What adding a wild card team could mean to the St. Louis Cardinals

When I first heard about Bud Selig and MLB possibly adding a wild card starting in the 2012 season, I was against it.  It looks like if MLB adds a wild card, it will be one in each league, and the two wild card teams in the NL and AL will play each other in either a 1 or 3 game series to begin the playoffs.

I love the Cardinals, baseball and tradition.  I wasn’t initially thrilled when the league expanded back in 1995 and added a wild card team to go along with the 3 division winners.  As fans, we’ve seen the wild card hurt the Cardinals more than help.  In 2005, the 100 win Cardinals lost in the NLCS to the wild card team, the 89 win Houston Astros.  In the 2004 World Series, the 105 win Cardinals lost to the wild card team again, the Boston Red Sox, but to their credit they did win 98 games.  The Cardinals didn’t capitalize on the only time they won the wild card, in 2001, falling in the NLDS 3 games to 2 to the eventual world champions, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

I think the reasons for adding another wild card are simple.  One, it gives the Cubs a better chance to make the playoffs, and secondly, it allows for the Red Sox and Yankees to get in every year.   The Tampa Bay Rays kept the Yankees out of the playoffs in 2008, and they kept the Red Sox out in 2010.  In 2008, the Yankees would have been the next team in, and in 2010, the Red Sox would have been the 5th and final team from the AL in.

I find it odd that the talks have come up since the Tampa Bay Rays have been able to keep the Yankees and Red Sox out in these 2 years.  The Cubs are another story, but MLB and Bud Selig know that the ratings for the Cubs in the World Series would be off the charts.  And the fact is that the Yankees and Red Sox series in the playoffs are always among the highest rated baseball events.  They are force fed to all of America during the regular season as it is.  But that’s the way it is, they play in the 2 biggest markets, and have fans all across the country.  Could you imagine the ratings for a Yankees or Red Sox against the Cubs WS?

Since 2000, the highest rated WS was 2004 between the Cards and Red Sox, getting a 15.8 rating.  I’m grabbing the information here.

The lowest rated WS since 1968 was this year, the Rangers at the Giants tied by the 2008 Phillies at Rays, both scoring an 8.4.  The next lowest was the 2006 WS of the Cardinals at Tigers, scoring a 10.1.  So while I would like to think that the Cardinals had something to do with the great ratings from 2004, it’s obvious it was more about the Red Sox.   But then again, when the Red Sox played the Rockies in the 2007 WS, it scored a 10.7.

I think the 2004 ratings mainly had to do with Boston not winning since 1918.  I would love to see the Cardinals play the Yankees in the WS, and see what the ratings would be for that.  But the fact is, if the Cubs make it, you’re going to have so many casual fans watching because of the drought they’ve suffered since 1908.  The rooting for the underdog factor would kick in to high gear, and I think all the fans besides Cardinals, White Sox, and the team the Cubs are playing would be rooting for the Cubs.  I hope the Cubs drought continues for another 100 years, but I just don’t think that’s possible.

The reason I don’t think it is possible is because of the budget the Cubs have.  It hasn’t exactly worked in their favor yet, but team salaries play a big part in teams that get to the playoffs.  When you have a 162 game schedule, having talent like the Yankees is going to win teams a lot of games.  While no team spends like the Yankees, here is a list of team payrolls for 2010 for their opening day rosters.  Listed are the teams ahead of the Cardinals, their payrolls, and their finish in their division:

Yankees—$206,333,389—2nd, AL East

Red Sox—$162,747,333—3rd, AL East

Cubs—$146,859,000—5th, NL Central

Phillies—$141,927,381—1st, NL East

Mets—$132,701,445—4th, NL East

Tigers—$122,864,929—3rd, AL Central

White Sox—$108,273,197—2nd, AL Central

Angels—$105,013,667—3rd, AL West

Mariners—$98,376,667—4th, AL West

Giants—$97,828,833—1st, NL West

Twins—$97,559,167—1st, AL Central

Dodgers—$94,945,517—4th, NL West

Cardinals—$93,540,753—2nd, NL Central

While the Cubs, Mets and Mariners got it wrong, most of the teams on this list have been in the hunt most years recently.  You could argue that the Angels fall from the NL West was because of reduced payroll and not wanting to spend after the injury to Morales.  While teams like the Rangers and Rays are climbing on reduced payrolls, their continued success looms as they lose players like Carl Crawford.

I’m not saying payroll is everything.  It’s not.  But for long term success, it plays a big part.  Drafting well is important, but eventually those players if stars are going to have to be paid.  Can the Cardinals continue to compete with the money they are spending?  Absolutely, but can they make big mistakes with long term contracts like the Yankees and Red Sox?  The answer is no.

While the main point of this article is about the new wild card being put into place, however, I couldn’t make my point without looking at team payrolls.  My point is, if the Cardinals sign Albert Pujols to a long term contract, they are going to have to take chances and draft well.  Trying to fill holes like shortstop and second base are going to be more difficult.  Over a 162 game schedule, teams with the most talent are going to come through more times than not.  While the Yankees don’t win the WS every year, they’ve been in the playoffs 15 of the last 16 years.  Money is obviously a factor in that.

Since 2000, the Cardinals have been in the hunt most years.  The Padres would have been the second wild card winner in the NL this year, with the Cardinals next in line.  In 2003, the Cardinals would have been 2 games off from the extra wild card spot.  Would the Cardinals have played different or made moves if they were closer and had a chance at the playoffs in those years?  I’m not sure, but I think it will give teams a longer stretch to be in the race in September.  That’s what baseball is trying to do.

Like I said, I think it’s mainly for a few select teams.  While I initially didn’t like the idea, I’ve changed my mind.  I would have to say now that I like the fact that the Cardinals would have more of a chance to make the playoffs in any year.  It might hurt us when we have superior teams like in 2004 and 2005, but I don’t think the Cardinals will assemble a team that is loaded again like those teams were, especially if they sign Pujols long term.  With an ace like Wainwright, you would also have to feel good about the chances of a one game playoff if that were the case.

I might change my mind if we have another 100 or 105 win team that’s defeated by a wild card team in the WS or the NLCS, but I don’t know if that’s happening, not with $42-47 million tied up in two players.

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