Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Expanded Playoffs and More
By Ross Newhan
Major league owners meeting in Arizona next month will continue discussions on an expanded playoff that would include addition of a second wild card team in each league and become effective in 2012. Not every owner, according to multiple sources, is on board yet, their indecision hinging on the final format, but Commissioner Bud Selig, responding to lobbying by general managers and his own inclination, is expected to continue a push for it.
By including a second wild card team in each league and either a best of three or even a one game playoff between the two wild cards in each league, those teams would be forced to use their best pitcher or pitchers, losing what has allowed the wild card to open the current playoff system with a pitcher who is as good or better than the division winner they are facing. This has contributed to a number of wild card teams advancing to the championship series and World Series, to the overall enhancement of parity, but it has also grated on field managers and general managers who contend that the wild card should be forced to pay a price for failing to win its division.
There are several formats under discussion, and the key debate centers on how an expanded playoff would affect the 162 game schedule without a) forcing an earlier March start, b) creating the need for more doubleheaders (potential revenue losers for the owners) or c) jeopardizing the World Series with bad weather in November.
The schedule may prove to be too large an obstacle, but more teams seem on board with the concept of a second wild card team than when the wild card was initially adopted in 1993 and "purists" hammered Selig, who has emerged a financial and artistic winner with almost all of his introductory concepts. Some will argue, in this case, that a fifth playoff team in each league will dilute baseball's playoff to the level of the NFL, NBA and NHL, but over the last 15 years, the fifth best team in the National League has averaged 89.1 wins and the fifth best in the American League has averaged 88.8, both respectable figures.
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Milwaukee General Manager Doug Melvin moved shrewdly in acquiring pitchers Zack Greinke from Kansas City and Shaun Marcum from Toronto without sacrificing any of his potent offense and advancing the Brewers ahead of incumbent champion Cincinnati as the team to beat in the National League Central.
The Royals, generally conceded to have the best farm system in baseball, continued that building process by acquiring shortstop Alcides Escobar and three top prospects, including potential 2011 outfield starter Lorenzo Cain. Greineke had asked to be traded, believing the building process would not be finished by the time his current contract expired in 2012.
The Royals had nursed Greineke, the AL's Cy Young Award winner in 2009, through nine seasons, attempting to work with him on the social anxiety disorder for which he takes medication and which prompted him to sit out the 2006 season, but the relationship had run its course. Many in the organization accepted that reality on the first Friday night home game of the 2010 season when the Royals brought in Bret Saberhagen and David Cone and honored their latest Cy Young winner, his wife and parents with a variety of gifts only to have Greineke wave to the crowd and walk away without saying anything over the PA. That was more telling to some of KC's top executives than his trade request.