Photo Credit: Jose Morales via Unsplashed 

Why MLB’s expanded postseason will be bad for baseball

 

When Major League Baseball announced they would be expanding the postseason for 2020 — some hours before opening day — I, like most baseball fans, was not a fan of the new format, but I understood why it was done for this season. I have no problem with the expanded playoffs for this season. Teams are losing so much money without any gate revenue, concessions, merchandise and so on, that an expanded playoffs and the subsequent playoff revenue that comes with it is actually a smart way to recoup some of those losses.

 

But when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (who has somehow surpassed Roger Goodell for worst major league commissioner) announced that the change to the playoff format is likely here to stay… Well, once I heard that, I flipped open my computer and began writing this article. An expanded playoff format will be bad for baseball. Here’s why:

 

Going from a five-team postseason to an eight-team postseason inherently waters down the regular season. The one thing baseball has over competitors like the NBA and NHL is that their regular season is actually meaningful. Now, I don’t watch enough hockey to really speak on that, but the NBA’s regular season holds so little value to a majority of the teams. The contenders know they’re going to likely finish with a top playoff seed and the tankers know they’re going to stink. The only teams for which the regular season matters are the eternal losers like the Kings who would sell their wives and sisters for a playoff spot.

 

You see all the load management, the resting and at times the lack of interest from star players during the regular season and by March, when most teams already know where they’re going to finish the season, the last 15 games become pretty care-free. 

 

But for baseball, a sport that has a gruelling 162 game grind of a schedule, only to reward five out of 15 teams in the postseason? That makes the regular season so much more important than basketball and hockey. You can’t afford to give your star player two weeks of rest, especially if you play in a murderer’s row of a division like the AL East. 

 

So with three extra playoff spots now up for grabs, you won’t need to win upwards of 88 games to make the playoffs. Now you can get away with, what, 75-80? Well let’s take a look. Over the last 10 seasons, an average record of 82-80 would have qualified for the final playoff spot in the American League, while 79-83 would have done the job in the National League. Across all of baseball it equals an even 81-81 record. In 2013, the 76-86 Padres would’ve made the playoffs. The 2017 playoffs would have featured three American League teams under .500. 

 

So why is this a problem? Some mediocre teams will make the playoffs, cash in on some playoff revenue, get some casual fans to pay attention for a couple months and everyone moves on. Without getting too deep in the weeds, the main issue that worries me is just how much easier making the playoffs is going to be. 

 

As I said a couple paragraphs back, if you field a .500 team you’re going to make the playoffs with the new format. Owners will know this and as we all know, the one thing owners care about more than anything else is making money. Winning is nice, because you make a lot more money when you win. But if you’re a team like, say, the Atlanta Braves, who makes the playoffs almost every year but never win anything, you’re still going to be a profitable business for owners. 

 

If you told an owner you can spend $70 million a year on player salaries, grab the sixth seed in the playoffs, maybe upset the 3-seed and then get beat in the second round, or spend $100 million a year on payroll and have an actual shot at winning the World Series, many owners would pick the first option and be more than happy to unfurl those silly ‘Division Champs’ banners year after year. When only five teams make the playoffs, owners are forced to spend money to field a competitive team (unless you’re the Rays who are the smartest team in baseball). 

 

So it might give some small market teams like the Reds or the Mariners an opportunity to make the playoffs for the first time in a while, but it’s going to make it much harder for them to make that leap into real contender status if owners are content with putting out a .500 ballclub year after year. 

 

Players aren’t going to be able to demand as much money either. Why would you spend $300 million on a top-tier starting pitcher when you could spend $150 million on two average starters and a reliever who can get you to the second round but no further? Teams like the Yankees and Dodgers and (usually) the Red Sox will still always have their sights on a championship, but for those middle-of-the-pack teams, like the Clevelands and the Milwaukees and the (gulp) Torontos, those are the teams that I worry will have a hard time convincing ownership to overspend.