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Three Problems with Major League Baseball's Playoff Proposal

Rob Manfred
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred | Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

In the midst of the fallout from the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal, Major League Baseball had another juicy story this week. The New York Post first reported on Major League Baseball's proposal to increase its postseason format from 10 teams to 14, as well as increasing the wild card round from one game to three.

The kicker? The playoff matchups would be decided not by seeding, but by way of a special televised draw to be aired the Sunday night the regular season ends. The team with the second-best record in its league would get their first choice of opponent in the wild card round from the remaining playoff teams, as the best team in the league would get an automatic first-round bye.

The reaction from most within baseball was, shall we say, not complimentary.

We're not gonna lie, it has some issues. Here are just three of them.

1. There is such a thing as too much baseball

Consider the first year of the Division Series, 1995. That was the year of the infamous "Baseball Network" partnership between ABC and NBC which saw Division Series games played simultaneously on a regional basis. Half of the country was locked out of seeing the famous Mariners-Yankees ALDS that year. Major League Baseball has gone out of its way to avoid this happening in the years since (though it has happened, remember when playoff games appeared on FX or ABC Family?), but the league is openly aiming to create a smorgasbord of postseason baseball with this new format. I could reach the level of the early rounds of March Madness.

While that sounds nice in theory, where is all that baseball going to go? Major League Baseball only has so many television partners, and there's only so much time in the television schedule, especially with October being such a loaded month for sports in general. There are already problems with postseason games being broadcast exclusively on MLB Network, a channel outside the reach of most ordinary Joes.

Not to mention, the World Series could potentially be pushed into mid-November, which could pose weather problems across most of the country.

2. The World Series of .500 Teams

In the early days of the Division Series format, when a wild card team won a World Series, it wasn't too out of the ordinary. Only the best wild card could enter the playoffs, and they were usually no fewer than five games behind the division winner, and sometimes held a better record than the weakest division winner in their respective league. This proposed playoff format, however, would open up the possibility of postseason play for teams that, shall we say, don't deserve it.
For instance, in 2017, the Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals, and Tampa Bay Rays, all sporting records of 80-82, would have ended up in a three-way tiebreaker for the final two wild card spots.

For those who believe that there is no way that that kind of team would have a chance to make it through a grueling baseball postseason, remember the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, who won the Stanley Cup despite entering the playoffs as an eighth seed. Such things can happen.

3. The Draw

The centerpiece of this proposed playoff system is the televised draw, which would be held on the Sunday at the end of the regular season. Where to start with this idea?

Yes, the idea of the "draw" in sports is nothing new. The NCAA Basketball Tournament, World Cup, Champions League, and FA Cup all feature a similar system. However, all of those competitions feature dozens of entrants. Even under a potentially expanded playoff system, Major League Baseball has no need for an over-the-top spectacle such as this.

On top of that, why give a team the power to choose its own opponent? This goes against the basic idea of playoff seeding, which is to pit the strongest against the weakest as a reward for being the strongest. It doesn't seem as though there will be much of a difference anyway, unless there are seriously mitigating circumstances, teams would always choose the opponent they would be most likely to beat up on.