There has been no recent movement in talks between MLB and the MLB Players Association regarding the potential implementation of an expanded postseason or the universal designated hitter for the 2021 season, reports Evan Drellich of the Athletic. There are no current plans to revisit those talks, per Drellich, who characterizes playoff expansion and the National League DH as “dead issues” for next season.
Last summer, MLB and the MLBPA agreed to an expanded 16-team playoff format for 2020 just hours before the beginning of the regular season, with the players receiving $50MM of postseason television revenues. In a typical postseason, players receive a share of gate revenue. While Drellich cautions that another last-minute accord can “never be totally ruled out,” tonight’s report is the firmest indication yet that the broad season structure is set to revert to its pre-2020 status. (The two sides did agree on health and safety protocols last month, so the seven-inning doubleheaders and modified extra innings rules will return).
The universal DH was included as part of the health and safety protocols last season, but that was not the case this time around. Throughout the offseason, MLB tried to leverage the players’ interest in the NL DH as part of a new agreement on economic issues, particularly playoff expansion. The MLBPA has consistently rejected such a framework, fearing that lowering the bar to make the playoffs will reduce teams’ incentives to invest in their rosters.
Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported in January that MLB had offered players an $80MM pool in playoff revenues if they signed off on postseason expansion. That would’ve marked a rather significant increase over last season’s $50MM figure, but the players didn’t feel that represented much of an improvement on the status quo. As Drellich points out, the MLBPA has more reason to be optimistic about the possibility of brining in gate revenues this postseason. With distribution of COVID-19 vaccines expected to increase substantially in the next few months, the possibility of fan attendance at playoff games looks much more realistic in 2021 than it did last season.
It’s worth remembering the MLBPA is under no obligation to negotiate any changes to the playoff format. In the absence of a new accord, the 2016-2021 collective bargaining agreement remains in place to govern the season structure.
Without coming to terms on playoff expansion, however, it seems MLB is unwilling to agree to the implementation of the universal DH. Some in the league office believe the addition of the DH at this late a date would threaten competitive integrity, per Drellich, since National League teams would have little ability to acquire help at the position at this point. There’s some truth to that, but it’s nevertheless a strange argument in the wake of a 2020 season that saw MLB and the MLBPA frequently agree on significant structural changes (including the implementation of the NL DH) on the fly.
Even if this does mark the end of discussions about playoff expansion and the universal DH for 2021, the topics are sure to arise again in the near future. They’ll no doubt be key issues as the parties negotiate a new CBA after the current one expires December 1.