Why expanded playoffs are likely coming to MLB and expert insight on how the change would happen

Last week, reports surfaced that Major League Baseball is considering playoff expansion with a drastic change in format (full story here). It involves three division winners and four wild cards from each league with a trio of three-game series in both leagues during the first, "wild-card" round. The team with the top record in each league gets a bye to the divisional round. 

I actually went back and looked at what the last five years might have looked like under this format. There were some areas of adding intrigue but it was watered down in some areas as well. 

With the possibility of October looking much different in the coming years, I caught up with David Samson of CBS Sports HQ for a Q & A how implementing this system might work on the business side. Samson was a member of MLB's competition committee while he was president of the Marlins

Samson noted there are "several" committees that would be involved with. the decision to expand the playoffs and every team owner would get a chance to comment on it before a change was made.

You can get more from Samson on his podcast Nothing Personal With David Samson. Subscribe here.

Q: So how would a proposal like this work its way through the committee?

A: "There are several committees that get involved when you're talking about expanding the playoffs. It's not just the competition committee, there's also the strategic planning committee. Frankly, this goes before the labor committee and the people negotiating the collective bargaining agreement, too. Before any of this happens, all 30 owners will get a chance to comment and give their views on it.

"What the committees do is they study what the ramifications would be of, let's say, going from 162 to 154 [regular season] games. They study what it would do to get the playoffs to add two or three extra wild card games or teams or extra days off during the season.

"Any possible thing that could happen, we're talking about in committee meetings, we're getting reports given to us by central baseball and then we decide, 'where can we get 23 votes?' Twenty-three is the number of owners you need to approve for the collective bargaining agreement; 23 teams is the number you need to approve a rule change.

"Any sort of change to baseball requires that 23 votes, so you canvass the owners, you talk to team presidents, GMs, you talk about changes that you think will be good for the game. Then it goes through a process, it gets adjusted, so what was announced as a playoffs proposal -- I'm not sure that was an official proposal to the union, I think it'll be part of collective bargaining as a complete puzzle. I think it will change its form over time as the agreement gets negotiated, so I'm not really commenting on the entire proposal as outlined.

"From a standpoint of expansion of playoffs, that's something that all 30 teams are in favor of in some manner, so getting more teams into the playoffs, that's the goal for every team is to win a ring and you can't win a ring if you're not in the playoffs."

Q: You noted every team would want more playoff spots. What about players? We've already seen a few speak out against this.

A: "Publicly, players are coming out against this. The reason why they are coming out against it, is that in collective bargaining, when the owners put forward an issue or a concept that they like, by definition the players reaction is negative because if they tell you they like something, they lose leverage at the negotiating table when they eventually give in and let that thing happen.

"Let's say the players want the minimum salary to be $1 million. The first thing that will come out at the table is that the owners will not budge on increasing the minimum salary. They won't budge. Whether you will or not, you say you won't. Then during the course of negotiation, you end up coming to a landing point on minimum salary and on expanded playoffs. And on team charters, off days, team chefs, all sorts of other things that are part of the collective bargaining puzzle.

"So it's very complicated when any side introduces any possible change to the status quo, the other side will immediately go public saying, 'no chance, we don't like it.'" 

Q: Can you get out your crystal ball and predict if we'll have expanded playoffs in the next few years?

A: "The crystal ball really is this: ESPN, CBS, NBC, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, FOX -- what do I think will be an incremental bid for the extra three-game series, of which one game in each series is by definition an elimination game? What will be the incremental bid for the playoffs? And if it's large enough -- which it will be -- there will be expanded playoffs.

"The reason we went with the one-and-done in the playoffs is it's what the networks wanted. It's like March Madness games or NFL playoff games, where it's one game, that's it. There's a winner and loser and we'll go on. People watch those games by definition. You'll watch a Game 7 more than a Game 3; it's fairly obvious why.

"It's the same thing in baseball, if you're doing an elimination wild card and you have multiple networks who are going to bid more money. I'd put my money on more elimination games. The question is, do they have to make it a longer series in order to get more votes from the players and the owners."

Q: One of the biggest complaints about the proposed format is how much it seems to be devaluing greatness in the marathon that is the regular season. Is there likely to be any discussion about less emphasis on regular season greatness?

A: "No. Not at all. You don't have teams that say, 'listen, after 162 games we're in the playoffs, we can't take the chance that we're gonna lose after one game in the playoffs.' OK, that's true, then win your division.

"On this new structure that I read, having division winners play one-and-done is a nonstarter. Having division winners play a three-game series as sort of an opener, I think that becomes more palatable because they are giving them maybe three gates instead of one gate.

"From a standpoint of home games, it is critical at this part of the proposal that it would be three home games for the better team. In a five-game LDS, the better team at most gets three games and by adding this series, you're giving that team the equivalent home games as though they'd been in the LDS."


I suppose it's been the way of the sports world for a while, with the dollar trumping many of the beliefs held by purists and that's probably the case here. The smart money is on the playoffs expanding in some shape or form. As Samson noted, there's some negotiating to be done, but we know this: When it comes to more or less playoff action, the league is in favor of more. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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