MILWAUKEE -- Major League Baseball closed its general managers' and owners' meetings Thursday with a pair of historic announcements.
A second wild-card team in each league will be added as soon as next year, or in 2013 at the latest. And in 2013, the Astros -- whose sale from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane was approved at these meetings -- will move to the American League, creating a landscape of two 15-team leagues that will require daily interleague play.
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Both changes have been long in the making and discussing. They will create a fairer, more balanced schedule and make it much more important to win a division title, as opposed to settling for the wild card.
Commissioner Bud Selig hinted strongly that the "play-in" game between wild cards, which will kick off the postseason, will be a one-game, do-or-die contest as opposed to a best-of-three series. Television folks prefer the drama of a one-game setup; some baseball people don't like the idea of their playoff run lasting only one game. Others, however, didn't like the idea of the division winners sitting idly during a three-game series.
There now exists significant incentive for a team to step on the gas in September and try to win its division, which should overturn a longtime trend of apathy over this issue.
In 2010, for instance, the Yankees chose to rest some hurting players, knowing full well that the only price to pay for ceding the AL East (to Tampa Bay) was home-field advantage -- which isn't that significant in baseball. The Yankees even got a better first-round matchup as the wild card, sweeping the Twins in the Division Series while the Rays lost to the eventual American League champion Rangers.
"The one criticism we heard was, you didn't put enough [emphasis] on the division," Selig said. "Well, now you have."
The sale and switch of the Astros concluded a long, drawn-out process to transfer ownership from McLane to the controversial Crane, an air freight magnate whose company, Eagle USA, was investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding its hiring practices of minorities and women.
While Selig and the owners pushed hard for the extra playoff team and round, it was the Players Association that argued for balanced leagues and divisions. The players argued that it was fundamentally unfair that the National League Central has six teams and the American League West has four.
The Astros sale made the switch relatively smooth; Crane had to agree to move leagues in order to get the team. Because each league now has an odd number, there will be interleague games all the time, as opposed to the three-week cluster that has played out since interleague play became a reality in 1997.
In other news, MLB executive vice president of labor relations and human resources Rob Manfred described himself as "really confident" that a new collective-bargaining agreement will be completed shortly.
The deal could be announced next week and is expected to feature restrictions on spending for the amateur draft and international prospects in return for relaxed free-agent compensation.
"We've made good progress on it," Manfred said. "Hopefully, we'll cross the finish line."