Baseball's New Playoff Format Has Killed The Trade Deadline

David Price

A month ago it looked as if Major League Baseball was heading toward an exciting trade deadline as some of baseball’s best teams started flocking toward the Tampa Bay Rays in hopes of landing David Price, one of baseball’s best pitchers.

But the Rays, who were 24-42 in mid-June, have gone 25-11 since then and suddenly look like a good candidate to make the playoffs. Now it looks more and more like the Rays will hold on to Price and the trade deadline will be a snoozefest with just role players and relievers changing teams.

The Rays can thank the expanded playoffs for still being a playoff contender despite being four games under .500 (49-53). Under the old single-wild card format, the Rays would be 7.5 games back in their division and 11.5 games out of the Wild Card race.

But with a second Wild Card, the Rays are just 4.5 games behind Yankees for the final playoff spot in the American League.

Since baseball went to a 6-division format, here are the wins for every playoff team if each season had been played with a second Wild Card team.

The key number here is 88 wins. Of the 180 playoff teams (real and hypothetical), only 16 had fewer than 88 wins, while 91.1% had 88 or more. So if the goal is just to make the playoffs, a team’s chances go up significantly if they can get to 88 wins.

The problem for baseball’s trade deadline is that means more teams still think they have a good shot to make the playoffs even if those chances are still somewhat unrealistic.

Of the 30 teams in baseball, there are still 23 that can reach the 88-win mark if they can suddenly get hot and play the remainder of their schedule like a 110-win team, not out of the realm possibilities for many teams over 60 games or so.

MLB playoffs

This doesn’t mean there won’t be any trades as some teams will be more realistic than others. But as long as more than two-thirds of the teams can still theoretically make the playoffs, the chances of teams willing to deal their stars becomes less, especially in an environment where prospects have become a more valuable commodity.

The flip-side is more teams in more playoff races and a more exciting September. But it does come at the cost of what used to be an exciting final week of July.

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