Major League Baseball and the players union agreed to several rule adjustments for the 2020 COVID-19 season, two of which commissioner Rob Manfred has an eye on keeping going forward.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Manfred reiterated his desire to bring back the expanded playoff field in 2021, echoing comments made in September, as well as starting extra innings with a runner on second base.
“People were wildly unenthusiastic about the changes,” Manfred told AP. “And then when they saw them in action, they were much more positive.”
MLB and the union agreed to expand the playoff field from 10 to 16 teams for this year only due to the unique circumstances brought on by COVID-19. Manfred said he doesn’t envision a 16-team field going forward, telling AP a field beyond 10 teams “would be a good change.”
For a league that plays every day for six months, this makes more sense than when he talked about this issue in September, sounding more like he wanted to bring back a full 16-team field in 2021.
A field of 12 teams, for example, would accomplish Manfred’s expansion goal, also protecting the best teams over a long season by giving the top two seeds in each league byes.
In a 16-team field, a 100-win team could be eliminated by a .500 or below team in the first round.
“I think we do have to be cognizant of making sure that we preserve the importance of our regular season,” Manfred said.
Having 12 teams would eliminate the do-or-die wild-card matchups and still provide an urgent first round, best-of-three format before the Division Series.
The bottom line is playoff expansion is a collective bargaining issue in the short term. As recently as three weeks ago, Cubs outfielder and MLBPA rep Ian Happ said he wasn’t sure it’s something the union would approve for next year.
At the very least, expansion figures to be part of the conversation for MLB’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement — the current one expires after 2021. And if the pandemic influences the 2021 season’s schedule, MLB and union might be forced to get together for a special agreement anyway, much like they did in 2020.