Major League Baseball's expanded playoff proposal, as part of a new collective bargaining agreement between owners and players, includes the ability for division winners to pick their wild-card opponent, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
The format would call for 14 teams -- seven from each league -- to make the playoffs, four more than currently play in the postseason. The three division winners in each league would be joined by four wild-card teams to make up the playoff field. Here's how it would work:
• The team with the best record in each league would get a bye into the best-of-five division series.
• The remaining two division winners would get to pick their wild-card opponent from the bottom three wild-card teams. The division winner with the second-best record would pick first, then the No. 3 seed in the league would pick its opponent from the final two wild-card teams. The wild-card team with the best record would play the wild-card team that wasn't picked by a division winner.
• Once matchups are set, the higher-seeded teams would host all three games in a best-of-three wild-card round.
• Winners in the wild-card round would advance to the division series and the playoffs would continue as they have in the past.
One concern with the proposed format is the time off for the top seeds while the wild-card round proceeds, hence teams hosting all three wild-card games in consecutive days.
There are mixed feelings on the proposal, according to sources. Players contend it could disincentivize teams from spending and/or pushing for more wins knowing they might make the postseason with, say, 80 to 83 victories. Or less.
The league believes the incentives for the top seeds -- like having a bye or picking your opponent -- will keep teams aggressive both in the winter and during the season. Plus, it opens the door for a perennial 75-win team to now push for around 80 wins to potentially make the postseason.
An informal poll of executives at the general managers meetings earlier this month revealed they weren't thrilled with the idea of a televised event on the Sunday night before the playoffs begin where opponents would be chosen. It's ripe for second-guessing and perhaps even bulletin-board material.
Of course, the expanded playoffs would be a windfall for owners in terms of television and gate revenue, but they would also add over 100 players to the postseason spotlight where reputations are burnished. Players also get playoff shares for every round their team wins in October.
The playoff proposal has been on the table for months as the sides negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The old one expires at midnight on Dec.1.
A more recent addition to the negotiations is an NBA-style lottery system for the draft. The league believes it will at least partly address players' tanking concerns. Right now, the team with the worst record in baseball gets the No. 1 pick in the amateur draft the following summer. It's created a "race to the bottom," as agent Scott Boras put it earlier this month.
The league is offering a system where all non-playoff teams would have a chance at the No. 1 pick -- not just the team with the worst record. The worst team would still have better odds than the second-worst team, and so on and so forth, but in theory, any non-playoff team could end up with a top-three pick.
The lottery would only be for picks No. 1 through No. 3, then the draft would continue as it has in the past, based on regular-season record. The playoff teams would pick according to how they finished in the postseason. The World Series winner would pick last.
It's unclear if either proposal will be implemented into the new CBA.