Major League Baseball is considering adding two more wild-card positions in each league, a move that would expand the playoffs to allow in a total of 14 teams each postseason.
Multiple media outlets reported that these changes could go into effect as soon as 2022, if MLB officials decide to go forward with the new format.
Teams Would Choose First-Round Opponents
According to sources, the new format would also scrap the one game wild-card playoff, replacing those winner-take-all matchups with a best-of-three series.
The top seed in each league would receive a first-round bye. The other two division winners and the top wild-card team would then have home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
In a dramatic twist, the top seeds in the first round would get to choose their wild-card opponents. The second-best division winner could pick any of the bottom three wild cards to face in the first round. The third division winner could select from the remaining two eligible opponents, while the top wild card would play whatever team was left.
While such a format isn’t without precedent in worldwide sports, it would certainly be unique among major North American competitions. It would also be played up for television, with a selection show revealing the first-round matchups, much like March Madness.
Playoff Proposal Sparks Outrage, Derision
The dramatic nature of the changes provoked confusion, outrage, and derision from some on Twitter, including ESPN’s Keith Olbermann, who tweeted “MLB, 1871-2020. #RIP.”
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) February 10, 2020
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer posted a message to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, saying that the proposal was “absurd for too many reasons to type on Twitter and proves you have absolutely no clue about baseball.”
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
Both the owners and the MLB Players Association would need to approve any changes to the postseason, almost certainly through a new collective bargaining agreement. While many seem to hate the idea of expanding the playoffs, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said players would at least be open to talking about it.
“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,” Clark said in a statement.
A History of MLB Postseason Changes
While the proposed changes are dramatic, Major League Baseball has gone through several postseason format changes over its more than a century in existence.
Beginning in 1903, the best regular season team from the National League played the best team in the American League in a single World Series. This was typically a best-of-seven affair, but the first World Series – as well as those between 1919 and 1921 – were best-of-nine.
The format remained unchanged until a second round of expansion brought both leagues up to 12 teams in 1969. That led MLB officials to split each league into Eastern and Western divisions. The division winners would play off in a League Championship Series to determine who represented each league in the World Series.
In 1994, both leagues moved to a three-division setup. Every division winner made the playoffs, as did the top non-division winner in each league, known as the wild-card team. In 2012, that format was expanded to let a second wild-card team in each league enter the playoffs. However, the two wild-card teams must now compete in a single-elimination game, providing a significant advantage for those teams that win their divisions.