MLB expands playoffs to 16-team format for shortened 2020 season, per reports

MLB expands playoffs to 16-team format for shortened 2020 season, per reports
MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros

Major League Baseball will have 16 playoff teams in its 60-game 2020 season. ESPN’s Marly Rivera reported that the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) had approved of the plan for only the 2020 season earlier Thursday afternoon, and the New York Post’s Joel Sherman confirmed later in the evening that the owners had also ratified the proposal. The two sides restarted talks about a larger postseason earlier in the week and wanted to strike a deal before the 2020 season started Thursday night.

The league has not officially announced the new format, but here are some of the reported details:

  • All first-round games will be part of best-of-three series, reports The Athletic’s Jayson Stark. The games will also all be played at the home of the higher seeded-team, eliminating the need for a travel day.
  • The league and MLBPA agreed on a $50 million postseason bonus pool for players, per Evan Drellich of The Athletic. MLB had previously offered $25 million in negotiations last month.
  • All eight second-place teams (every division) will qualify for the 16-team playoff format, per ESPN’s Buster Olney. The seventh and eighth teams will be chosen by the best record among other teams. Teams will be seeded one through eight based on the 2020 season record.

MLB was originally set to enter the season using its normal playoff structure, which has been in place since 2012 and features 10 playoff teams — six division champions and two wild card entrants per league. That postseason format consists of two wild card games, the LDS round, the LCS round, and the World Series. 

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Negotiations between players and owners have been the story for much of the shutdown. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shut down spring training in March and pushed back Opening Day roughly four full months. Players had been angling for a longer regular season, but thanks to the pandemic and the glacial pace of negotiations on the league’s side the 2020 season will span just 60 regular season games. Commissioner Rob Manfred, per the terms of a March 26 agreement on player salary, had the power to implement a regular season structure. 

One concern with 16-team playoffs is whether an autumn surge of the virus could interrupt the postseason. Since much of MLB’s national television revenues are tied to the playoffs, that’s a serious concern. Expanding the postseason deeper into the fall would necessarily increase the risk of a second shutdown before a champion was crowned. It’s possible the relative low rate of positive cases during reopened spring training has emboldened MLB and the players on this front. 

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