We’re hearing new formats on how the baseball playoffs should be structured. It is far from a finished product, and the 2016 collective bargaining agreement will likely bring about more ideas.
As we begin the 2015 postseason, the debate rages.
Here’s an idea from a longtime baseball executive: invert the current format. In other words, have the wild card teams battle it out over five or seven games.
This would reward teams for fighting so hard for the wild-card spots. The feeling is that by the trade deadline wild-card teams have given up, in many cases, top young talent to compete for one game.
The Division Series and Championship Series would be seven games, according to this plan, and the World Series? It would be one game, like the Super Bowl, to decide the champion.
According to the executive, you could build up the final game for a few days and make it like a Super Bowl. It would likely be played at a neutral site or at one of the home fields based on the winner of the All-Star Game. Pretty radical, but wouldn’t you think TV would love the drama at the end rather than at the beginning?
Most of the talk around the league centers on whether wild-card teams should fight so hard for one game.
One wild-card participant who doesn’t believe changes are necessary is Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, whose team will host their elimination game.
“I’m really OK with the current format,” he said. “If you lengthen the series you jeopardize the ability of the division winner to maintain whatever their full capacity was that they earned by winning the division. When any team sits over the course of more than two days, they get rusty quick.”
Tony La Russa, the Diamondbacks’ chief baseball officer, thinks the wild-card teams playing two out of three is more fair, but he sides with Cashman about not penalizing division winners.
“Two out of three is a better test, but it’s unfair to have division winners waiting so long,” La Russa said. “It also puts the priority on winning the division. Before, there wasn’t enough penalty for being the wild card. For the teams that complain about sudden death, win your division. If you feel it’s unfair then refuse the spot and pass it to the next team. Otherwise, play the game and shut up.”
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Pirates GM Neal Huntington have indicated in the past their preference for a two-of-three format. Epstein once proposed a best of three with a doubleheader.
The National League Central has presented yet another issue with the division-winning Cardinals, second-place Pirates, and third-place Cubs having the three best records in the league. So, the Cardinals will play the winner of the wild-card game between the Cubs and Pirates, and one of the three best teams, record-wise, will be eliminated right away.
The Pirates have been in this position before. In 2013 as the No. 1 wild-card team, they went on to lose to the Cardinals in the Division Series, three games to two. And in 2014, also as the No. 1 wild-card team, they lost to the Giants, 8-0, in the wild-card-game. Now, the Pirates are the No. 1 wild-card team again.
“I like the one-gamer,” said Dodgers vice president Josh Byrnes, who is a finalist for the Angels’ GM job. “Good drama to start the postseason.”
Giants GM Bobby Evans said, “I’m fine with it. I’d be fine with the two out of three, as well.”
Orioles GM Dan Duquette would rather see two out of three, so fans from both sides could have at least one home game.
“The current sudden death is high drama for media distribution, which drives ratings and interest, but the playoffs for the clubs really means getting a home game for fans, so two out of three allows it and it’s better for the clubs,” Duquette said.
One of last year’s wild-card games was indeed dramatic. Oakland couldn’t hold a 7-3 lead in the eighth, and Kansas City won, 9-8, in a game that certainly made a strong case for keeping things the way they are.
The Royals went on to lose to the Giants in the World Series. Of course, A’s fans would have loved to have a best-of-three format last year.
The most important opinion belongs to commissioner Rob Manfred, and he likes the one game just fine. He’s probably asked over and over about best-of-three, but why fix what’s not broken? There will always be fan bases that call it unfair.
But there should be interesting dialogue when Manfred and union executive director Tony Clark get together to discuss the collective bargaining agreement soon.
Making the wild-card teams play best-of-three would certainly create scheduling issues and indeed make division winners wait and in a sense mess with their momentum. We’ll see if any minds are changed after this year’s wild-card games.
LEADERS IN THEIR FIELD
Making tough calls on awards
With the regular season about over, time to dish out some awards:
National League MVP
1. Bryce Harper (Nationals)
2. Zack Greinke (Dodgers)
3. Yoenis Cespedes (Mets)
Harper didn’t lead his team to the playoffs, but he was most valuable as judged by his 9.9 WAR, easily the best in baseball. Greinke pitched huge games for the Dodgers in their divisional hunt and led the majors in ERA. Cespedes did a phenomenal job sparking the Mets’ offense.
