Last week, we covered the numbers that are one of the MLB Players Association’s top priorities when discussing collective bargaining: changes to the service time structure. Today we’re going to take a look at what is expected to be one of the biggest issues for Major League Baseball: the potential expansion of the playoffs.
Extended playoffs have seemed to be a key issue for the league for some time, as MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explained. in January with labor adviser Eugene Freedman. More playoff teams just means more games for MLB to offer to TV partners – deals that have been proven successful extremely
profitable for the league in recent years. Under past collective agreements, television revenue from the playoffs has gone exclusively to the league. Creating additional towers to sell to Fox, Turner, or any other broadcast partner would be another boon to the league and its owners.
The League and the Players Association have already agreed to an extension of the playoffs, rising to 16 teams in the truncated 2020 season. It was a one-time deal, but Commissioner Rob Manfred has publicly said expressed support for a permanent extension of the playoffs last year. Manfred has already pitched 14 teams as the league’s ideal number, and ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported Last week, the MLB offered a 14-team playoff format in its first collective bargaining proposals.
According to Rogers, the MLB proposal would contain seven playoff teams from each of the US and National leagues. In addition to the three division winners, each league would include four wild-card clubs. The team with the best record in each league would receive a pass in the first round, while the remaining six teams from each league would participate in a three-game wildcard streak.
According to the MLB vision, the two division winners from each league who do not receive the exemption would choose their opponents from the wild-card series. The winner of the division with the second best record would choose his opponent from the last three wild clubs; the remaining division winner would have his choice among the last two wild-card teams still available; the other wild card winners would compete against each other. The top-ranked team in each league would host all three games of the opening series.
While the potential expansion of the playoffs seems like an obvious advantage for MLB, its effects on players could be more mixed. The introduction of a playoff round would have a direct financial benefit for some players. Under previous collective agreements, players on playoff teams received varying portions (depending on team arrival) of Gates income in October. More playoff games would mean more box office revenue, which would benefit some players every year.
That alone doesn’t seem like enough to convince players to wholeheartedly embrace playoff expansion. On the one hand, the league’s interest in bigger playoffs is greater than that of the MLBPA, giving the union a powerful bargaining chip to possibly secure concessions on other issues (v. And the MLBPA is undoubtedly concerned about the potential indirect effects of the expansion of the playoffs on team spending habits.
A bigger playoff field inherently means a greater opportunity for each team to advance to the playoffs. With increased chances, complacency might come. A club with an already strong roster might not be as motivated to improve under a 14-team pitch as they would be under the current system, feeling they are already comfortable with their current odds. The removal of wild card play reduces the incentive for teams to win their divisions, as both division winners and wild clubs would end up in a three-game first-round streak (although the potential forfeit for the lead of series would increase the incentive for clubs to pursue the league’s best record).
This is especially true in MLB, a league with a relatively high level of variance in small samples. The MLB playoffs are less predictable than they are in leagues such as the NBA and NFL, a trend reinforced in 2021 when the playoff team with the worst regular season record (the Braves) won the World Series. Based on this high level of playoff volatility, many teams might just make the playoffs – even as a lower seed – and just hope for a hot streak once there. Lowering the bar on entry could allow organizations with already sizable membership in the big leagues to be less active in free agency, an obvious concern for the players’ union.
This possibility could be offset by an increased desire to improve among mid-level clubs. After all, this small sample of volatility gives teams with even average or slightly above average squads the chance to make it into a long playoff streak. Going from, say, a list of 76 wins to a list of 84 wins would have a lot more impact under this vision than under the current system.
Still, the MLBPA apparently had reservations about the competitive incentives that come with the potential expansion of the playoffs. This is reflected in his counterproposal, like Rogers reported that the union’s most recent offer involves a 12-team playoff, not the 14 clubs the MLB wants. Details of the MLBPA offer are unclear, although Rogers noted that the proposal involved a significant restructuring that would see each league changed from the current configuration of three divisions to two divisions each (one containing eight clubs, one with seven).
With MLBPA already open to a 12-team playoff, it would be a surprise if the next CBA didn’t involve some form of expansion. Maintaining the 10-team status quo seems unlikely, as MLB would likely prefer a 12-team setup to the current system, even if MLBPA does not go for a 14-team tournament. Opening up unions to playoff expansion could go a long way in securing more favorable results in other areas that MLBPA deems more urgent.
When it comes to fans, the expansion of the playoffs seems to be largely a matter of aesthetic preference. Some would naturally recoil at the idea, which would likely result in a new mark for worst regular season record for a World Series champion (currently held by the 2006 83-78 Cardinals). MLB has traditionally had a smaller post-season pitch than other major leagues, a point of great appeal to some fans. On the other hand, some viewers are likely to savor a larger field. A greater opportunity to reach the playoffs means more teams stay in the game. This is likely to keep more fans invested in August and September of each season, which will be a hallmark for many observers.