There may or may not be an agreement between MLB and the MLBPA coming soon, but one of the compromises that both sides seem willing to implement involves expanding the MLB playoffs. The new format would reportedly include eight teams from each league for a total of 16 total playoff teams.
This is the same format that the NHL and NBA use, and their playoffs are the most successful and marketable parts of their season. In a vacuum, more playoffs is rarely a bad thing – it means more games, which means more in-stadium revenue and TV deals, which means more money for both the owners and players. It also gives teams something to play for, as you just never know what could happen once your team makes the playoffs. Several seven- and eight-seeds have gone onto lengthy Cinderella runs in the NHL, and a few have done so in the NBA playoffs as well. Instead of a culture of tanking, which has increased in recent years, teams would have more incentive to push for the playoffs.
Particularly for the shortened 2020 season, expanding the playoffs seems to make sense. Ordinarily, teams have 162 games to even themselves out – teams can overcome a slow start, or a swoon during the dog days. Just look at the Washington Nationals, who won the World Series in 2019 after sitting 12 games under .500 after 50 games. The 2020 season (if played) will likely be between 60-70 games. One usually-normal dry spell could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs in its usual format, which could hit teams like the Yankees the hardest.
Thus, letting more teams make the playoffs in 2020 is a safety net. With less time to course-correct for a streak of poor play, as well as less time to come crashing down to earth after a seven-game winning streak, we could end up with a playoffs that includes the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays, but not the Yankees or Astros in a 60-game season. No one really wants that for business purposes, so expanding the playoffs for this year is a fair solution for both the expected playoff teams and a few upstarts.
But what if baseball keeps this format moving forward, as is rumored? It could present a bit of a bump in the road for the Yankees. It’s often said that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in sports because of the physical nature of hockey as well as the format – the champion has to win four seven-game series. In baseball, the champion has to win a five-game series, two seven-game series and possibly a wild card game if they’re a low seed. There is less room for error with fewer games, and the quality of competition is higher because only the best of the best make the postseason.
Regardless of format, the Yankees are likely projected to finish as a top seed in the American League for most of the next few years. They are not one of the teams that would benefit from expanded playoffs; in fact, they’d probably oppose playing more games. What is the upside for the Yankees to play an extra round of playoffs against a weaker team who wouldn’t have made the prior format? If the Yankees win, they were expected to anyway. But if they lose, their season becomes a disappointment. The Yankees have lost their share of playoff series to up-and-coming teams in the early rounds, making just one World Series in the last 16 years. Another playoff round would only make the road to a 28th World Series championship even more difficult.
Expanded playoffs is a tricky topic for the Yankees. There is definitely upside from a league standpoint to expanding the postseason, but the Yankees would not be one of the teams that benefits on-field (although they could certainly benefit financially). It makes sense to use the abbreviated 2020 season as a guinea pig year for larger playoffs, but the jury is still out on whether it’s a viable long-term option for Major League Baseball.