV revenue.