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Why expanded playoffs for 2020 are still very possible

by Nik Gaur

With the 2020 Major League Baseball season on track to begin in less than a month, much of the conversation among fans has concerned rule changes that were both approved (such as a universal designated hitter for 2020 only) and left unresolved. Specifically, a somewhat popular proposal was expanded playoffs, but it is not currently featured in the league’s return to play plan.

Expanded playoffs, at least for this season, would be an overwhelming positive for the sport. Most obviously, the shortened season makes it more likely for flukes and for teams who would have made the playoffs in a normal season to be left out. Adding teams to this year’s playoffs would rectify these issues and allow for a more exciting finish to the season. Moreover, it is well-known that playoff revenue far exceeds the rate of revenue earned by owners during the regular season. As a result, playoff expansion was not approved by the players’ union, as the players felt it would be unfair to impose extra games without extra money being guaranteed to them.

Tony Clark, the executive director of the Players’ Association, hinted recently that expanded playoffs are still a possibility for the 2020 season. The league and the union would need to reach an agreement in the next few weeks for it to go into effect. If they could not agree on this issue over months of negotiating, why would they now?

For starters, the stakes here are fairly clear-cut. Owners want more money. More playoffs would lead to more money for the owners. Therefore, one side has a clear incentive to pursue expanded playoffs for this season. However, if the owners can make reasonable concessions, the players should have motivation as well. One idea would be for players to receive a fixed amount of the additional playoff revenue generated for this season only. Owners may want to avoid this step, however, if they are worried about the precedent it sets.

In my opinion, the most realistic path to a deal revolves around this winter’s free-agent market. Due to the lack of a full season, many teams will not have the funds they budgeted for this winter, and free agents are likely to suffer as a result. Players should be motivated to save the upcoming free-agent market, and one way to do so could be getting the owners to remove the qualifying offer for this season. Every year, pending free agents receive and (usually) decline a one-year qualifying offer. Declining it, however, results in the team that eventually signs that player losing a second-round draft pick. Free agents are already facing enough challenges this winter, and draft compensation should not be yet another factor. Players who receive qualifying offers this season might be more inclined to accept them in order to avoid this fate, but would do so at the expense of long-term security. Accordingly, removing the qualifying offer for this season is a logical step in a negotiation surrounding expanded playoffs.

Of course, many questions remain. Even if it seems logical, would the owners forfeit the right to issue qualifying offers this season? One would assume so, given the immense economic value of expanded playoffs, but we cannot be sure. Additionally, is removing the qualifying offer enough to get players to buy in, or would additional concessions such as further pay during the playoffs be necessary? Furthermore, would removing the qualifying offer really be enough to save this winter’s free agents from facing a depressingly quiet market? As has often been the case this year, we cannot know the answers to these questions. Nevertheless, the path to expanded playoffs is far less treacherous than the public seems to believe right now, and given how profitable playoffs are for owners, I am confident that negotiations will at least continue over the coming weeks. Both sides have plenty to gain, so hopefully, a deal will be reached and the White Sox will have far better odds at reaching the playoffs.

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Featured Photo: @FotoGenocide_/Twitter

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