The landscape of Major League Baseball is changing.
Towards the end of last year, rumors were swirling about the addition of another Wild-Card spot in each league, bringing the number of playoff teams from eight to 10. The proposal has gained steam this year and it appears very likely to happen. For this I say kudos to Bud Selig and Major League Baseball for wanting to add some excitement to arguably the least exciting postseason among the major four sports (sad, but true).
If you ask me, though, there’s a better way.
You see, I've had this idea. Aside from the MLB playoffs, the only baseball postseason that matters is the College World Series. Even though college baseball isn’t that popular in the U.S. it still attracts many new fans every year, mostly due to its NCAA Tournament feel. The unpredictability of it all adds a level of suspense that you just can’t get from Major League Baseball.
Well, if the playoffs were done my way, you could.
The first step to my radical postseason change would be to rid baseball of the divisional setup. I used to think that would never happen because of baseball’s “that’s how it’s always been, so that’s how it’s always going to be” way of thinking, but it’s actually been mentioned recently around the blogosphere.
My plan would also require a team to move from the National League to the American League to even out the leagues at 15 teams a piece. In my opinion (and Buster Olney’s too, coincidentally) is that the Houston Astros should switch leagues. They don’t really have a true rival, and the closest thing would be the Texas Rangers, so the move would make sense.
Now that the leagues are evened out and divisions are abolished, it’s time to move on to the fun stuff.
The first two playoff spots in each league would be given to the two teams with the best record with 15 games remaining. What about the other fifteen games you ask? Those final 15 games will comprise of a round-robin style “tournament” of teams three through eight in the standings.
Let me use the current standings as an example. As of today in the American League, according to my playoff rules, the Red Sox and Yankees would be guaranteed the first two playoff spots. The next fifteen games on the schedule would then be composed of five, three game series featuring the following teams: the Indians, Tigers, Rangers, Rays, Mariners, and White Sox/Blue Jays (they are currently tied).
After those 15 games the two teams with the best record in the “tournament” would be given the last two playoff spots.
Also, while 12 teams are playing incredibly important games, the rest of the league is forced to sit through two weeks of bottom feeders versus bottom feeders, excluding the top two teams in each league of course. You think the Marlins have empty stadiums now? Imagine how empty they would be if they found themselves out of the hypothetical tournament.
The biggest drawback obviously is the uncertainty of it all, but in my opinion that’s also the most exciting part.
Most years see the divisions wrapped up with a few games left to play, leaving the last games of the season meaningless. But every year there’s one or two divisions that go down to the wire; imagine that life or death feeling not only in the first weeks of September, but also throughout the whole month for nearly half of the league.
The annual trading deadline would also be positively affected. Right now the Orioles, Angels and Royals are all within three games of the final tournament spot. That makes 12 of the 14 American League teams hypothetical buyers in this scenario. Instead of the same teams pillaging the weak teams of their superstars every year, what if the Mariners made a push to acquire a big bat or pitcher? They’re only 3.5 games out of the second guaranteed playoff spot, so it would definitely be in the cards.
Imagine seeing King Felix, Michael Pineda, and the acquisition I proposed in the previous paragraph push the Mariners into the World Series. Or how about watching the young kids in Kansas City not just make their Major League debut, but push their team into the final tournament spot. Go ahead, let your imagination run wild.
As for choosing who plays who in the last 15 games, it could go two different ways. First, the league could set up a bracket prior to the season (i.e. the first tournament series could be #3 versus #5 and the first non-tournament series could be No. 9 versus No. 14) and let the teams fall into the slots. Another way to do it would be NCAA selection show-style, and televise a random drawing of all the teams. You would watch that, don’t lie.
Are there still questions to be answered? Yes, things like tiebreakers and who gets a third home series and whatnot aren’t yet solved, but that’s not my problem now. It’s up to you, Bud; I gave you the idea, now it’s your turn to run with it…please?