American League MVP
1. Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays)
2. Mike Trout (Angels)
3. Jose Bautista (Blue Jays)
Donaldson set the tone on this team from Day 1, and he didn’t let up. Phenomenal offensive season. Trout continued his great career path, while Bautista was able to stay healthy and contribute important production all season.
National League Cy Young
1. Zack Greinke (Dodgers)
2. Jake Arrieta (Cubs)
3. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers)
A tough call, but Greinke was stellar virtually every time out. Arrieta won 21 games, which makes it tough not to choose him, because for this reporter wins do matter. Kershaw was third on the list, but another incredible season, just a little off Greinke’s.
American League Cy Young
1. David Price (Blue Jays)
2. Dallas Keuchel (Astros)
3. Sonny Gray (A’s)
Another tight race, but Price seemed to buoy the Jays after they obtained him. Keuchel also has been very steady. Gray was outstanding but not under pressure, and he got the benefit of a pitchers’ ballpark.
National League Rookie of the Year
1. Kris Bryant (Cubs)
2. Matt Duffy (Giants)
3. Jung Ho Kang (Pirates)
Bryant’s 26 homers and 99 RBIs after his call-up April 17 were phenomenal. Duffy was steady at third base after the Giants failed to re-sign Pablo Sandoval saving almost $100 million. Kang came over from Korea and while he didn’t hit 40-plus homers as he had in his native land, he shored up the left side of Pittsburgh’s infield and was an impact offensive player.
American League Rookie of the Year
1. Francisco Lindor (Indians)
2. Carlos Correa (Astros)
3. Miguel Sano (Twins)
Flip a coin on Lindor and Correa. Correa flashed more power with 21 homers, 63 RBIs, and an .847 OPS, but Lindor did it at the plate (.319, 12 homers, 51 RBIs, .848 OPS) and in the field. Sano posted a .928 OPS (in 269 at-bats) and we can expect him to become a premier power hitter.
National League Manager of the Year
1. Joe Maddon (Cubs)
2. Terry Collins (Mets)
3. Clint Hurdle (Pirates)
Maddon pulled together a young team and got it to 96 wins. Collins stopped a sinking ship, but the front office came through at the trading deadline. Hurdle was steady.
American League Manager of the Year
1. John Gibbons (Blue Jays)
2. Jeff Banister (Rangers)
3. A.J. Hinch (Astros)
Gibbons had the guns, but he prevented the usual Toronto fold. Banister led the Rangers out of the blue to win the West, and Hinch brought a team that seemed to be a year away into playoff contention.
Apropos of nothing
1. Ruben Amaro Jr. a manager? Bob Lamonte, the premier agent for NFL coaches and executives, has taken on a new baseball assignment — remaking the former Phillies GM. Lamonte, who has remade the careers of NFL coaches such as John Fox, Andy Reid, and Jack Del Rio, and transformed Jon Gruden from NFL coach to ESPN star, is now working with the 50-year-old Amaro and trying to sell him as a GM or manager. Amaro, who spent most of his eight seasons with the Phillies as their GM, would like to manage, and with the Marlins breaking that barrier with Dan Jennings stepping down from the front office to the dugout this season, Amaro, a Stanford graduate, appears serious about the challenge. Amaro, a former utility player for four major league teams, could appeal to a team such as Miami, which may be looking for a connection with Latin players. Lamonte is close to Tony La Russa, Walt Jocketty, and Pat Gillick, who all have endorsed Amaro pursuing a managing job.
2. Two people the Nationals can’t bring back — Jonathan Papelbon and Matt Williams. Papelbon because of his choke hold on Bryce Harper in the dugout after Papelbon called him out for not running out a popup, and Williams for season-long missteps and losing the Nationals’ clubhouse.
3. The Red Sox had an offer on the table for Xander Bogaerts from the Nationals at last year’s winter meetings, according to a major league source. The Nationals would have dealt righthander Jordan Zimmermann and given the Sox a choice of another player. Ian Desmond was mentioned. The Red Sox turned it down. It appears Zimmermann could be one of the Red Sox’ top targets in free agency.
