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Expanded Playoffs Necessary in Lieu of Salary Cap



By Mike Silva ~ March 1st, 2012. Filed under: MLB News.

All reports indicate that MLB will expand its playoff system this year to include a second Wild Card team.

MLB continues to be the only sport that doesn’t get it. What I mean by that is they don’t have the understanding or ability to create an economic system where the disparity in local revenues between Milwaukee and New York doesn’t create an unfair competitive advantage. The Players Association has done an outstanding job (thanks to Marvin Miller) in swinging the pendulum from reserve clause slavery to players that average $3 million dollars a year in a completely free system. The savings on the luxury tax (and pressure from the commissioner’s office), has given big market teams (see Yankees) some pause in exploding their payroll above $189 million in the coming years. Even so, there is still a huge disparity between the tax threshold and the local revenues that others teams have available to invest in their club.

Teams such as Boston, the Yankees and Phillies (for now) have payrolls that sometimes are triple of some markets. Despite the parity that is inherent in a sport where any pitcher has the ability to shut down a given lineup, the level of perfection in scouting and development that is required for teams such as Kansas City, Milwaukee, Houston, Cleveland, etc., makes it difficult to establish a continuous and consistent period of contention. Tampa is a great model, but the good fortune they have experienced in the draft is not the norm. Yes, luck is the product of design; however anyone who spends some time around talent evaluators understands how inexact a science it is.

Before the advent of the Wild Card, it was a real possibility that some cities would never have a realistic chance of seeing their team in the playoffs. This could have potential killed baseball in those markets, and created a “super-league” where New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles used a majority of the opposition as the Washington Generals. A playoff warm-up, if you will.

Even with one Wild Card there are a number of teams that don’t have a realistic chance of competing past July 1st. The purist will argue about the integrity of the game. Some will point out how there is a chance that an “83-win team” will win the World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals actually accomplished that in 2006 and they won the NL Central. In 1987, the Minnesota Twins won the AL West and World Series after winning just 85 games. The dilution of playoff teams started in 1969 when divisional play was created.

You can’t grow the sport nationwide with the Yankees in the World Series every year. Baseball is always pining for the “golden era,” but that doesn’t sell anymore. Technology has given people choices, and if there team is out of contention by the 4th of July, they will find something else to do. Just like the television networks need to compete against cable and the internet, baseball has to compete against various other entertainment options. You can’t use the corny “America’s Pastime” as a selling point and grow into the future.

Ironically, last season was very top heavy in both leagues. The Yankees and Braves had a comfortable lead in the Wild Card, so winning the division was a more viable route, specifically for teams in the NL and AL Central. However, when it was all said and done, Atlanta came back to the pack and actually needed a second Wild Card to make the playoffs. San Francisco (3) and Los Angeles (6.5) finished within striking distance of the Braves for the second spot.

Not every season is like 2011. In 2010, the Yankees won the AL Wild Card with Boston as the team that would have earned the second spot. Chicago (1) and Toronto (4) were within striking distance. In the National League, Atlanta won the Wild Card with San Diego in the second spot. St. Louis finished 4 games back.

Remember, these are final standings. There were points throughout the season where other teams were close and could sell their fan base into the thought of a pennant race. Perhaps we see more clubs keep their team together versus selling off assets. It will add complexity to the trade deadline (which I believe should be pushed back to August 31st), and potentially keep cities believing into Labor Day.

I would argue that the second Wild Card actually adds purity back into the game. Winning a division has become a joke, as there is no real advantage (unless you want an extra home date for revenue) versus taking the Wild Card. The one game playoff between Wild Card winners will add drama, strategy and put the Wild Card team at a significant disadvantage. Time off and rest is always dangerous for a playoff team on a roll, but letting a division winner set up their rotation- versus scrambling to make it to the LDS- is a better path to a championship.

Is there any downside? Unless you yearn for the days of 8-tracks, six TV channels and Yankees imperialism, there isn’t. Baseball has started to realize they need to be progressive with its game. The changes made over the last four years have put them in a position where they can start to replicate the regular season parity we see in other sports.

Unless, of course, they negotiate a salary cap in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement; in other words, there are no other options.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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1 Response to Expanded Playoffs Necessary in Lieu of Salary Cap

  1. Ken Bland

    By reputation, some of my best thinking occurs during rest room stops, so here’s the result of my latest trip to said destination.

    This whole playoff thing is making my head spin already, but what really stands out is the seemingly small chance that the 1 game 2 wildcard playoff stays at 1 game. You know the drill. True, the WS has essentially always been 7 games, but throughout sport, we’ve seen expansion of participants, and in earlier rounds, increased games….

    So, to cut through the chase of expanding it, let’s do it this way.

    Example….

    Phils, Cards, Dbacks win divisions. Marlins, Reds, Giants finish 2nd, and their win totals go in same order. Reds host Giants on Monday (season ends Sunday), if they win, play at Florida Tuesday. If the Reds win, they play at the Phils (assumed best record going in order of divvy winners) in first of best of 5 on Wednesday. This joins the upgrade of making winning the divvy priority, and makes the wild card climb ridiculously steep, but allows for 6 playoff teams per league, and in the AL, might allow for clubs like the Jays, or Royals or Indians to feel hope. Not much delay for division winners, but a minimal amount of rest. Please don’t ask me what would happen in the way of ties. God knows. But it’s a suggestion that opens the field, makes winning the division important, and makes a wildcard climb steep.

    How ’bout them apples?

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