Since 2020 is already a season unlike any other in Major League Baseball history, it shouldn’t be a surprise that — just hours before the regular season began — owners and the players union agreed to make a huge change to the postseason structure.
The playoff field will expand from 10 to 16 teams, MLB and the MLBPA announced on Thursday.
An extra round of the playoffs is needed with so many teams. The first, “wild card” round will consist of best-of-3 wild card series, with all three games at the site of the higher seed.
In addition to three division winners in each league, each second-place team also makes the postseason, as well as the next two best records in both leagues.
Playoff teams in each league will be seeded, with division winners getting the top three seeds and second-place teams the next three.
Why is MLB expanding the playoffs? In one word: money.
An extra round of the postseason means more money from television deals from TBS and ESPN, who will exclusively broadcast first-round games. ESPN will televise seven wild card series, and TBS one.
It also means potentially extending the postseason a few days to a week. The wild card round will run from Tuesday, Sept. 29 through Friday, Oct. 2. The rest of the postseason schedule will be announced in a few weeks.
That extra money is enough to go potentially against what commissioner Rob Manfred said in June was the advice of the league’s medical experts. During the MLB Draft, Manfred told MLB Network, “It’s easy to say you can just push into November. Our medical experts are telling us we should be finishing earlier, not later, because of a risk of a second wave of the pandemic.”
But on Thursday on ESPN, Manfred said the added round would not affect the overall postseason schedule.
“We’re able to put the expanded round in with no travel,” Manfred said. We’ll still finish the season on September 27, and the World Series will finish on exactly the same schedule as originally planned. We won’t be playing into November this year.”
The players postseason pool is normally derived from a percentage of gate receipts from each playoff round, but with no fans in the stands this season, potentially through the playoffs, that would mean no money for postseason participants. Last year’s player postseason pool was $80.9 million, for instance.
That’s $25 million more than what owners offered to the players in June, when the two sides were negotiating over the start of the season. They were unable to reach an agreement, instead reverting back to the March agreement, which called for players to receive pro-rated salaries and for the league to implement a schedule.
The postseason changes are for this season only, and any further changes after 2020 would need to be negotiated.
It is odd that such a major change came just hours before the regular season started, but nothing in 2020 has been normal.
“The timing, it is what it is. I just think that getting us on the field was most important. So this was one of the last things that they kind of wanted to finish off,” Roberts said. “That doesn’t affect us until the postseason, so I’ll look more at it down the road. But, whatever the format, you’ve got to kind of abide.”