4. The Cubs have the hitters and the Mets the pitchers. Don’t be shocked if there’s a deal between these teams this offseason. Theo Epstein is likely not parting with Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, or Kyle Schwarber, but don’t be surprised to see his other young hitters involved in a play for Matt Harvey or Noah Syndergaard. Jorge Soler could surely emerge as a top slugger. Shortstop Starlin Castro is also a possible grab, as are some of the Cubs’ hitting prospects in the minors.
5. Loved it when Dustin Pedroia told Mookie Betts in the dugout that if the young guys want to win a World Series “you have to be able to hit guys like this.” That’s right before Betts slammed a home run against Yankees superstar reliever Dellin Betances. That’s why you have guys like Pedroia around. A true leader.
Updates on nine
1. Torey Lovullo, interim manager, Red Sox — As we pointed out this past week, Lovullo is a strong possibility in San Diego as president/CEO Mike Dee has strong ties with the Red Sox. It appears the Padres will move on from their interim manager, Pat Murphy. Lovullo also fits in Seattle, where new GM Jerry Dipoto had some exposure to Lovullo from his brief employment with the Sox and may view Lloyd McClendon as someone who doesn’t embrace analytics.
2. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Padres — If the Padres make him available, the Red Sox could be suitors. It was new Sox senior VP of baseball operations Frank Wren who was the Braves’ GM when Kimbrel was at his best in Atlanta. Wren and his staff did an excellent job developing him into a top closer.
3. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers — Another great season for the three-time NL Cy Young winner and one-time MVP. Now comes the hard part, the postseason, in which he’s 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA. Will it be different for the Dodgers ace this time? “It’s almost unexplainable,” said one team insider. “One of these years, and this could be the one, he’s going to put it all together in the postseason and perform like he did in the regular season. This is a lot like Roger Clemens, who couldn’t get it done in the playoffs early in his career and then he figured it out. He was too overhyped. Clayton just needs to calm down and be himself.”
4. Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles — We keep hearing that manager Buck Showalter will make a strong case to owner Peter Angelos to make an effort to re-sign Davis. Davis is essential to allowing the Orioles to be able to compete somewhat with the Blue Jays’ lineup. Losing Davis after losing Nelson Cruz would be a huge blow to the Orioles’ offense. Agent Scott Boras also thinks there’s a chance the Orioles will step up given their resources.
5. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Red Sox — The feeling by some executives and scouts is that the Red Sox might be able to unload both Hanley Ramirez and Sandoval if they are willing to eat some money. Being a third baseman, Sandoval has value even after his worst professional season.
6. J.D. Martinez, OF, Tigers — It’s unlikely the Tigers would move Martinez after a 40-home run season, but if they’re looking for a deal for a pitcher there might be some interesting takers. Would the Mets, for instance, trade one of their young arms for him? The Mets are likely not going to keep Yoenis Cespedes, especially if he’s truly demanding a six-year deal, which seems risky for a guy whose effort level isn’t always high. Martinez was Dave Dombrowski’s big find after the Astros put him on waivers.
7. Chris Colabello, 1B/OF, Blue Jays — One of the best stories in baseball. The journeyman emerged and became GM Alex Anthopoulos’s big discovery when he picked him up off waivers from the Twins. Colabello fit right into a platoon with Justin Smoak at first base and played some outfield, as well. In an already potent lineup, the Milford native hit .319 with 14 homers and 53 RBIs.
8. Rich Gedman, hitting coach, Pawtucket Red Sox — Gedman has drawn rave reviews as a hitting instructor and could be in demand for a major league job in the offseason, according to one scout who believes the Red Sox will lose him if they don’t put him on the major league staff.
9. Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Red Sox — The Royals have been interested in Bradley for a couple of years. With the possibility of losing Alex Gordon, who has a $12.5 million player option for 2016, they view Bradley as a possible replacement. The Red Sox would have to be blown away to make a deal.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Francisco Cervelli is baseball’s top hitter from the seventh inning on, hitting .367. He’s followed by Adam Eaton (.341) and Xander Bogaerts (.339). The Pirates are baseball’s top-hitting team from the seventh inning on, hitting .264; the Royals lead the AL in hitting, .258.” . . . Happy birthday, Billy Hatcher (55).