If and when the 2020 MLB season ultimately begins, it increasingly feels like it will come with dynamics that we've never seen from a baseball season before.
Friday, RADIO.COM MLB Insider Jon Heyman said that while "nothing is close to final" and "anything is on the table," it's possible that baseball will expand the postseason from including 10 teams to 14 teams in 2020. That would mean that seven teams from both the National League and American League make the playoffs, nearly half of those participating.
In February, Joel Sherman of The New York Post reported that baseball was considering moving to a 14-team postseason in the 2022 season. Such a proposal would include a first-round bye for the top seed in each league, and the No. 2 seed in both the American League and National League getting to pick what Wild Card team they got to play in the first round of the postseason. The idea, to put it nicely, was panned by most.
However, as Heyman notes, a shortened season, one that may not create the best situation for finding what teams actually deserve to reach the playoffs, may make some open to the idea of at least trying an expanded postseason format for a year. Perhaps more fans will like additional playoff teams than they believe, making it easier for the league to potentially push for an expanded playoff format on a full-time basis.
Heyman added that he is hearing that late-May would be the earliest that the regular season could begin. In such a scenario, Heyman estimates that there could be a 140-game regular season that uses extra roster spots to make up for the fact that the league would likely need to lean on limited off days and scheduled double headers to make up for lost time.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said earlier this week that he's hopeful the league can start part two of Spring Training "at some point in May," but he acknowledged that was his "optimistic outlook."
If late-May is the earliest that the season could begin, that presumably means that the World Series could drag into November, if not December. Heyman says that could create a situation where the World Series needs to be played at a neutral location, as opposed to a place that it could be bitterly cold and/or snow at. It's unclear exactly what would qualify as a neutral site, though. Dodger Stadium and Tropicana Field could likely be among the sites considered for a November or December series, but how neutral is a stadium if it's home to a team that could be playing in the World Series? From here, Olympic Stadium in Montreal and Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico could serve as actual neutral sites, if we assume those areas are clear of COVID-19 by the time the World Series would be played.
One other note that Heyman passed along is that the league will continue to consider how to minimize or altogether cut out the spread of COVID-19. He suggested that could mean that there are staggered starts or that teams that play in cities with higher levels of outbreak - i.e. the New York Yankees and New York Mets - may have to play their home games elsewhere to begin the season. He also noted the possibility that the season begins without fans being allowed to be at games, though he suggested that would be a last resort, saying that over 30 percent of revenue comes from fans attending games.