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The new postseason proposal would be terrible for fans and for the game

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Yesterday someone at Major League Baseball leaked a new postseason idea they have brewing for 2022. The upshot: wild cards would be eliminated, there would be seven playoff teams in each league, up from five, and from there the format of the postseason would radically change.

Since it was a leak and not some official announcement, there was no one from Major League Baseball spinning it. Thankfully for the league there is no shortage of national baseball writers who are happy to do the spinning for them. I won’t point out anyone specifically — I’ve been told I’m rude for doing that, and I’m not feeling particularly rude today — but know that the spin basically goes like this: “this is great as it gives more teams a shot at the postseason, which in turn will generate excitement, and of course now that the postseason is more attainable for teams, it will serve as an anti-tanking device.”

Which is all wrong, of course.

To increase the value of something — to make it more special and exciting — one does not increase the supply. That’s basic economics. Since money can be dreary, let’s think of it as ice cream. I love ice cream. Ice cream is awesome! If someone gave me ice cream all the damn time, however, it would be less awesome. It would become everyday and mundane and, in fact, I’d probably be happy to forego ice cream once in a while.

That’s more of a personal opinion, of course. Maybe some of you would like ice cream every day. I won’t speak for you. Just know that the quality of your ice cream would probably suck a lot more if you got it more often. By way of example, let’s look at the quality of the playoff ice cream we would’ve gotten over the past decade if the proposed postseason system were in place:

  • 2010: an 82-win team makes the postseason
  • 2011: an 81-win team makes the postseason
  • 2012: an 83-win team makes the postseason
  • 2013: an 81-win team makes the postseason
  • 2014: two 79-win teams tie for a postseason spot
  • 2015: two 83-win teams make the postseason
  • 2016: a 79-win team makes the postseason
  • 2017: three 80-win teams tie for the postseason
  • 2018: three 82-win teams tie for a postseason spot
  • 2019: an 84-win team makes the postseason

As it stands now, the worst team to make the postseason in a non-strike-shortened year was the 2005 Padres who won the NL West with 82 wins. The worst World Series-winning team was the 83-win Cardinals in 2006. They’re seen as aberrations now, but under the proposed rules, teams of that quality and worse would be playing October baseball every year. Given how baseball sees far more variation in short series situations than other sports we would, without question, have 95+ win teams getting bounced out of the playoffs most years, rendering the regular season far less significant and turning the postseason into a tournament that is increasingly unconnected to the previous six months of baseball.

Maybe you like that. If so, good for you. But I can tell you a group of people who should not like it: the players. This is because, contrary to what some of those national writers are saying, the new postseason format would not discourage tanking. It would encourage it.

It would allow a team that appears to be headed for about 80 wins or so — what we now call a losing team — to stand pat and say, with a straight face, that they think they’re a playoff contender. It would give total license to 85-86 win teams to stand pat or even shed salary as they’d stand a very good shot at the postseason each and every season. It would create zero incentive for the 86+ win teams to turn into 90 or 95-win teams as such a thing would be pretty pointless.

People talk about tanking in terms of the current Detroit Tigers or the Houston Astros of a few years ago. Teams happy to lose 100+ games for draft position or whatever. The more pernicious aspect of tanking, however, is what the Red Sox are doing. Or what the Indians have done for the past couple of years. When teams who, by all rights, should be going for it are declining to go for it in order to save money on payroll. As it is they’re doing things like trading Mookie Betts, considering trading Francisco Lindor and declining to make offseason acquisitions which might take them to the next level over some pretty harsh criticism and in way that creates fan apathy. If you make 80-83-win teams “playoff teams” every year, you incentivize such behavior in a pretty significant way.

Which is to say that the proposal is one aimed at depressing salaries every bit as much if not more than it’s aimed at “creating excitement” or “shaking things up.” Indeed, I suspect that’s the real idea behind this. I suspect it’s a proposal with an eye on upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.

If you’re a general fan of baseball you should hate this proposal because it would render the regular season far less meaningful and would render the postseason even more of a crapshoot. If you’re a fan of a specific team you should hate this proposal because it would give license to your team’s owner to serve you a substandard product year-in-year out. If you’re a player you should hate this because it would strongly encourage teams to spend less on players than they already do.

It’d be good for the owners and for the league’s bottom line. That’s pretty much it. And that’s nowhere near enough.

Follow @craigcalcaterra

 

 

Agent highlights injustice of spring training for minor leaguers

Joshua Kusnick
Joshua Kusnick
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On Wednesday evening, agent Joshua Kusnick (pictured) tweeted about an injustice one of his clients, a minor league player, is facing at spring training. He wrote:

Have an milb client who showed up 2 weeks ago

He isnt being paid because spring training didnt start for milb 10 dollars a day per diem.

They have a 1200 deposit for the hotel. The player. Making 6k a year.

Player has no choice in staying at hotel Pays own way to field!

No gas reimbursement. If player has a car he must stay at hotel

This is insanity. Someone has to change this

As we have mentioned here before, minor leaguers aren’t paid during spring training. Despite this, teams place significant restrictions on their behavior, including how they travel and where they stay. Teams do provide a per diem for meals and will reimburse the player for his hotel stay, but that a player making so little is expected to take on the up-front cost of the deposit, as well as is quite unfair. According to Kusnick, the hotel will release the deposit when the player checks out.

I asked Kusnick to elaborate more on the issue facing his client as well as minor leaguers in general. He said, “These guys make less than minimum wage and they’re sold the lie that if they have a uniform they have a shot to get paid.” He emphasized, “It’s ownership’s oldest lie.”

Kusnick’s client, like many other minor leaguers, has to pick up a part-time job in the offseason to help make ends meet. His client gives lessons. Kusnick said, “It’s embarrassing to see pro athletes in America with part-time jobs in 2020 in an $8-10 billion industry.” He added that the players “have the anger but they don’t know what to do.”

Kusnick pointed out that his client got a bonus, and despite the injustice in question, his client generally has it better than most other minor league players in spring training. He urges us to think about the “undrafted free agent guys” who didn’t get a signing bonus, earning $6,000 per year and facing similar circumstances. “That’s not a fair shot,” Kusnick says. “It doesn’t make guys hungrier. It’s bulls***. It’s ownership selling bulls***. And they’re the kings of it. Ask Jim Crane.”

Asked about potential solutions, Kusnick suggested that the more prominent agents like Scott Boras use their “immense platform for good” to “establish real change.” He also suggested that minor leaguers could benefit from the MLBPA looping them in, especially “since they bargain away draft rights.” Kusnick doesn’t have faith in commissioner Rob Manfred even though he is “the only man who can do something now unilaterally.” An exasperated Kusnick tacked on, “Given the Astros situation, I’m not holding my breath.”

One thing is clear: Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball benefit from minor leaguers’ lack of unionization and their leverage deficit, forcing them to take on undue burdens just to go to work. Kusnick’s client and others like him shouldn’t be taking on the up-front cost of lodging and travel (“no gas reimbursement”). They should be paid a livable wage during the season, as well as during spring training and in the offseason when they are still responsible for training, nutrition, working on mechanics, watching video, etc. There are rarely days off for those in the minor leagues. It’s high time they are taken care of by teams that can, without question, afford to do so. Major league teams, not their minor league affiliates, are responsible for the salaries of the minor league players in their system.

Kusnick insists we “keep fighting and bringing attention to these issues so maybe one day the public pressure forces change. Until then, fight the bastards at every turn until they notice you and do something, if only to shut us up. It’ll work.”