Just in case you haven’t heard, Major League Baseball has expanded the playoff field for 2012. Each league will have five teams – three division winners and two wild cards – as opposed to the four that we have been accustomed to since 1995. The two wild card teams will play a one-game playoff to determine who goes on to play in the League Division Series. New York Yankees fans may see this move as fairly insignificant – some may even be in favor of the change. Overall, however, I think this decision slightly hurts the New York Yankees.
If you take a couple of seconds to think back to 1995, you’ll quickly recall that the Yankees have only missed the playoffs one time since 1995. The new system certainly would have benefited our Bombers in 2008 – the one time during this stretch that they missed the playoffs. The 89-73 squad would have raced the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox (both 88-74 after game No. 162) to the fifth and final wild card spot. Assuming the Yanks eeked it out, they would have had a chance to knock the more deserving Boston Red Sox out of the playoff picture. That would have been lovely.
That is only one instance out of 17 seasons though. The thing that concerns me is the more frequent times the Yanks have used the fourth available playoff slot to punch their postseason ticket – like 2007 for example. How much fun would it be to conclude a 94-win season – good for third best record in the bigs, but only good enough for the wild card – and then have to face off against Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez for a trip to the ALDS? This new field is going to snatch more playoff berths from the Yankees than it gives them and I’m not a fan of it.
This means that the New York Yankees – and all other teams for that matter – have to place a higher emphasis on winning the division in order to avoid the one-game playoff. Even though I’ve voiced my displeasure for having to give up Jesus Montero, the acquisition of Michael Pineda is a step in that direction. It could also be a major influence in their decision to stretch the budget (in the face of the $189 million luxury tax threshold) to sign Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke IF one of them hits the open market. After all, a loaded starting rotation is one of the best ways to launch an assault at the top of your division. Already faced with the toughest competition in the sport, the New York Yankees have even more work cut out for them from this point forward.
For more discussion about the old and new challenges facing the New York Yankees, follow me on twitter @craigmwilliams.