MLB Has Proposed a New Playoff Structure – It Has Potential

The MLB has proposed a new playoff structure. Here is a rundown on the proposed changes as well as some thoughts on the impact.
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On Sunday, February 10, the New York Post broke the story that Rob Manfred had a new proposal for restructuring MLBs playoff system. Here’s the skinny, each league would now have seven playoff teams instead of five. The Wildcard would shift from a one game winner take all contest, to an opportunity to take part in a three-game series, all hosted at the higher seed’s venue. Lastly, MLB would have a playoff selection show, if you will, in which the number 2 seed would choose their first-round opponent, followed by the 3 seed choosing theirs. The 1 seed would automatically get a bye into the Division Round.


Where do we go from here? 

Let’s take it bit by bit and see where it takes us shall we.

Expansion of the Field

On the surface having seven teams involved in the playoff would keep more teams involved deeper into the season. No doubt on that, one need only look back to the implementation of the Wild Card to see the effect that had on team’s being involved later. As it stands now, each league has 15 teams, so roughly half the field will be in the playoffs.

Now what does that do? Does it destroy the integrity of making the playoffs? Lessen the importance of the regular season? Those are all valid concerns and I’d point to the NHL, because this very argument was made when the idea of expanding the playoffs in that league was being bantered about. It has added to the excitement of many beleaguered fanbases, but the NHL coupled it with another key change, more on that later.

How long does the season become? Are we talking about World series games competing with the NFL for Thanksgiving audiences at this point? Perhaps it would be wise to couple a change like this with knocking the interleague games off the schedule and shortening the season a bit. It’s not like we can viably compare stats across eras anyway. We’re talking about ballplayers potentially working ten months a year. 

Another potential poison pill here as Rob frantically tries to create non-game TV action, would be the utter destruction of the MLB trade deadline. Think the Wildcard slowed activity? Try adding another team to the mix, look back to last season, the Mets, Giants, and Phillies minimally would have still considered themselves in the race until the last week. Another question, do we even want teams like that in the playoff? If so, should the number two seed get the privilege of playing this potentially under .500 patsy?

The TV Selection Show

This doesn’t bother me that much. Nobody watches the MLB draft and they struggle to get anyone to watch their network unless a game is on and even then, its hard to reach out-of-market viewers. I struggle with the actual selection aspect, and not for some bulletin board material reason, I’m just not sure it’s a good way to pick the playoff pairings. 

Let me lay out a scenario for you and I’ll give away my pre-season picks while I’m at it:

  1. Dodgers – NL West Champ
  2. Braves – NL East Champs
  3. Reds – NL Central Champs
  4. Nationals – Wildcard 1
  5. Phillies – Wildcard 2
  6. Cards – Wildcard 3
  7. Snakes – Wildcard 4

So, the Dodgers are out, they move on to the next round.

The Braves have a choice to make, they can pick division rival Philly, or face the Cards and their pitching, maybe the upstart Diamondbacks who finished at 80-82. Sure, Arizona is the easy choice, right? Well maybe not, perhaps you know Philly so well you feel like the matchup works for you. Maybe you think you could beat the Cards in a three game homestand, but not in a best of five with that staff going four deep.

Sounds kinda fun when you look at it like that, now imagine you’re the number five Phillies and you have battled all season, finished 2 games out of first behind both the Nats and the Braves and your prize is potentially playing the Nats in a three game road series. Imagine following your club all season, a city fully vested in the battle, flashing Z signs in the stands, bathing skyscrapers in team colors, converting the turnstiles into propellers, and you don’t even get one home game out of it. Is it better than the alternative, you know, not being in the dance? Of course, but the city doesn’t get what they really want, the ballpark being the center of the universe on a crisp night in October, bars packed, hotels booked, palpable energy making the bridges themselves seem to wave in the wake of the roars coming from the stands. 

A typical answer is, “Win more then if you want homegames”. I can’t argue against that, but the bitterness of playing 162 games and having it all come down to one game sure wore out it’s welcome, three road games won’t fare much better, I fear.

The Bottom Line

This is almost assuredly going to happen. There may be tweaks, but this wasn’t leaked to the Post by some deep state desk jockey, MLB surely put this out.

There are roadblocks, but I suspect they will become more like speedbumps in a Sheetz parking lot in the end. The MLBPA would have to approve this as changes like this need to be collectively bargained. The players however should not pose much of an obstacle as it achieves many things they have presented as priorities. More teams in contention, at least to the players union, means more teams willing to spend. I can’t say I believe it works quite that way, but I do believe this could be easily spun to make it seem like that’s the goal. The union has also pushed for more playoff opportunity which of course can’t be more easily accomplished by any method aside from adding four more teams.

It is plausible that the big money teams would balk at this change as it could make it a bit harder to get to the series, but they’ll be placated with something like a reduction in the luxury tax or making it higher, maybe even a faux salary floor like a penalty for dipping to a certain point. Anything to avoid a cap and the players would be all too happy to sleep in that tent for this fight.

At then end of the day, ok, I’m on board. It has the potential to either add a “year too early” or “year longer than expected” season to teams that operate like the Pirates, and must build to windows of success. Maybe those windows go from 3 or 4 to 4 or 5. That’s not entirely bad and I guess you’d have to say, it would be harder to dismiss as many as 20 teams in April.

However, I get the sense that, and this is just my opinion, Rob Manfred will try just about anything to “fix” this game and its dwindling interest with the exception of the one thing that really could, the economics.

Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007