Realignment and Playoff Format
As most are already aware, the Houston Astros will be moving to the American League West in 2013. This will result in each league having three divisions with five teams apiece. As each league will now have an odd number of teams, it will also result in interleague games being played throughout the season. The contemplated balancing of the schedules will also likely result in an increase in the number of interleague games teams play.
As early as next season, but certainly for the 2013 season, a second Wild Card will be added to the playoffs. The two Wild Card teams in each league will play a single playoff game, the winner of which will advance to the Division Series. The decision regarding the 2012 playoffs will be made prior to March 1, 2012.Effect on White Sox and baseball
The addition of another team to the league would have made it slightly more difficult for the White Sox to reach the playoffs. However, the addition of a second Wild Card more than offsets this. Of course, the primary beneficiaries are those in the ultra-competitive AL East (read: all but ensures Yankees or Red Sox will make playoffs).
It is notable, though, that this format change would have benefited the White Sox in 2006, when they finished with the fifth best record in the AL. Also, in 2010, the White Sox finished a game behind the Red Sox for what would have been the second Wild Card.
The purpose is obviously to have more teams involved in the playoff chase and, as demonstrated by the final day of the 2011 season, provide for two winner-take-all games.
Kenny Williams must absolutely love this. (And Jerry Reinsdorf, too.) This is sweet nectar for a guy who wants to be competitive each season. It further disincentivizes rebuilding by lowering the bar for entry into the playoffs. There should be more butts in the seats late in the season because teams will be able to compete more often for a playoff spot deeper into September. More teams in the hunt + more playoff games = more money for the owners and players to split.
While likely not predictive, the White Sox have been one of the most successful teams in interleague play. One can muse that more interleague games will improve the final record of the White Sox. Games being played all season, though, will further take the shininess off of interleague play. Except in a few instances, they'll simply be regular regular season games now. But, if you're a long-suffering White Sox fan living in a NL city, the White Sox should be visiting you more often.
While the top-tier players who have reached free agency are the big winners amongst the players, they did manage to throw a few crumbs to the pre-arbitration players.
First, the minimum salary will go from $414,000 in 2011 to $480,000 next season, and it will climb to $500,000 by 2014. Generally speaking, the White Sox have paid the minimum to first year players and given minor salary bumps to other pre-arbitration players based on years/production. For example, Sergio Santos was paid $435,000 last season. Gordon Beckham was paid $485,000. This increase will probably cost the White Sox a little more than a half a million in next year's payroll. Obviously not a major concern.
Second, the Super Two cutoff will rise from the top 17% of players with 2 to 3 years service time to the top 22%. Those players are arbitration-eligible four times rather than three. About five to six additional players will become eligible for salary arbitration each year.
The White Sox have participated in the annual Service Time Shenanigans (see, e.g., Gordon Beckham). The Shenanigans will continue, they'll just be longer than before. The cutoff date will now be later in season, which means teams will likely wait until the end of June before calling up top prospects.
If teams had not anticipated this change, for the next two seasons, some players that teams thought they kept in the minors long enough will end up being Super Twos.
One might posit that the anticipation of this change is at least part of the reason why Dayan Viciedo wasn't called up until August 27 since he already had a bit more than two months of service time prior to the 2011 season. Late August - two months = late June. Of course, the Daily Herald would call you a conspiracy theorist. We'll know after the 2013 season if Viciedo misses Super Two.
This change also lends credence to Jim's supposition that Alejandro De Aza's call-up was delayed in order to avoid Super Two status. Under the new rules, De Aza misses Super Two by about three days and just a player or two (I don't have the info to do the math and am unsure whether it's five or six more players that are now Super Twos).
Limited expansion of rosters
Rosters will expand to from 25 to 26 players for “certain regular or split doubleheaders”. What "certain" means will have to be clarified but this is good for both players and teams. Teams often needed to call up a spot starter for a doubleheader game and, of course, there was usually some bench player or bullpen guy who had to be demoted to make room. This will eliminate such things. The phrase "taxed bullpen" should also be less prevalent.
Tomorrow: The stunning conclusion. Drugs! All-Stars! Turkey! The Fourth Option!