The New York Post is reporting that Major League Baseball is considering major changes to its postseason structure that could take effect as early as 2022, including an expansion from five to seven teams in each league.
Currently, MLB’s post season structure consists of five teams in both the American League and the National League, including three division winners and two wild card teams that face each other in a one-game wild-card round. As it plots for the future, MLB is considering a major shakeup to its playoffs that would add two additional wild card teams in the AL and NL, allow the team with the top overall record in each league to have a first-round bye, and include a component that allows certain postseason qualifiers to pick their first-round opponents.
In that structure, the two division winners competing in the wild-card round would each choose an opponent among the bottom three wild card teams, with the unpicked club facing the wild-card team with the best record. The selection process would start with the division winner with the second-best record, and the top three teams–the two division winners, and the wild-card team with the best record–would host the entirety of a best-of-three first round series at their home ballpark. Additionally, this concept would eliminate the traditional game 163 tiebreaker, with any ties between teams in the regular-season being settled by which club won the head-to-head season series.
This concept should be considered preliminary at this stage, and would not be implemented until at least 2022–when the yet-to-be negotiated collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between MLB and the Players Union would take effect after the current deal expires in 2021. With several major television contracts also expiring after the 2021 season, the potential postseason format could also yield additional programming options, including live TV selection of postseason opponents that resembles the NCAA’s selection show. More from the New York Post:
The plan is to have this all play out on a show on the Sunday night the regular season ends and have representatives picking teams on live TV — think the NCAA selection show, but just with the teams making the selections. The rights to that show is part of the enticement to potential TV partners.
Fox’s new deal with MLB to remain exclusive broadcaster of the World Series, two Division Series and a League Championship Series runs through 2028. But MLB’s deals with ESPN and Turner run through 2021. So MLB can time expanded playoffs as a lure for new deals with one of those networks — remember that ESPN can offer network television with ABC as well — both networks or neither at a time when streaming powerhouses such as Amazon, DAZN, etc. could also enter bidding.
This satisfies what the networks want, which is 1) postseason inventory and 2) as many clinching scenarios as possible. There would be six best-of-three series. Game 1 would be playoff inventory, Game 2 would be a clinch scenario for one team and if there were a Game 3, it would be sudden death for both clubs. The three winners in the round would join the No. 1 overall seed in the Division Series. In addition, many team officials had complained since the onset of the wild-card sudden death in 2012 that no team should be eliminated in one game. So this system would at least give a chance to a team to rebound from one poor performance.
Any change in playoff format must be collectively bargained with the union; the CBA — like the TV deals with ESPN and Turner — expires after next season. In theory, though, additional playoff teams should provide elements that the union has been wanting. More playoff openings would motivate more teams to try, which should mean less tanking.
Unsurprisingly, reaction to this concept has been swift, and not all of it has been favorable. Outspoken Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer has emerged as an opponent of the idea, expressing his frustrations in a tweet directed at MLB commissioner Rob Manfred:
No idea who made this new playoff format proposal, but Rob is responsible for releasing it, so I’ll direct this to you, Rob Manfred. Your proposal is absurd for too many reasons to type on twitter and proves you have absolutely no clue about baseball. You’re a joke.
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) February 11, 2020
It is worth noting that Players Union executive director Tony Clark sounds at least open to the idea of putting potential postseason realignment on the table as part of broader discussions with MLB. In comments to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, Clark stated “Expanding the playoffs in a sensible way is something worth discussing when part of a much more comprehensive conversation about the current state of our game.”
MLB and the Union will have plenty to sort out in their negotiations over the next CBA, and whether that produces some type of changes to the postseason structure remains to be seen. The current playoff system took effect in 2012, the first year it was expanded to include a second wild-card team in each league.