Amid the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, MLB and the Players Association agreed to a 16-team postseason that introduced the first-ever Wild Card Series.
The expanded format allowed teams like the San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins to end long postseason droughts, but for the most part, was unpopular with players. Clayton Kershaw felt at the time that the larger playing field only added to the unpredictability of the playoffs.
The expanded postseason was more beneficial to the league as it created additional TV revenue. That was especially important given the lack of gate revenue from fans not being able to attend games.
The additional TV revenue is believed to be a driving force in MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and team owners wanting some form of an expanded postseason to return, via Evan Drellich of The Athletic:
Manfred and the owners are keen on expanding baseball’s playoff system, in no small part because it would bring in additional television revenue. The playoffs were expanded in 2020 in the pandemic-shortened season, but the sport returned to the previous, smaller format for 2021. “I think the decision as to whether we should have expanded playoffs is bigger than whether we had a good year this year or not,” Manfred said.
While Manfred touted the 2020 postseason as a success, he did concede that 16 teams playing October baseball was too many.
Prior to the lockout being imposed at the start of December, one of the final proposals from team owners reportedly included a structure for an expanded MLB postseason of 14 teams.
Among the details were the teams with the best record in each league would receive a bye into the Division Series, and remaining division winners would pick their Wild Card Game opponent from the bottom three teams.
MLBPA not fully opposed to expanded postseason
Despite previously rejecting a trade off involving the universal DH and a bigger playoff field for the 2021 season, the Players Association is believed to be open to an expanded postseason of 12 teams.
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