Expanding the playoffs could save owners a lot of money. If October action is more attainable, why spend 10 figures for a World Series contender starting in February when eight figures at the trade deadline can fuel a championship?
Baseball is at a lockout-induced crossroads as we speak, with an expanded playoff format being mulled by owners as negotiations ensue. The motives for playoff expansion are not always liked by the players’ union, as it could mark an end to big-check, Nolan Arenado-style contracts in baseball — especially in places like Colorado, where Dodger-style payrolls are not always common.
Playoffs in any sport are exciting, but fans are now forced to determine if it’s best in moderation. A lot of this enthusiasm can come at the expense of players, each of them working overtime, and it isn’t always fair to assume more playoff action is fair to their actual worth.
Rockies fans are also at a crossroads when it comes to judging this dilemma, all while knowing how awesome Coors Field can be in October.
Case Study: The Colorado Rockies
With owners and money aside, this expanded postseason thing isn’t entirely bad for Colorado faithful. Playoff Coors Field is something special, and something that can’t come around enough.
If it weren’t for wildcard expansion after 1994, the Rockies wouldn’t have a single trip to the postseason in franchise history. If it weren’t for additional expansion in the form of a second wildcard (2012-present), the Rockies would currently be facing a 12-year playoff drought. The 2018 Wild Card Game was the pinnacle of the past decade for Rockies fans, and while the 2017 Wild Card ripped our hearts out, boy was it exciting.
This was all made possible through playoff expansion, developed in the infancy stages of Colorado baseball.
If the playoffs featured two wildcard games per league, Coors Field would have hosted in both 2017 and 2018.
It’s not so simple to view this discussion through the lens of a Rockies fan alone. Let’s take a look around sports, and how baseball might change if it took the lead from other pro leagues:
Case Study: National Football League
It was fun for football fans this weekend. It was also fun for TV contract revenue, owners stuffing their pockets with extra cash — but not so much for players that already had to play more football than any year prior. This season, the NFL added another regular season game to the 2021 schedule.
Some might say it’s worth it, and that players are hungry to make it to the playoffs as a capstone to a hard-fought career battle. Some can also argue the physicality of football is too much for an extended season.
If player contracts don’t change, their cost-per-labor rate got undervalued with an expanded season.
Case Study: National Basketball Association, National Hockey League
The NBA* and NHL currently have 16-team ‘standard’ postseasons (*see below). The regular season for each league is a way for teams to earn home-field/court/ice advantage, but the spread is otherwise wide open for a team like the 1994 Denver Nuggets to take down a one seed.
* For the better part of this millennium, the NBA has put 16 in the playoffs. Starting last year, the league pioneered the ‘NBA Play-In Tournament’ where the seven-through-ten seeds in both the East and West division play three games (10-vs-9 elimination, 7-vs-8 play-in, 10/9 winner-vs-7/8 loser) to decide the final four spots in the playoffs.
Simply put: Basketball puts 20 out of 30 teams in the playoffs. The play-in tournament is essentially a glorified MLB wildcard expansion. If MLB also took 20 teams, what would the regular season look like then? Would we see starting pitchers not gearing up until the third month of the season? Would relievers try to find a way to save their bullets, knowing how hot they need to be in the postseason?
If other leagues have shown, it’s that revenue is king when it comes to the decision part of these ideas. If something rakes in the cash, it often gets exploited.
Case Study: NCAA College Basketball
We would be remiss to ignore the
64 65 68-team bracket made famous every spring when March Madness rolls around. This is the epitome of large-scale postseasons where players are underpaid: players aren’t paid at all.
It isn’t so fair to correlate pro-style playoffs to college, but this can serve as a worthy reminder when extra money isn’t being given to those on the playing surface.
The Owner/Player Rift: MLB Lockout
For now, baseball fans are left waiting to see what the regular season could soon turn into. It’s tough to face the uncertainty of an ongoing lockout, but the uncertainty from an expanded postseason can yield lasting results for years to come.
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Last week, the Rockies announced they will play two (lockout-pending) spring training games in Las Vegas. This week, our friend Kevin Henry from Rox Pile takes a look at some over/under odds for the Rockies in that same Las Vegas spirit. 71.0 wins is the current mark for 2022, assuming at least 160 games are played.
Rosario played for the Rockies from 2011-2015, posting a combined .273/.306/.473 slash. Since his final MLB game, he has played professionally in South Korea, Japan, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. He also played 105 games in Triple-A with the Twins organization in 2019.
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