When Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union were negotiating over the 2020 season, both sides showed interest in expanding the playoffs. Now, players and owners are engaging in last-minute negotiations over ballooning the postseason for the shortened campaign.
ESPN’s Buster Olney and Jon Heyman of the MLB Network are among those reporting on the negotiations. If MLB can reach an agreement, the playoffs would likely expand from 10 teams to 16.
Division Winners Could Choose Playoff Opponents
Any such agreement faces one major hurdle: the start of the regular season. Any deal will need to be completed before the first pitch of the Opening Night game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees, which is scheduled to start at 7:08 pm Eastern on Thursday night. Marly Rivera of ESPN reported Thursday afternoon that players agreed to the idea, though owners still have to ratify the agreement.
The union has approved the agreement discussed with MLB for expanded playoffs, only for the 2020 postseason; that agreement is now subject only to ratification by the owners, sources tell ESPN. https://t.co/HFmaEQ8Npk
— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) July 23, 2020
A 16-team playoff might include other quirks. Eight teams would make the postseason in each league: the three division winners along with five wild-card teams. Under the proposed format, the division winners would take the No. 1 through No. 3 seeds, and would get the right to choose their first-round opponents on a televised selection show.
As part of the 16-team expanded playoff proposal, the No. 1, 2, 3 seeds in each league— the Division winners— would pick their opponents among the other 5 teams, with a selection show.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 23, 2020
Such changes would likely infuriate baseball purists, many of whom already see a shortened season as questionably legitimate. But players and owners alike would welcome the added revenue that would come with an expanded playoff format.
There are dangers to that approach, however. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred resisted longer schedules – which players favored – based on the fear that the COVID-19 pandemic could peak again in the fall. Whether or not that would actually stop the MLB season is questionable, though: the league is going forward with its season, despite the fact that the volume of new coronavirus cases is at an all-time high in the United States.
The players’ union must approve any playoff expansion plan. It’s unclear what the league may have offered in order to secure that approval. One possibility could see owners give players a larger share of the new playoff revenue.
Expanded Playoffs Would Blow Open World Series Race
If MLB expands the playoffs for 2020, the move could significantly impact multiple futures markets. All teams would see their odds of making the postseason improve, with the top teams gaining even more security against the variance inherent in a 60-game season.
A 16-team playoff would throw the World Series race wide open. Teams would need to win four short series in a row, far from a certainty for even the most dominant squads. Meanwhile, numerous middle-of-the-pack clubs would suddenly become legitimate playoff contenders with a realistic – if still unlikely – path to a championship.
Heading into Opening Night, FanDuel Sportsbook lists the Los Angeles Dodgers as the +380 favorite to win the World Series, ahead of the New York Yankees (+400) and the Houston Astros (+800).