By RONALD BLUM
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK — Negotiators for baseball players and owners say there is no set deadline for an agreement to expand the playoffs to 10 teams this season.
The sides have said for weeks a deal is likely. When players and owners signed their agreement for a new labor contract in November, the section covering the postseason established a March 1 goal for deciding whether the playoffs would increase by two teams for 2012 or 2013.
But in recent days both sides said negotiations would continue beyond Thursday if they needed time. The sides spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the talks have not been public.
The deal would establish a new one-game, wild-card round in each league between the teams with the best records who are not division winners, meaning a third-place team could win the World Series.
Creating it for 2012 has been complicated because the regular-season schedule was drafted last spring and summer, and the extra game has to be put in place in a manner that doesn't disrupt the World Series schedule. Further complicating scheduling, the sides reached a consensus that ties for division titles would be broken on the field with a tiebreaker game under the new playoff format, and not by head-to-head record.
If the format had been in place last season, the Atlanta Braves in the NL and the Boston Red Sox in the AL would have captured the extra playoff spot. Instead, each missed the postseason by a single game after epic September collapses.
"I really believe we'll have the wild card for 2012, this year," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "Clubs really want it. I don't think I've ever seen an issue that the clubs want more than to have the extra wild card this year.
"We're working on dates right now. That'll all take place. It looks to me like we'll have it, because I've told everybody we have to have it. It'll be exciting. One-game playoff, it will start the playoffs in a very exciting manner," he added.
According to the memorandum of agreement, the commissioner's office was to give the players' association a modified postseason schedule by Feb. 1.
"The association shall have 30 days after receiving the modified 2012 postseason schedule from the office of the commissioner to determine whether it will grant its consent," the agreement states. "Such consent shall not be unreasonably withheld."
Head-to-head record has been used since 1995 to determine first place if both teams are going to the postseason. But the sides decided with the start of a one-game, winner-take-all wild-card round, the difference between first place and a wild-card berth is too important to decide with a formula and a tiebreaker game would be played.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he's in favor of the expanded playoff format, although he's not crazy about it being a 1-game playoff at the start.
"It's possible that somebody could win a division with 84 wins and some other team could get 97 wins and finish behind a team that won 98 — and play one game," he said. "So it's never going to be perfect, but at the end of the day, I'm for whatever the commissioner, and more importantly, whatever the fans want."
Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson said the wild-card winner will be at a distinct disadvantage going through the rest of the playoffs. Last season, St. Louis passed the Braves for the wild card on the final day and went on to capture the World Series. Hudson said it would've been much harder for the Cardinals or the Braves to advance if they had played an extra game first.
"The only good thing about it is one more team (in each league) gets in the playoffs," he said. "But it totally handicaps the wild-card team. Both teams will probably have to expend their best pitcher to win that game. Plus, it's another day they have to use their bullpen. Even if you get by that one game, the chances of winning the next round are not very good."