|Playoff Expansion Likely, Good||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on May 03, 2011
The gut reaction when baseball tries to change its tried and true methodology is that fans often take it very personally and instinctively jump the conclusion that it's a bad idea.¬† That's true whenever change comes to the game.¬† Yet for the most part changes to the game have actually been beneficial both for the fans and for the game itself
In fact with the exception of the DH rule, which actually changed the nature of the game, every change has yielded benefits for the fan and for baseball as a whole.
But a further expansion of the playoffs seems a bit of a dicey proposition.¬† After all, this isn't at the NFL where a week between games gives a huge amount of time for hype and analysis, nor does anyone want to see baseball become the NHL where the regular season essentially has no meaning and more than 50% of teams get an invite to the final tournament.
Yet, an expansion of the playoffs makes a certain kind of sense.¬† The biggest beneficiaries would be the small- and middle-market teams who can't compete salary wise with the big-city behemoths.¬† For those teams and their fans, it would be chance to get their foot back in the playoff door, a door that has largely been shut in recent decades since free agency started diverting more and more talent to rich teams.
That could lead to a revitalization of the game in cities where currently fans feel that even on opening day that their team is irrelevant since they can mentally name six or seven of the eight playoff bound teams each year before the first pitch of the season is thrown.
While this certainly won't eliminate any of the games on the contender list, what it will do is expand the list to a make more teams contenders.¬† And if it's managed right could lead to some surprising match ups and even an unusual World Series champions once in a while just like the Wild Card has.
The trick will come in just how the expansion is to be managed and what would be the most fair, and just how many new slots would be opened under Selig's playoff expansion scheme.
It seems unlikely that the plan would include another whole round of playoffs as that would add eight teams -- meaning that 16 of the 30 teams in baseball -- and more than half of the AL would qualify for the playoffs each year.¬† That would dilute the value of the playoffs tremendously.
Giving each division its own wild card slot would unfairly penalize teams like Toronto which competes in an extremely talented division due to high payroll teams, as neither Toronto nor Baltimore would ever likely qualify for the playoffs, even with a 90-win season, and it would result in a 12-team playoff bracket which wouldn't pare down evenly.
What seems most likely to be realistic playoff option would either involve a NFL style Wild-Card series, something which I have a hard time seeing as a benefit for baseball, as it will rob the Wild Card race of quite a bit of drama, and won't actually help balance the game as the big market teams with their massive payrolls wouldn't actually be in danger of being eliminated in a short series matchup with one of the little guys.In truth though, even Selig admits the concept is hypothetical, although he specifically mentioned a 10-team playoff in his comments to reporters a week or so ago.¬† No doubt it makes sense financially for baseball, but it's an idea with a lot of kinks still in the works and might necessitate realignment.¬† I guess we'll have to wait and see, but I don't think we'll be waiting too long before we hear more about playoff expansion.