A modest proposal for a better postseason format

Among the pressing topics reportedly still being discussed between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association as the 2021 season inches ever closer is the possibility of keeping the playoff field expanded again.

You'll recall that 16 teams made the postseason in 2020, six more than ever had before. It was an acknowledgment of the inability of a 60-game season to distinguish the best teams from the rest of the pack, and most folks accepted and understood why it was needed.

But now MLB sounds keen on giving it another go this season instead of returning to the 10-team system that had been in place from 2012-19. The one with the do-or-die wild card game prior to the best-of-five Division Series.

Strickland-Bent-Over-Gray-NLDS-After-HR-Sidebar.jpgAccording to USA Today, MLB is pushing for a 14-team field. What that would mean: Only the team with the best record in each league would automatically be placed in the Division Series. The two other division winners and four wild card qualifiers would have to win a best-of-three series to advance.

Whether this proposal actually is implemented for the 2021 season remains to be seen. But by now it should be obvious: MLB wants more teams in the postseason, because more teams means more rounds means more money.

And the players might just go for it, because some believe an expanded playoff field will motivate more teams to spend money on free agents and try to win than the current system, which has come under tons of scrutiny as a sizeable number of franchises appear more interested in tanking and building for the long term.

I've been thinking a lot about this - too much, if we're being honest - and I understand both sides of the argument. On the one hand, a larger postseason field probably would encourage more teams to "go for it." On the other hand, it makes the regular season less meaningful, it devalues division titles and it rewards mediocrity.

So what's the answer? Well, I've got a potential solution for you. It attempts to keep certain traditional aspects of the sport in place while also opening the door for more participants, hopefully without diluting the field too much.

And I think it could work. Here's my proposal ...

* Go back to two divisions per league, the way it was from 1969-1993: An East and a West division in both the National and American leagues. For now, two divisions would include eight clubs while the other two include only seven. But that paves the way for two expansion teams to join the mix sometime down the road.

* All division winners automatically qualify for the best-of-five Division Series, just as they have every year since 1995 (except for 2020).

* The second-place finisher in each division gets to host a best-of-three Wild Card Series. No road games, all three at home over three consecutive days.

* The two remaining teams with the best records in each league qualify for the Wild Card Series, each forced to play that entire best-of-three on the road. They could be the third-place finishers from each division, or the fourth-place finisher from one division could beat out the third-place finisher from the other division based on a better overall record.

So that's a 12-team postseason field. It expands it enough to encourage more teams to go for it without rewarding those only good enough to win 80 to 85 games. It encourages the best teams to try to win their divisions and earn the automatic bye to the Division Series. It also encourages the other contenders to try to finish second and earn the right to host the entire Wild Card Series.

And it still leaves spots for surprise contenders and lower-payroll teams who might currently feel like they can't compete with the big boys. As much fun as the one-game wild card has been, I've always felt like it discourages second-tier teams from going all-in. Is it worth it to spend big or give up prospects in a deadline trade just for the shot at a one-game playoff? I think there's a case to be made that more teams would try harder if they knew they would be rewarded with a best-of-three series instead.

To me, this system encourages a lot more teams to try a lot harder to make it. The lower-spending clubs will try to finish in third or fourth place and make the postseason. The moderate-spending clubs will try to finish second and host three playoff games. And the biggest spenders will go all-in seeking a division crown and a few days off before opening play in the Division Series.

Does this proposal have any chance of coming true? Almost certainly not. I haven't heard any serious discussion about realigning back to two divisions per league. And MLB seems more interested in expanding the field to 14 teams than to 12.

But I'd argue the 12-team system is better for the sport, especially when paired up with the two-division realignment. To me, the regular season should matter. A postseason berth should be a reward for surviving the 162-game marathon with one of the best records in the league. And in my system, the teams that perform best during that marathon are rewarded for it.

What do you think? Would you go for something like this? Would you rather stick with the postseason as we've known it for a while now? Would you rather expand it more? Or do you have an even more radical idea in mind?

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