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A Wild Sport: An Overview of the MLB Wild Card

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Spring Training is finally underway, and yet some of the biggest news of the year doesn’t even take place until October. Major League Baseball has announced that the playoffs will be expanded this season, making the move to add one additional Wild Card slot to each League. While the move has brought upon much criticism, people don’t realize just how this move will impact the game. We can all look forward to two sudden death playoff games, but that’s only the start of it. This impacts not just October, but how the entire season is played.
Several opponents to the expansion have the opinion that the Wild Card reduces the need to win the division. They were absolutely right. Aside from the possibility that an extra game be played on the road, a Wild Card team had all the same rights as a Division Champion that could have won at least ten more games. The second Wild Card actually strengthens the need to win the division. Division Champions will receive a couple extra days to rest from the regular season before their playoffs begin, as well as watch the Wild Card teams burn their aces in the sudden death battle. To place the odds in even greater favor, many of these aces will be on short rest, meaning that while he can be ruled out for the first couple games of the Divisional Round, much of the sudden death game will fall onto the shoulders of the bullpen. Any team that lacks its star pitcher, arrested lineup, and much of its bullpen will be a sitting duck for the team that faces them.
While much of the result of playoff expansion will be on display in October, it has an even greater impact on July, the last day in particular. Between the All-Star Break in the middle of the month and the Trade Deadline at its end, those all to crucial moves are made to help seal up a playoff appearance. Men that were once viewed as franchise players suddenly become hot commodities, and those lucky enough to be contending will sell the farm, along with emptying their farm system, to get them. The problem is the law of supply and demand. With more playoff spots will come more contenders, causing the demand to go up, and with only a set number of teams in the league, more demand will automatically cut supply. Take last year’s AL Wild Card Race for example. At the deadline, the Red Sox were seen as having the slot sealed, with Tampa being the only possible threat. With this new system, Boston and Tampa would both be viewed as leaders in the push for the playoffs, and teams like Anaheim, Toronto, and the White Sox suddenly went from pretender to contender.
Take the World Series Champion Saint Louis Cardinals for example. Had the White Sox viewed themselves as legitimate contenders, they may have never traded Edwin Jackson to the Blue Jays, and even if they did, Toronto would have never flipped him to the Redbirds.
Now think of a move that never happened. Several teams expressed interest in Wandy Rodriguez, the righty that’s played ace for the Astros since they sent Roy Oswalt to Philly. The team decided to hold on to the aging ace in hopes that he could help bring the new pitching staff to the Major League level. Under the new system, the offers to acquire Wandy would have been to great to refuse, especially for a team that had already sent off their star center fielder to Atlanta, lost almost one hundred games, and was facing its inevitable elimination within a couple of weeks. This was a team with nothing to gain that missed out on the opportunity to rebuild the worst club in baseball. The difference is that last year’s deadline and starting pitching market would have called for a Triple-A prospect and possibly another at the Single or Double-A levels. This year’s market could call for a pair of Major League ready prospects and one or more in Double-A.
When you think about the future of baseball, I’ll think about the glory days of October. At the deadline I’ll watch the strangest moves take place, and in August and September I’ll watch them either sink or swim. I’ll watch teams that were major sellers at one deadline be considered buyers at the next, simply because they acquired talent that was ready to make an impact the year before, such as Toronto now having multiple years of Colby Rasmus in exchange for Saint Louis having a couple months of Edwin Jackson. I’ll think about how the new Wild Card changed baseball for the better



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