MLB is seriously weighing a move from five to seven playoff teams in each league beginning in 2022, The Post has learned.
In this concept, the team with the best record in each league would receive a bye to avoid the wild-card round and go directly to the Division Series. The two other division winners and the wild card with the next-best record would each host all three games in a best-of-three wild-card round. So the bottom three wild cards would have no first-round home games.
The division winner with the second-best record in a league would then get the first pick of its opponent from those lower three wild cards, then the other division winner would pick, leaving the last two wild cards to play each other.
To use the AL last season as an example, the Astros, with the best record, would have received the bye. The Yankees, with the second-best record, would have had the choice to pick from among the Rays, Indians and Red Sox. Boston had the worst record of that group. Would the Yanks pick them or avoid the baggage of a series with their rival? It would create a ton of strategy and interest, and this is what MLB wants to sell. The Twins would then pick next as the other division winner, and then the A’s with the best wild-card record would play the team not chosen by the Yankees or Twins.
The plan is to have this all play out on a show on the Sunday night the regular season ends and have representatives picking teams on live TV — think the NCAA selection show, but just with the teams making the selections.
Let me be perfectly clear. I do not like this idea very much at all. If we’re going to change the playoffs, we need less teams making it, not more. Major League Baseball is one of the only leagues I can think of that gets the playoffs mostly right because in order to get in and earn a good position, you actually have to be very good for a fairly long time. Pushing the number of teams from 10 to 14 means that basically half of the majors gets in, which opens the door to teams with .500 records or worse being contenders every year. Craig Calcaterra did the math on this going back a decade, in case you don’t want to take my word for it.
He also points out something that came to my mind immediately when I heard the news. There are people trying to spin these changes as a way for baseball to discourage teams from tanking on purpose. But if you stop for a second and use your baseball brain, that whole concept makes no sense. If losing or middling is good enough to be good, where is the incentive to get better? Why go out and spend big money on big players that will help you win games you don’t really need to win? And why would you want to win games you don’t need to win if not winning them helps your position on draft day? We already have teams like Boston dumping top flight guys so that they won’t have to pay luxury tax, and this is now, when contending is hard. Once you lower that threshold, it’s only going to get worse.
But if MLB does decide to go ahead with this and let’s face it, they probably will because bad decisions in the name of the almighty dollar pretty much fuel the world, I hope they stick with the concept of the best teams getting to choose their opponents. It could be a fun wrinkle to add to things in terms of strategy and fan interest, plus as long as it’s happening to a team I hate, I’m all here for a big shot getting blown out by the team they picked because they thought it would be a cakewalk.
But I hope they don’t go through with it, because it diminishes the value of the entire season. If the point of a months long competition isn’t to ultimately wind up with the best facing the best, then what is the point? And perhaps more importantly, if it’s not the point, why then should I bother caring about it?