Over the weekend, Phillies Nation addressed the luxury tax, salary arbitration and jersey sponsorships as part of a short series examining the impact of collective bargaining issues on Phillies players, management and fans.
In part two, we’ll look at expanded postseason, the designated hitter and whether or not the regular season will start on time.
It seems more likely than not that expanded playoffs are coming in the next collective bargaining agreement. The players are offering a 12-team playoff format on the condition that other union proposals are agreed upon while the owners want 14 teams in the postseason.
According to The Athletic, there are two versions of the union’s playoff proposal. One has MLB moving to two divisions in each league to improve scheduling while the other keeps the current three division structure. In the two division proposal, the division winners get a first-round bye while the four wild card teams play a best-of-three series to see who advances to the divisional round. The three division proposal has the top two division winners getting a bye to the divisional round while the third division winner has a one-game advantage in a best-of-three wild card series. In both proposals, the union wants to expand the divisional round to seven games.
The league wants a 14-team playoff format with the top division winners in each league getting a bye. The other two division winners would pick their opponents from the bottom three wild card teams and play them in a best-of-three wild card round. The division winners and the top wild card team would have home field advantage in all three games, if necessary. The playoff format would remain the same after the wild card round.
In a column exploring the best possible way to implement expanded postseason, Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs noted that the current ZiPS projection has the Phillies with a 23.5% chance at making the playoffs with the current 10-team structure. With the 14-team playoff format proposed by the owners, ZiPS says the Phillies would have a 45.7% chance at making the postseason. When you include the fact that the Phillies are expected to add two starting outfielders and perhaps some more pitching once the lockout is over, the Phillies should have a solid chance at making the playoffs if they are expanded.
It’s no secret that the 2022 Phillies would benefit from the new format, but does that also mean expanded playoffs is good for Phillies fans? The Philly faithful is desperate to see their team play meaningful games in October, but would that disincentivize ownership from spending money to improve the team in free agency?
As noted last week, Phillies managing partner John Middleton went on record at the end of the 2019 season to say that he is unwilling to go over the luxury tax threshold to be a second wild-card team. If that holds true, then it would be tough to see the Phillies go over the tax to sneak in to a 14-team tournament. If they are good enough to be a fourth wild card team, but have a chance to either be a top wild card team or even a division winner with home field advantage, would it be worth it for the Phillies to go all-in on a deadline trade if the expanded postseason format offers few incentives for teams to aim for a higher seed?
If the proposed 14-team playoff format was in place last season, the Phillies would have been the final postseason team in on the National League side of the bracket. They would have traveled either to Milwaukee, Atlanta or Los Angeles for a best-of-three series at the opposing ballpark.
Does a team as inconsistent and flawed as the 2021 Phillies deserve to make the playoffs? Probably not. On the American League side, the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners, who both won at least 90 games, would have made the playoffs. It’s not all bad, but if the 14-team playoff format does come to fruition, let’s hope that the proper incentives are baked in. Szymborski suggested in his article that in the owners proposal, the sixth and seventh seeds should be required to sweep the three-game series to advance to the divisional round, which would be a good starting point.
According to multiple reports, MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to implement the universal DH in the next collective bargaining agreement. For those who love double switches and pitchers hitting, this is a bummer. Let it be known that Kyle Gibson was the last Phillies pitcher to ever hit a home run. Joe Blanton is also the last pitcher ever to hit a home run in the World Series.
The 2022 Phillies, like most teams, will use the DH to rotate lineup regulars. Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm and Didi Gregorius are all candidates to get a significant amount of at-bats at the DH spot. J.T. Realmuto will still need the occasional full day off, but the Phillies will give him some reps as a the designated hitter to keep his bat in the lineup.
You know your team has some issues on defense when nearly half the lineup is a candidate to be a full-time DH. While it did not work out that way when the Phillies had the DH at their disposal in 2020, they can use it as a way to optimize the defense.
Just before the lockout began, the Phillies inked former Braves utility infielder Johan Camargo to a one-year, $1.4 million deal. He can play every position on the field besides center field, catcher and pitcher and has a higher offensive ceiling than Ronald Torreyes, who served as the Phillies’ utility man in 2021. Camargo could spend a lot of time on the left side of the infield for the Phillies in 2022. He could split time with Gregorius at shortstop if the Phillies opt to keep top prospect Bryson Stott in Triple A to begin the season. Camargo could also play third base with Bohm or Hoskins serving as the DH on a given day. Matt Vierling could play a similar role for the Phillies in the outfield.
Will The Regular Season Start On Time?
The longer this lockout continues, the worse it is for all involved. Since the lockout began, the league ordered teams to cease communication with all players in the union. Injured players like Zach Eflin are unable to utilize team facilities to rehab. Young players like Bohm and prospects on the 40-man roster are left on their own to prepare for the upcoming season. The Phillies hitters could benefit greatly if new hitting coach Kevin Long was able to provide instruction for players in the offseason.
The owners could choose to lift the lockout, start spring training somewhat on time and continue negotiating at anytime, but that is unlikely to happen. The two sides would need to come together and agree to a deal by the end of February to ensure that the regular season starts on time. With both parties far apart and the owners stalling the process, it could seem like starting the season on time is a longshot.
The quarterly owners meetings began Tuesday in Orlando, Florida. Commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to address the media on Thursday. The last core economics proposal on either side came last Tuesday from the players association. The owners have yet to indicate when they will put forth their next proposal.
But as Evan Drellich of The Athletic noted, CBAs tend to come together at the very last minute. If games are lost, it’s likely to last weeks rather than months. Bob Nightengale of USA Today recently reported that the 2022 season must be at least 145 games long ” … without the owners losing money promised to their local TV rightsholders to make up for the lost games during the pandemic-shortened 60-game season in 2020.” Considering shares of national television revenues will increase by 30% next season, the owners will eventually get serious about negotiating in an attempt to make sure games are played.
In the meantime, the league risks alienating baseball’s most loyal fans if games are canceled. A delayed start to the regular season is not inevitable, but there are no guarantees that the Phillies will open their season in Houston against the Astros on March 31.
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