Last month, when the New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported on the league’s exploration of an expanded playoff format, all indications were that the goal was for a 2022 implementation, should an agreement be reached with the MLBPA. Now, however, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that the league is at least considering a shift to a 14-team format in 2020, although he adds that “nothing [is] close to final” on this front. Increased revenue has always surely the primary goal of the proposition, but the shortened 2020 season has unsurprisingly heightened concerns about revenue.
The previously reported iteration of playoff expansion included first-round byes for the top team in each league, a televised event wherein the top teams that do not receive byes select their first-round opponents, and three-game series in the first round of play (as opposed to the current winner-take-all Wild Card games). Adopting that format — or some similarly structured permutation — this season would serve as a litmus test for the viability of that structure moving forward.
In theory, the playoff expansion would prove beneficial for clubs that were non-contenders in 2019 but invested heavily over the winter in an effort to return to the postseason hunt. The White Sox, Rangers, Angels, Diamondbacks and Reds, for instance, all improved considerably over the winter (and, in the Reds’ case, dating back to the 2019 trade deadline). None of that bunch has been regarded as a division favorite, but the addition of two new playoff slots in each league greatly improves their odds of capitalizing on those investments.
As with virtually everything pertaining to baseball at the moment, the potential implementation of an expanded postseason is far from a certainty. But with the two sides at least bracing for the possibility of playing games in empty stadiums (per Heyman), the revenue increase would become more crucial to owners and players alike. It seems inevitable that decreased revenues in 2020 will impact the extent to which clubs are willing to spend in free agency next winter, and recouping some of those dollars could help future market value to align more closely with what we saw in the 2019-20 offseason.
There’s no guarantee that an expanded playoff structure in 2020 would carry over into future seasons, but considering that it was already an agenda item for the league, it stands to reason that a 2020 rollout could have a lasting effect.