The real reason for expanded playoffs

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Today Jeff Passan of Yahoo! takes the idea of an expanded playoffs apart piece-by-piece.  His criticisms track my own in their concern with (a) this being nothing but a money grab; (b) devaluing the  regular season; (c)  creating perverse competitive incentives among contenders; and (d) doing nothing to make the game better like, say, instituting replay would.

But Passan’s take is easily the sharpest I’ve seen on the matter because in talking to executives and owners he really makes plain the fact that Bud Selig refuses to acknowledge: fairness and the health of baseball have nothing to do with it. Don’t believe it? Just listen to the two team executives Passan quotes:

“As a member of a club, you’re talking about extra chances to get into the playoffs and have your season look like a success,” one executive said. “I make the playoffs, I keep my job.”

and

“[O]ur ideas aren’t as much what’s right for the sport as what’s right for revenues. My team is worth a lot more than it was when I bought it. It’s sort of like blood money, though.”

It’s pretty obvious, really.

And the fact that so few are calling Major League Baseball out on it is telling as well. After all, networks and newspapers and websites all stand to gain too. They get increased viewership and readership if the playoffs linger on. I’ve seen the traffic reports for HardballTalk during the playoffs.  They’re quite gaudy compared to the early part of the post season, I will tell you.  Expanded playoffs are great for my bottom line.  I’m sure the same goes for Yahoo! and everyone else. So I suppose it’s understandable that we’ve gotten pliant reporting about this plan, with Bud Selig’s ludicrous comments about “fairness” being reported mostly without criticism and the expanded playoffs being viewed as a benign inevitability.

Kudos to Passan and others — even some whose employers have an even more obvious incentive to milk money out of the playoffs than most — who have attacked this cynical idea, calling it out for exactly what it is. They are to be commended for doing what the Commissioner, the owners, the MLBPA and the players are supposed to do in looking after the best interests of the game as opposed to the best interests of those who profit from it.

Not that it will ultimately change a damn thing.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.