Covering the MLB and MLBPA negotiations to bring baseball back in 2020 was a particularly bumpy ride. In all of the focus on contentious salary negotiations one item that got a lot less coverage was the prospect of an expanded playoff format for 2020. When the salary negotiations ended with MLB imposing a 60-game season the prospect of those expanded playoffs seemed to end as well. This piece from the New York Times captures how the expanded playoffs were one of the victims of those negotiations:
For a while, it seemed as if this year’s postseason was destined to be like a preschooler’s birthday party, where everyone in the class gets invited. The last proposals by the players and the owners added three wild-card teams in each league, allowing more than half of all teams to take part.
Both sides agreed on that change, so why not implement it this October? Negotiating is the reason. The players believed that if Commissioner Rob Manfred was going to give them 60 games at full prorated salaries with or without an agreement, it would be foolish to give up a valuable bargaining chip by authorizing the lucrative expanded playoff package owners covet.
Or maybe not. A few days after the expanded playoffs seemed like a no-go for 2020, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark signaled the union was open to continuing discussions on the issue. It didn’t seem like those discussions were going anywhere until last night when Jon Heyman dropped this bomb:
Sources: MLB and union are re-engaging on the possibility of expanded playoffs for this season. Has to be done before first pitch 25 hours from now, but there seems to be optimism. Hope was to go from 10 playoff teams to 16.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 22, 2020
It seemed impossible that the two sides who couldn’t agree on anything for months would be able to come to terms with an expanded playoff structure in less than 24 hours, but ESPN’s Marly Rivera is reporting that the MLBPA has ratified the owners’ proposal for expanded playoffs:
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
This is moving fast but as a reminder the expanded playoff structure would add three wild card teams to both the AL and NL resulting in an eight team bracket in each league. Tom Verducci also indicated that the one game Wild Card Game is a thing of the past. He described the expanded playoff format on MLB Network’s MLB Now as follows: the one card Wild Card Game will be replaced with a best of three games series with all three games being played in the higher seeds’ home park. Bob Nightengale of USA Today describes the postseason as follows:
The new playoff format will feature a best-of-three series in the first round instead of a sudden-death wild-card game. The top two teams in each division will qualify for the postseason – with the two other best teams in each league filling out the 16-team pool.
The winners of the first round will advance to the best-of-five division series and traditional best of seven League Championship Series and World Series.
Nightengale also reports that the owners are expected to ratify the deal. As the Times piece indicated, there is a lot of TV money on the line for the owners. The players agreed to a $50 million player pool to ratify the deal:
The Major League Baseball postseason will be expanded from 10 teams to 16 teams in 2020 once the owners officially ratify the deal before Thursday night’s season-opener, according to three high-ranking officials with knowledge of the agreement.
The officials spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
MLB and the union agreed on the deal Thursday afternoon, guaranteeing a $50 million player pool.
We are awaiting complete details about how the three additional wild card teams and seeding will be determined although Buster Olney is reporting that all first and second place teams in each division will make the postseason with the final two spots being determined by record:
Interesting wrinkle in the 16-team playoff format: All second-place teams in the six divisions qualify. Then the 7th and 8th teams will be chosen by best record among other teams.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 23, 2020
The Cubs have generally been considered one of the teams on the cusp of making the traditional playoff format in 2020 with most projections systems showing them finishing second in a tight four-way race for the NL Central Division. Three extra spots and a guaranteed playoff spot for second place teams should boost their odds of making the postseason considerably. The greater likelihood that the Cubs will make the postseason will also surely impact their strategy at the trade deadline. It will be more difficult for Theo Epstein to break up the core that won the 2016 World Series if they are in contention at the August 31 trade deadline.