When Major League Baseball expanded its playoff format to 16 teams and made the designated hitter universal across both leagues, many observers thought these changes were here to stay, at least in some form. But the MLB Players Association has rejected a proposal to keep a universal DH in exchange for expanded playoffs, according to multiple media reports.
MLB officials attempted to trade the universal DH, something that many players see as a job-creating benefit, in exchange for some form of expanded postseason format.
Expanded MLB Playoffs Mean More Money for Owners
Under the last collective bargaining agreement, five teams make the playoffs from each league. In the shortened 2020 season, eight teams qualified in each league instead: the top two finishers in each division, as well as two additional wild-card teams.
MLB offered a universal DH if the union agreed to expanded playoffs. Union rebuffed the deal, which included extra money for players, so at least for now there will be no universal DH.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 25, 2021
While details of the expanded playoff format proposal aren’t available, it’s likely that the league pushed for a 14-team format. That would be enough to create an extra round of playoffs, with only the top seed in each league earning a first-round bye – essentially the system the NFL implemented this season. The New York Post reported that MLB was closing in on a deal to sell the rights to an additional round of playoffs to ESPN in December.
More playoff games mean more money, but that primarily benefits owners rather than players. Getting through the postseason was one of the primary goals in the 2020 MLB season, where the league believed it would lose significant money on every regular-season game played, but could cash in on playoff television revenue. That led to a 60-game season that allowed the World Series to end by late October, in time to avoid the major COVID-19 surge throughout the United States this winter.
Labor Negotiations Loom Before 2022 Season
Should MLB use its standard 10-team playoff system this year, along with a full 162-game season, that will benefit the league’s top teams, like the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. While last year’s free-for-all gave many teams a shot at making a playoff run, a return to a marathon should allow the cream to rise to the top.
DraftKings Sportsbook rates the Dodgers (+450) as the preseason favorites to win the 2021 World Series, ahead of the Yankees (+550), San Diego Padres (+800), and Chicago White Sox (+950).
Disputes over the postseason format and the DH could portend trouble in upcoming labor negotiations. The MLB collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1. Players and owners will need to reach an agreement in order to stage the 2022 season, though the risk of financial disaster following two seasons impacted by COVID-19 could spur negotiations between the two sides.