Major League Baseball tinkers incessantly. It just can’t sit still. If it’s not one thing, it’s another as its toys with rule changes and other structural improvements designed to make America’s Pastime more appealing to a wider swath of fans.
Of course, only a cynic would suggest that it first pay more attention to those screwing up the game by using technology to steal signs.
That said, a number of new rules go into effect this season. Here’s two: Under most circumstances, relief pitchers will be required to face at least three hitters and rosters will expand to 26 players.
And it probably won’t be long before the responsibility of home plate umpires calling balls and strikes is passed along to technology.
Now we are hearing MLB is considering a wide expansion of the postseason designed to include more teams and create more inventory for its television partners.
When we say an increased inventory, we mean MLB would have more games to sell the networks for a better television-rights package. Of course, any proposal would have to be negotiated with the players’ association. The current collective bargaining agreement expires after next season.
The strangest part of it all is, the postseason would begin with a live television show during which two teams from each league get to pick their first-round opponents.
The idea is already rubbing some the wrong way. Consider this tweet from Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, directed at MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
“No idea who made this new playoff format proposal, but Rob is responsible for releasing it, so I’ll direct this to you, Rob Manfred. Your proposal is absurd for too many reasons to type on twitter and proves you have absolutely no clue about baseball. You’re a joke.”
How do you think he really feels?
According to MLB.com, the game’s owners are aligned with the Commissioner’s Office in bringing change to the postseason format which now includes five teams from each league (three division winners and two wild cards).
The new proposal increases the pool to seven teams and expands the one-game, wild card round to a best-of-three series.
If Manfred figures out a way to calm down Bauer and his boys, these changes could be made in time for the 2022 season.
As first reported by the New York Post, here’s how the new format would look:
Teams with the best record in both the American and National League would receive a first-round bye and advance to the Division Series. The other two division winners in each league, and the Wild Card team with the next best record, would host a best-of-three Wild Card round. So there would be three wild card series in each league.
The three other Wild Card teams would also advance to the best-of-three round and play it all on the road.
The division winner with the second-best record in each league gets to decide which of the bottom three Wild Card teams it wants to play in the opening round. And that’s what would be telecast live shortly after all the games are concluded on the final Sunday of the season.
Again according to MLB, this is how it would have played out last season:
The Astros would have been the AL’s No. 1 seed based on having the best record in the league. The Yankees, Twins and Athletics would have hosted three-game Wild Card series.
Since they were the second seed, the Yankees would have then been able to pick their opponent from the group of Nos. 5-7 seeds – the Rays, Indians and Red Sox.
Once the Yankees chose, the Twins – the No. 3 seed based on winning their division – would have picked between the remaining two teams for their best-of-three series. The remaining team would then be matched up with the No. 4 seed, who would host all three potential games in the opening round.
The advantage of the expanded playoffs is clear. More teams would remain in the wild card races deeper into the season, creating more high-impact games that might increase attendance and home viewership. It would make it advantageous to have the best overall record in their league so you could automatically move to the Division Series.
Think of it this way: If things played out, there could be as many as 18 wild card games, 12 of which might be elimination games. MLB would also eliminate Game 163 tiebreakers, using the season series between clubs to break ties.
“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,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement.
What’s next? Designated runners?