With all due respect to fans of the Phillies, Reds and Padres, do any of those teams objectively deserve a postseason berth?
The answer is no. Yet, under Major League Baseball’s original plan for expanding the playoffs from 10 to 14 teams, two of those three clubs would qualify for wild cards. And in the American League, four of the five current wild-card contenders would be assured of playing in October.
Too many mediocre clubs. Not enough urgency. A plan too flawed to implement, at least in its initial, proposed form.
I’m not opposed on principle to more teams in the postseason. A larger field is inevitable once the league expands from 30 to 32 clubs, which should happen at some point this decade after, ahem, the A’s and Rays resolve the uncertainty with their ballparks.
In the interim, a well-conceived, 14-team format could make sense. But it likely would need to be introduced in combination with other changes that would incentivize competition, or else the Players Association, which must agree to any adjustment in format, would not approve.
To recap: Early in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, MLB was “seriously weighing” a 14-team field, including three division champions and four wild cards in each league, according to the New York Post. The plan, subject to union consent, was to start in ’22, the first year of a new collective-bargaining agreement. But the pandemic changed the conversation, leading to a shortened regular season and 16 playoff qualifiers, a number commissioner Rob Manfred later dismissed as “too many” for a normal season.
An increase to 14 participants still would leave baseball with the lowest percentage of postseason teams among the major professional sports leagues (14 of 32 make it in the NFL, 16 of 30 in the NBA, 16 of 32 in the NHL). But while the league believes the creation of additional spots would spur competition, the union fears that easier paths to the playoffs would produce the opposite effect, prompting clubs to spend less on player salaries.