Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Updated: March 2, 9:23 AM ET
Sources: No deal yet for new format
By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine
Major League Baseball and its players' association are close to announcing the implementation of a 10-team playoff field, a change that would take effect in October, sources said.
Sources told ESPN that enough of the details have been agreed to that it's likely the new postseason schedule will be announced Friday.
At the time baseball's new labor agreement was forged in December, sources from both sides said the expanded playoff field would be put in place for the 2012 season, provided the two sides could figure out how to squeeze in the extra playoff required.
It has been a complicated process because there is little flexibility in baseball's October calendar. But last week, sources reiterated the expanded playoff would happen.
Under the new format, the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds in each league -- the wild-card teams -- will meet in a playoff, with the three division winners awarded a first-round bye.
The members of the advisory committee have told commissioner Bud Selig that they believed the wild-card teams' path through the playoffs has been too easy, and the advantage for division winners has not been great enough. Baseball officials hope an expanded postseason field will alter the landscape, as well as keep more teams involved in the pennant races longer.
If the format had been in place last season, the Atlanta Braves in the NL and the Boston Red Sox in the AL would have captured the extra playoff spot. Instead, each missed the postseason by a single game after epic September collapses.
"I would've taken it last year," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez joked Thursday.
Gonzalez, who considers himself a traditionalist, is willing to give the proposed new format a chance. At first, he wasn't a fan of the current wild-card system but now believes it has added excitement to the game.
"That turned out to be a positive thing for baseball and kind of kept the hype going for some of those teams that were still in it in September," Gonzalez said. "We'll see how it works."
At Red Sox camp Thursday, several players were wary of the change to the postseason.
"One game? That's kind of crazy," designated hitter David Ortiz said. "You know how many things we've got to move around and pack for one game? It'd make more sense for two wild cards to play at least a two-out-of-three series while the other teams take a break for three days because they won their divisions."
Part of the problem appears to be that the players don't understand the format, even though it was approved in November for the 2013 season after both the union and MLB were in favor of adding extra wild cards.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia wanted to see the details of the expanded playoffs before passing judgment.
"Can I actually know what it is before I comment on it? Let me get back to you, because I don't even know. I want to get the facts," he said.
Outfielder Cody Ross didn't seem thrilled when the format was explained to him.
"Say you win a wild card and you have a five-game lead over the other wild card, and the other team ends up winning the game," he said. "That's going to be controversial. That is a problem. I'm not a fan so far. It could obviously change my opinion after a few years."
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he's in favor of the expanded playoff format, although he's not crazy about it being a one-game playoff at the start.
"It's possible that somebody could win a division with 84 wins and some other team could get 97 wins and finish behind a team that won 98 -- and play one game," he said. "So it's never going to be perfect, but at the end of the day, I'm for whatever the commissioner, and more importantly, whatever the fans want. That's what I think is the best way to handle our game."
Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said he would prefer that a wild-card round be best-of-three, rather than a single game.
"I'm not a fan of it," he said. "I don't think if two teams are good enough to make the playoffs that it should be decided by one game like that."
Another Atlanta player, pitcher Tim Hudson, said the wild-card winner will be at a distinct disadvantage going through the rest of the playoffs. Last season, St. Louis passed the Braves for the wild card on the final day and went on to capture the World Series. Hudson said it would've been much harder for the Cardinals or the Braves to advance if they had played an extra game first.
"The only good thing about it is one more team (in each league) gets in the playoffs," he said. "But it totally handicaps the wild-card team. Both teams will probably have to expend their best pitcher to win that game. Plus, it's another day they have to use their bullpen. Even if you get by that one game, the chances of winning the next round are not very good."
Senior writer Buster Olney covers Major League Baseball for ESPN The Magazine. Information from ESPN.com senior Jayson Stark, ESPNBoston.com's Rick Weber and The Associated Press was used in this report.