By RONALD BLUM, AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Max Scherzer favors a sweeping playoff overhaul, with whoever would have the highest seed in the first round of a 14-team playoff series starting a best-of-five series with a lead of 1-0.
Major League Baseball and the locked out players, who resume talks on Sunday, would both expand the playoffs from 10 teams — that’s been the field since 2012, except for the 16 teams in the 2020 season shortened by the pandemic.
The union prefers 12 and the parties appear to be headed for that number, but Scherzer said players would consider 14 if clubs accept the ‘phantom 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 other two division winners would pick their opponents and be home for an entire best-of-three round.
The division winner with the second-best record would choose their opponent from the three lowest-ranked wildcard teams. The division winner with the third-best record could then choose from the two remaining wild cards. The top wild card would face the remaining team after the division winners made their picks and also play all home games.
Selections would be made on a TV show.
“We felt like competition could be eroded in this scenario, and we had specific examples of different players speaking up and specifically highlighting that,” Scherzer said after negotiations broke down. on the job on Tuesday.
“Continuing from those division winners, we didn’t see the right 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 to a more competitive format.”
The lockout was in its 94th day on Saturday, four days after commissioner Rob Manfred canceled the first two regular-season series, which were scheduled to start on March 31. The players were working on their response to MLB’s latest offer.
Before talks broke down, the players said they could agree to a 12-team post-season subject to a package deal. There remains a possibility that 14 teams could resume talks, depending on compromises in the final stages of negotiations.
As part of the post-season plan, the union discussed but did not decide to propose, the highest seed would be at home for all games and would need two wins to advance, while the visiting team is expected to win three times.
A team with the first-round bye would be out at least five days, possibly complicating the starting pitcher’s plans, and fans of the lower first-round seed would not have home games. Plus, MLB doesn’t like that the “ghost game” doesn’t incur a broadcast rights fee.
“The 14-team format originally proposed by MLB provides significant benefits to division winners and incentivizes winning at all levels of the bracket,” MLB spokesman Glen Caplin said Saturday. “In an effort to compromise, MLB agreed to a 12-team format after the formats were discussed, including a ‘ghost game’. MLB has made it clear that the ‘ghost game’ poses serious problems and is not not a viable way forward.”
The “phantom win” has been used in the Korea Baseball Organization since 2015, when its playoffs were expanded from four to five teams in the league to 10 clubs. The new best-of-three wildcard round ended in one game in five out of seven seasons, with the bottom-seeded team forcing another game in 2016 and last year and then losing the final both times.
“Working with the union staff economists, we felt like we designed a format that would encourage competition throughout the season, especially for division winners,” Scherzer said. “We didn’t see that home-field advantage alone was going to be the piece needed 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 playoffs carry weight within the union.
“A central 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 spent a lot of time debating the merits of various playoff formats and there’s probably no better guy to ask in the room than Max. But we are not going to do anything to sacrifice this competition of the season. Anything that points to mediocrity is the antithesis of our game and who we are as players”″
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