For the first time Major League Baseball history,. MLB and the MLBPA agreed to an expanded postseason format hours before Thursday night's first pitch on Opening Day. It will be eight teams per league (including each second-place team) in a bracket-style tournament -- similar to the NBA and NHL.
Of course, very little about MLB will look familiar this season. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the season to be shortened to 60 games, the National League will use the designated hitter for the first time ever, and a runner will be placed at second base in extra innings to speed things along. If MLB were ever going to experiment with a 16-team postseason field, this is the year to do it.
Expanding the postseason is a seismic change to the sport's competitive landscape. Which parties come ahead out with the new format? Who gets left behind? Here are our winners and losers of the new 16-team postseason field.
I am certain a segment of fans, possibly even a large one, does not like the expanded postseason, especially since it was seemingly slapped together at the 11th hour. I do think it's a good thing for baseball overall. More teams in the race equals more reasons for fans to pay attention and get excited late in the season, and more fans will see their team chase a World Series title. That's a good thing overall. In a year where so much is not going according to plan, a little sports-related hope helps. It's a good day, baseball enthusiasts. Chances are your team's chances of reaching October just got that much better.
Loser: Top teams
Teams will be seeded 1-8 and the first round will be a best-of-three series under the new postseason format. There is no real advantage to winning your division now, other than securing home-field advantage. You don't avoid a one-and-done Wild Card Game and you don't get to pick your opponent (that has been proposed in the past but is not part of the new format). The Wild Card Game created incentive to win the division. That's gone now. Winning the division has little value and that doesn't necessarily hurt the best teams, but it doesn't reward them either.
Winner: Bubble teams
All the teams that reside somewhere south of the superpowers but north of the rebuilders now have a much better chance to make the postseason. According to Sportsline projections, the Red Sox (33 projected wins), Cleveland (33), and Angels (31) would make the postseason under the 16-team format but not the 10-team format. In the National League, it would be the Braves, Brewers, and Reds, all of whom project for 32 wins. Basically any team in that 30-34 win range (maybe even the 28-34 win range) is the huge winner here. Their postseason odds jumped tremendously. And once you're in, it doesn't matter how many games you won during the regular season. Everyone starts at 0-0 in October. Just get into the postseason and you can win the World Series.
Winner: The players
Normally, postseason pool money given to players is generated entirely from gate revenue (tickets, etc.). Because fans are unlikely to be allowed into ballparks this season, it was entirely possible players were going to play the postseason for free. There will be no gate revenue to distribute. As part of the expanded postseason agreement, players will split a $50 million player pool, up from the $25 million MLB offered a few weeks ago. Now they'll be compensated for their postseason. Furthermore, the expanded postseason is for 2020 only. We'll be back at a normal 10-team postseason field next year, meaning the MLBPA can still use the expanded postseason as a bargaining chip during collective bargaining agreement talks next offseason.
Loser: Trade deadline enthusiasts
The Aug. 31 trade deadline was already going to be complicated this year. Teams will only have a month to evaluate their roster before making moves, and contenders will be wary of giving up prospects to acquire rentals when COVID-19 could force the season to be canceled at literally any moment. On top of that, more teams will be in the race now, and thus hesitant to sell pieces. I suppose the flip side of this is more teams in the race will equal more buyers -- there will still be more than a few bad teams out there willing to sell -- but clubs are so risk averse now that I think this might stall the market a bit. This makes an already complicated trade market even more complicated.
Winner: The owners
There's a reason MLB and the owners have been pushing for an expanded postseason format since long before the pandemic. It's an enormous moneymaker thanks to the national television contracts. MLB and the owners now have their expanded postseason format to help recoup revenue lost during the shutdown.