Sunday, March 4, 2012

Expanded Playoffs Make Sense

       By Ross Newhan

       Baseball's decision to expand the playoffs by adding a second wild card team in each league follows several years of lobbying in favor it by the general managers at their annual November meeting.

       The concept makes sense and does not put baseball in the same category as the NBA and NHL, where 16, or more than half of the 30 teams, qualify for the playoffs. Ten of baseball's 30 teams will now qualifify and there will be more emphasis on winning the division.

      Baseball would be wise to make its next major format change in 2013, when the Houston Astros move to the American League West, putting 15 teams in each league and basically requiring an inter-league game every night. It is either time do away with the designated hitter in the American League, a step the players union will vehemently oppose since the DH position is frequently one of baseball's highest paid, or vote to have the National League accept it, another large obstacle because there is no movement in favor of it among NL owners.

     On the subject of the expanded playoffs, baseball's general managers accept the increased parity that has marked the playoffs since increased revenue sharing among the clubs and markedly improved revenue from regional networks and the central fund have enhanced the buying and developmental power of virtually every team which has used the money for what it is intended--improved rosters and competitiveness.

    However, under the previous format, where one wild card team in each league moved directly into the playoffs, in many situations there was no distinct advantage in winning the division. In 2010 for example, the New York Yankees clinched a wild card spot and then rested their best pitchers for the playoffs rather than challenge for the division title.

   Now there will be a one game play-in between the two wild card teams in each league, with those teams presumably having to use one of their best pitchers to qualify for the division series while the three division winners in each league rest their best pitchers before starting the best of five division series against the second or third best pitcher on the winning wild card team.

   The one game play-in between the wild card teams should add excitement to the overall playoffs, and the second wild card team in each league should add credibility to the 162 game race, providing teams with more incentive to win their division.

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   The process of vetting the leading financial figure in each of the bidding groups by baseball's ownership committee and executive council is expected to continue through this week, with the surviving groups possibly being turned over to Frank McCourt and Blackstone Advisory Partners by the end of the week for final bids

 . As reported here several weeks ago, it is believed that only three or four of the remaining groups have the type equity that it will take to buy the club for, perhaps, $1.5 billion and then renovate the stadium and parking lot. While McCourt has said that he plans to keep the lot, it is doubtful that any group would complete a deal with McCourt without the lot being included. Said a member of one group who refused to be identified becase of his confidentiality argreement with Blackstone: "It's vital that you have control of the lot because there are things that need to be done for the protection of the fans. McCourt is only interested in the money."

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