I have wondered about this. Unlike my other articles this is going to be less analytical so don’t be mad at me and maybe discuss in the comments. There is a lot of talk about why middle ground teams are not investing to get better.
Now, of course, competitive baseball is better but we also can’t expect teams to fight a futile fight. We do now have better projections, aging curves and other stuff and we can’t teams to just act like this didn’t exist. Winning should be the goal but throwing away the future doesn’t make sense either.
In theory, the second Wild Card is another playoff spot but in reality, it is really only half a playoff spot. There is value in the Wild Card but teams are not really attacking it preseason, they will wait and see and then maybe make a small deadline move. It really isn’t worth to throw away the future for a 30% or so https://www.fangraphs.com/community/the-pirates-and-the-value-of-being-around-500/ chance of reaching a coinflip game if you are a .500 team.
The second Wild Card has mostly hurt the first Wild Card team and it has increased the incentive to be a super team especially in a weak division. IMO, being a super team is too big of an advantage because there is also less risk to being in being kicked out by a weakened Wild Card team that has used its ace in a one-game playoff. And at the same time there is too little reward for being the fourth best team.
That means teams either try to tank to become a super team or they try to stay a boring .500 team doing not much hoping to occasionally luck into a Wild Card like the pirates might want to do now.
We can’t just force teams to spend money foolishly, if we want teams to spend more and try to be competitive we need to actually increase the incentive to win as a non super teams and maybe also punish the super teams with a little more variance.
Now of course not anyone wants that. Some like the best team to win and baseball already has some of the more luck influenced playoffs but if you want teams to compete you need to change the rules.
One possibility would be doing away with the second Wild Card so that being the Wild Card really guarantees a playoff spot. Another thing you could do is doing away with the divisions and make it top 4 per league directly to the playoffs or maybe even use NBA-style 16 team playoffs (although that would be too much variance for me).
IMO we shouldn’t talk so much about punishing bad teams but about making good not great more lucrative. Currently, 2/3rd of each league just have little inventive to be buyers because the super teams have too much of an edge and the second Wild Card might have increased that division.
The second Wild Card was a good idea but teams have really voted with their feet and decided the second Wild Card is not a full playoff spot and thus not worth chasing with a lot of resources.