The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has already changed baseball in many ways, but the biggest change will apparently be put in place this season. Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the new ten-team playoff format is a “go” for 2012, with an official announcement possibly coming tomorrow. He cautions that the decision is not yet final, but it will definitely happen. Tomorrow is the soft deadline for the two sides to hammer out the details and implement the system.
Under the new system, the three division winners in each league will automatically make the playoffs while the two non-division-winning teams with the best records will meet in a one-game playoff. The winner of the one-game playoff will then play the division winner with the best record. Unlike the last 17 seasons, two teams from the same division will be allowed to meet in the League Division Series round thanks to the new CBA. The regular season ends on October 3rd this year, so I guess the one-game playoff will be played on the 4th with the LDS rounds starting on the 6th. That gives the team that wins the one-game playoff time to travel without giving the division winners too much time off.
The new system places significant importance on winning the division, which has immediate impact on the Yankees. Just last week Brian Cashman admitted that the team wasn’t trying to win the AL East in 2010, instead settling for the Wild Card and opting to get healthy in September. With the new system, settling for one of the two Wild Card spots means you’re forced into a one-game, winner take all situation, and no one wants that. It will make for crazy exciting baseball as a fan, at least until your favorite team has its season end in that one-game playoff.
I don’t like the idea of an entire season coming down to this one-game playoff, but what’s done is done. I’ll be interested to see how the new system impacts the trade deadline though. With more teams in the running for playoff spots, there figures to be fewer non-contenders and thus fewer teams selling off pieces. At the same time, the race to add those few available pieces will be greater because there will be more teams looking to boost their playoff chances. Could make for a real hectic July, not to mention the August waiver trade period.
Ultimately, it all comes down to money. The new system allows the league to promote the game and make some additional advertising revenue while owners get a better chance at some playoff revenue. Attendance should increase as well, particularly late in the season. Some clubs that had little chance at the postseason (like the Blue Jays, for instance) can now dream of October baseball. September races should be a little more interesting, at least in theory. The Yankees have a great team and one good enough to win the AL East again, but the safety net is no longer in place.