Prior to Game 1 of the 2020 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays, commissioner Rob Manfred gave his annual pre-World Series state of the game interview with the Associated Press and discussed a wide range of topics. This much is clear: Manfred and his bosses (i.e. the 30 owners) would like to keep an expanded postseason format and the extra-inning tiebreaker rule going forward.
MLB adopted those rule changes (and others) to make 2020’s 60-game regular season more feasible following the COVID-19 shutdown and during the pandemic. The expanded 16-team postseason format allowed the league to recoup lost revenue through extra playoff games, and the tiebreaker format helped avoid long games and reduce injuries.
Here’s what Manfred said about the expanded postseason format:
“I like the idea of, and I’m choosing my words carefully here, an expanded playoff format,” Manfred said. “I don’t think we would do 16 like we did this year. I think we do have to be cognizant of making sure that we preserve the importance of our regular season. But I think something beyond the 10 that we were at would be a good change.”
Last offseason word got out that MLB was pushing for a 14-team postseason in which the No. 1 seed in each league gets a bye to the LDS round, and the other six teams play a best-of-three Wild Card Series. The higher seeds would be able to pick their Wild Card Series opponents, adding to the intrigue.
Owners have long wanted to expand the postseason because it equals more money. The players are not paid salaries during the postseason — they typically receive postseason bonus money tied to gate revenue, though this year they will split a $50 million pool given the lack of fans in attendance — so it’s lots of revenue at a low cost.
It’s important to note MLB can not unilaterally implement an expanded postseason format. The league needs the MLBPA’s approval, and it is a significant bargaining chip for the union. Don’t expect the players to give it up easily. The MLBPA will use the expanded postseason format to extract concessions from MLB (higher minimum salary, earlier free agency, etc.).
As for the extra-inning tiebreaker rule, MLB placed a runner at second base to begin each extra inning to promote run-scoring and avoid long extra-inning games. Here’s what Manfred said about the rule change:
“I think the players like it,” Manfred said. “I think it’s really good from a safety and health perspective that keeps us from putting players in situations where they’re out there too long or in positions they’re not used to playing.”
I have to admit, I enjoyed the extra-inning tiebreaker rule more than I expected. It led to action and there wasn’t an overwhelming number of sacrifice bunts. Marathon games are more fun in theory than in reality. It doesn’t take much (or long) for an extra-inning game to go from exciting to “let’s get this over with already.”
As with the expanded postseason, MLB and Manfred can not unilaterally implement the extra-inning tiebreaker. The MLBPA has to agree. Here’s what union executive director Tony Clark told the Associated Press regarding potential rule changes:
“We made a number of one-year changes this season under unique circumstances,” Clark wrote in an email to the AP. “We are gathering feedback from players and we’ll bring that to the league at the appropriate time. Obviously, protecting health and safety will remain among several important considerations as those talks unfold.”
It is no accident Clark’s statement noted these were “one-year changes.” The MLBPA knows MLB is eager to implement these rule changes and they plan to hold a firm line during negotiations. The current collective bargaining agreement expires in Dec. 2021, though MLB and the MLBPA may have to agree to modified rules for the 2021 season with the pandemic still ongoing.