This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to, well, anyone who has paid attention to what Rob Manfred and the owners have been doing – but Manfred came out and said this week that he is looking towards keeping the Major League Baseball playoffs expanded in each league. He did note that he didn’t think it would remain at eight teams per league.
One thing at play here is that expanding the playoffs can’t be done on a whim. This would require the approval from the Major League Baseball Players Association. Expect them to try and use this to their full advantage, getting something in return for it that benefits them. What that could be – well, we’re going to have to wait and see.
In a season where there were only 60 games, it made sense to expand the playoffs a little bit. You aren’t entirely sure who the best teams are at that point – though as we look at the current World Series match up we do see the two teams with the best records in baseball playing each other. Over the course of 162 games you do have a pretty good idea of which teams are the best.
What another round of playoffs does, though, is make more money for teams and ownership. While I’ve been sitting around wondering just how long the sports tv bubble will last before it bursts, it apparently isn’t soon. Even within the last few months sports leagues have gotten large raises on their television deals and baseball is no different, getting a contract that was a 60% bump from the previous one for the playoffs. Making an extra round out of thin air just means more television money.
More money in the sport is good…. if that money gets shared with the players and other employees within baseball. As we learned once again this week, that isn’t exactly happening – the Cubs for example laid off over 100 employees. While I haven’t seen another team with a number as high as the Cubs, it’s been a trend over the last year as teams are looking to find places to save money anywhere possible – including eliminating multiple minor league teams that costs about 75 player jobs, 8-10 coaching jobs, and another 8-10 jobs between trainers and other gameday staff.
Adding additional teams to the playoffs without expanding the number of teams in the league can and likely will lead to problems. The easier it is to reach the playoffs the less chance you are going to have teams truly try to be the best team. Why try to build a 95 win team when you can get into the playoffs with 82 wins? That will likely lead to lesser money available to free agents as competition for their services will be a little more limited as getting from 85 to 90 wins won’t matter nearly as much anymore. Teams won’t feel that pressure to “get over the top”.
What this also does is make the regular season matter less. Baseball plays 162 games because you need a whole bunch of them to separate the top teams from each other. The margins are quite small in terms of talent between teams. Think of baseball in football teams. The NFL plays 16 games. Divide the MLB season up into 10-game chunks and you get a “16 game” season. In the NFL you have had teams go undefeated, teams go 15-1, 14-2, 13-3. In Major League Baseball if a team were go go 100-62, or 10-6 in football teams, they’re considered a juggernaut. In the NFL 10-6 doesn’t even win the division in most seasons. Baseball requires more games to show the talent difference. But if you are going to just start handing out playoff spots like candy on Halloween, the value of a regular season and 162 games matters far less.
Expanding the playoffs puts more money into the owners pockets. That’s what they want. But this just feels like example eleventy-billion by the current group of owners and Rob Manfred that is about as short sighted as possible and one that doesn’t seem to consider what it’s doing to the future of the game. If the regular season doesn’t matter, people will stop paying attention to it as much.
Eventually that’s going to lead to people paying less attention to the sport overall – and it’s a sport that has been trending in the wrong direction for a while when it comes to attention as it is. Toss in the uprooting of small town baseball being eliminated in 40-something cities across the country with minor league baseball being stripped away and being replaced by either wood bat college leagues, or maybe some semi-pro baseball leagues and you are losing building fans of teams around the country (there’s still baseball, but the fans in those towns will no longer be Reds fans or White Sox fans because the guys who all came through that town went on to play for those teams – you lose that “brand loyalty”, and that most certainly can’t be good for the game). It’s just penny wise and pound foolish.