MLB talks resume Sunday; Scherzer favors playoff ‘ghost win’

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Max Scherzer favors a radical reworking of the playoffs, one that would have the higher seed in the first round of an expanded postseason start a best-of-five series with a 1-0 lead.

Major League Baseball and locked-out players, who resume talks Sunday, both would expand the postseason from 10 teams – that’s been the field since 2012, other than the 16 teams in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

The union prefers 12 and the parties appear headed toward that number, but Scherzer said players would consider 14 if clubs would agree to the “ghost win” format.

Under MLB’s 14-team plan, the division winner with the best regular-season record in each league would get a bye and advance directly to the Division Series. The two other division winners would choose their opponents and be at home for an entire best-of-three round.

The division winner with the second-best record would choose its opponent from among the three lowest-seeded wild-card teams. The division winner with the third-best record would then get to pick from among the remaining two wild cards. The top wild card would face whichever team is left over after the division winners make their choices and also play all games at home.

Selections would be made on a televised show.

“We felt like competition could be eroded in that scenario, and we had specific examples of different players who spoke up that highlighted that specifically,” Scherzer said after Tuesday’s breakdown in labor talks.

“Continuing on from those division winners down, we didn’t see the proper incentive for those other two division winners,” the New York Mets pitcher added. “We didn’t understand why they didn’t want to take us up on a more competitive format.”

The lockout was in it 94th day Saturday, four days after Commissioner Rob Manfred canceled the first two series of the regular season, which had been scheduled to start March 31. Players are expected to respond Sunday to MLB’s latest offer, the last before talks ended Tuesday.

Before talks broke down, players said they could agree to a 12-team postseason subject to an overall agreement. There remains a possibility 14 teams could return to discussions, depending on tradeoffs in the end stages of negotiations.

Under the postseason plan the union has discussed verbally but is undecided whether to formally propose, the higher seed would be home for all games and need two wins to advance, while the visiting team would have to win three times.

A team with the first-round bye would be off at least five days, possibly complicating starting pitcher plans, and the fans of the lower seed in the opening round would not have any home games.

Scherzer argued for the plan during a Monday meeting with Colorado CEO Dick Monfort, and MLB told the union it is not interested. MLB does not think the “ghost game” is the preference of broadcasters and thinks the concept would not be well-received by fans.

“The 14-team format MLB originally proposed offers significant advantages to division winners and provides incentives to win at every level of the bracket,” MLB spokesman Glen Caplin said Saturday. “In an effort to compromise, MLB accepted a 12-team format after the discussion of formats including a `ghost game.’ MLB made clear that the `ghost game’ raises serious issues and is not a viable path forward.”

The “ghost win” has been used in the Korea Baseball Organization since 2015, when its playoffs expanded from four teams to five in the 10-club league. The new best-of-three wild-card round has ended in one game in five of seven seasons, with the lower seed team forcing another game in 2016 and last year, then losing the finale both times.

“Working with the economists on the union staff, we felt like we had devised a format that you would incentivize competition throughout all the season, especially for division winners,” Scherzer said. “We didn’t see that that solely home-field advantage was going to be the necessary piece to try to go out there and win your division.”

Without the “ghost win” format, Scherzer said “a 12-team format made more sense to us.”

Pitcher Andrew Miller, like Scherzer a member of the union’s eight-man executive committee, said Scherzer’s thoughts on the postseason carry weight within the union.

“A core goal of this negotiation is to increase competition, and there’s no way we’re leaving the table without something that does that,” Miller said. “We’ve spent a lot of time debating the merits of various playoff formats and there’s probably not a better guy to ask in the room than Max. But we’re not going to do anything to sacrifice this competition of the season. Anything that points towards mediocrity, that’s the antithesis of our game and what we’re about as players”?

Colin Poche, Rays go to arbitration just $125,000 apart

Colin Poche torn UCL
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Reliever Colin Poche went to salary arbitration with the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday with the sides just $125,000 apart.

The gap between the $1.3 million the pitcher asked for and the $1,175,000 the team offered was the smallest among the 33 players who exchanged proposed arbitration figures last month. The case was heard by John Woods, Jeanne Vonhof and Walt De Treux, who will hold their decision until later this month.

A 29-year-old left-hander, Poche had Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2020, and returned to the major leagues last April 22 after six appearances at Triple-A Durham. Poche was 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA and seven saves in 65 relief appearances for the Rays. He struck out 64 and walked 22 in 58 2/3 innings.

Poche had a $707,800 salary last year.

Tampa Bay went to arbitration on Monday with reliever Ryan Thompson, whose decision also is being held until later this month. He asked for $1.2 million and the Rays argued for $1 million.

Rays right-hander Jason Adam and outfielder Harold Ramirez remain scheduled for hearings.

Players and teams have split four decisions thus far. All-Star pitcher Max Fried ($13.5 million) lost to Atlanta and reliever Diego Castillo ($2.95 million) was defeated by Seattle, while pitcher Jesus Luzardo ($2.45 million) and AL batting champion Luis Arraez ($6.1 million) both beat the Marlins.

A decision also is pending for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Hunter Renfroe.

Eighteen additional players are eligible for arbitration and hearings are scheduled through Feb. 17. Among the eligible players is Seattle utilityman Dylan Moore, who has a pending three-year contract worth $8,875,000.