Although baseball will soon return to our lives, it is important to remember that the union and players league did not really come to a new agreement. There were negotiations, votes were taken, talks were interrupted, and finally the owners unilaterally implemented a 60-game season based on the Agreement from the previous March … the same agreement that both sides were working to amend.
The implications of this way forward extend far beyond the abbreviated 2020 season, but in the short term there is still a significant immediate impact. For example, while certain aspects of the previous negotiations reached the 2020 plans (universal DH, extended lists, etc.), other aspects were added thereafter (the new extra entry rules).
But some proposed changes, including the ones we all expected, have been completely omitted. For example, an extended postseason.
In the absence of an amended league-union agreement, the expanded 14- or 16-team postseason field could revert to the usual 10-team format (three division winners and two wildcards per league). But while that may simplify some logistics and provide a more family-friendly experience for fans, it certainly leaves some money on the table for both parties.
And that’s why the concept is not yet dead.
In an interview with the Associated Press, union leader Tony Clark indicated that he would be willing to discuss and negotiate the terms of an extended postseason, should MLB attempt to make another proposal on the matter, as expected: “I would simply say that if there is Interest in discussing something, I will be available to discuss it, ”Clark said.
Clark’s words may seem to imply a lack of enthusiasm, but his will is all we really needed to hear. After all, there’s likely to be a significant amount of money at stake here, even without fans in the stands this season. And that consideration includes the players, whose only share of the postseason money comes as a percentage of playoff gate revenue … a figure that could be close to or literally zero this season (it was $ 80.9 million in 2019).
Seeing that the league was literally ready to blow up negotiations over the possibility of missing the playoffs (they were adamant that the regular season should end on September 27, so that the entire postseason can fit in October, mitigating the risk of a second – wave shutdown and ensuring that all TV contracts can run as planned), you can imagine that significant dollars are still available to them. And with even more games and more markets at stake, that TV figure could be even sweeter than usual.
That brings us to the next step: how is this really done?
Well, the league would have to make a proposal to the union first and that will necessarily have to bring some significant benefits to the players, although they are not difficult to imagine. With just 60 games scheduled for this season, players will earn just 37% of their expected salaries for 2020. So any additional MLB postseason bucks could go a long way.
But the obvious and immediate question is … Why would we expect the parties to agree something, given the way things went? In other words, what has changed?
Well, perhaps without the added pressure of a broader deal, an individual decision (extended playoffs) will be easier to resolve. And with some other variables to adjust outside of money (14 teams or 16 teams? Only 2020 or 2021 too?) could be able to make something happen
Remember, even before the pandemic, credible rumors emerged that the league was eager to expand the postseason to 14 teams, three division winners, and four wildcards in each league, as early as 2022 (the first year under a new CBA) . So maybe there is already some momentum going in this direction. I still have questions about how / when the additional games would be added, we are already running a tight race and the threat of the second wave persists, but then again, there is potentially significant money up for grabs here, and that’s generally pretty good motivation.
And all of that is completely ignoring the fact that a broader playoff field might be welcomed by fans and players * this year * given the unusually shortened season. Obviously this is baseball and anything can happen in small series. But the inclusion of more teams after a shortened season, goodbye first-round for the best teams, and more opportunities / games for the field should help the best teams reach the top.
Now we hope to see (if) what the league proposes.