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When Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg saw the 2013 MLB schedule, released yesterday, he had one thought.

“It’s terrible,” he said, according to Danny Knobler.

Sternberg’s gripe about the schedule is the increase in intradivisional games. His Rays now face the others in their own division 19 times. That means more Yankees, more Red Sox, more (increasingly better) Orioles, and more (should be quite good at some point) Blue Jays.

Sternberg isn’t talking about the difficult of winning the AL East, you’ll note, which would be present however the schedule was configured. His issue is the Wild Card race. While teams in the AL West and AL Central will be playing more games against their relatively weaker division-mates, the Rays will have to put together wins against a tougher schedule if they want to beat out a team like the Tigers or the Angels or the Rangers for a Wild Card spot. It is a somewhat hidden unfairness in the unbalanced schedule, which is designed to be more fair than ever.

Then again, teams previously faced their division-mates 18 times, so this isn’t much of an increase. Sternberg was actually hoping for less unbalancing in the new schedule, playing the division-mates just 12 to 15 times per year. The thing is, with the increased importance placed on winning your division (and the increased value in doing so), I can’t say I have a beef with teams playing each other more within the division. But Sternberg is quite right: his team’s path to a Wild Card just got more difficult.

What does this mean for the Cubs, conceptually?

Well, it depends on your opinion, long-term, of the NL Central, relative to the other NL divisions. If you think the NL Central, long-term, is the weakest NL division (I do), then the increased unbalancing is good news for the Cubs. In theory, their financial advantage over the other NL Central teams will start to show in the next 10 years, which will not only afford them a slightly increased chance of winning the NL Central, but also a Wild Card – because they’ll be playing NL Central opponents more than teams in other divisions, against whom the Cubs would be competing for a Wild Card slot. The latter is true of the other NL Central teams, of course, but the Cubs’ financial advantage theoretically puts them back on top.

In other words, there’s an argument to be made that the increasingly unbalanced schedule benefits the Cubs more than any other team in baseball.

It’s incremental and theoretical, resting on an assumption that the Cubs will exercise a financial advantage in the coming years (something slightly more difficult to do effectively in the wake of the CBA’s amateur spending restrictions). But, if you had to pick a singular team that the new schedule benefits over every other team, I’d have trouble coming up with a bigger benefactor than the Cubs. The Tigers and Dodgers, maybe? If they keep outspending their division-mates by a significant amount, then sure. They’d fall in step with the Cubs.

  • scorardpaul

    I thought we were going to be playing a lot more American league teams? I guess I was wrong. Wsn’t tha the talk??

    • bbmoney

      I don’t think the plan was more interleague games. It is just happening every day of the season, but instead of happening in blocks it’ll be just 1 of the 15 series being played all the time.

  • Lifepainter

    I only follow the Cubs and if the other teams owners have issues, tell them to sell the team and get out. MLB could have gone to NFL style profit sharing and controlled the big money teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, but like everything else, the owners tend to be a good old boys club and pull stunts like collusion, black balling players, looking the other way when they KNEW something was wrong when the homeruns were flying out of the park, causing strikes and lock outs and blaming the players. As long as the Cubs get an advantage, the other teams can cry all they want.

  • cubchymyst

    It works out best for the cubs only if they flex muscles by signing players that the Cards, Brewers, Reds, and Pirates can’t afford. As it is the Cubs are the only team in the NL Central that does not qualify for the bonus draft pick lottery.

    • Kevin

      and the Astros qualify for the bonus draft lottery?

      • cubchymyst

        Not counting the Astros because they leave the NL central this year. The Brewers, Cards, Pirates and Reds all do if I remember correctly

    • Dougy D

      Isn’t signing the players that those other teams can’t afford what got us into this mess? Oh, I’m sorry, you probably meant the GOOD players that other teams in the division can’t afford. (Not the Soriano’s and Zambrano’s and what not.)

      I am with you. Now that we have mostly unloaded the ridiculous contracts of the Jim Hendry era, we should be able to progressively spend more (on players that are worth it) as the team gets better. (I still think that $20 million a year for Greinke is overpaying, a comment on an earlier article).

      • cubchymyst

        My point is with the new CBA in place it is harder to get supplemental picks for losing free agents, and the draft penalties limit using a financial advantage in the draft. With the Cubs being the only team in the NL Central that is not involved in the competitive compensation draft might mean most years the Cubs will have one less draft pick then every other team NL Central in the first two rounds. For the Cubs to use their financial advantage they need to spend money on players out of the price range of the other Central teams (non draftees). That can mean either spending money on free agents or spending money to lock up young core players for longer since they have the money to do so. It could also mean adsorbing more of a contract in a trade to get a better player.

        • cubchymyst

          I know this point is what Brett pointed out in his last paragraph. I’m just more upset with the competitive compensation draft and how it seems like it works against the Cubs. Right now it seems like the best way to build is through the draft and every NL Central team but the Cubs qualify for a possible extra sometime before the third round. The Cubs financial advantage means the can fill more holes with free agents (who are the right free agents is a different debate), so hopefully we don’t have to wait as long for a competitive team.

          • Dougy D

            Sorry, I was just joking around with the comments to start the last post. I was being sarcastic. Sometimes it is hard to tell when someone is joking around or being serious. I understand exactly what you mean and I agree. We will have to take advantage of making more money by spending it wisely on new contracts, whether they be free agents or extensions. I personally think that Castro got more than he deserves, but by the time his deal is over the average annual salary that he makes will be entirely reasonable for the market.

  • Stinky Pete

    Just for discussions sake, in European Football, don’t you move about divisions based on your record? I know all traditional rivalries would be shot, but, hell I don’t know. Just a thought that would more than likely not work.

    • EvenBetterNews2.0

      Never would happen. Baseball is sold on its history not appeal.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        There is a core of fans who think that, but all of the evidence is to the contrary. Innovations have never hurt baseball attendance. TV ratings have dropped: but that is true for most sports and TV programs in general due to other factors (like, 1000 channels from which to choose and none of them have anything good! Except for Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Futurama, How I Met Your Mother, etc….)

        • Stinky Pete

          I agree, Doc. If History mattered that much, we would have 16 teams in two leagues that only played each other in the World Series without a DH.

    • Frank

      Yes–different leagues have different rules, but in many, the 3-4 teams with the worst records may be dropped into the next lower division.

  • Kevin

    Brett, Is there anything in the new CBA that gives teams with a poor records, such as the Cubs and Astros, more draft picks to allow them to compete faster? At a quick glance, the new CBA slows the process of player movement bigtime and really hurts the bottom tier teams.

    • cubchymyst

      The 10 smallest markets and 10 lowest revenue teams get thrown into a pool for extra picks. What it ends up being is 12 picks being divided between 13 teams.

      • Dougy D

        So you are saying that unless the Cubs really suck for the next ten years in a row, they won’t have a shot at any of these picks. Sounds fair.

        • Frank

          That’s what it sounds like–the Cubs will never be in one of the ten smallest markets, and if they really suck for the next ten years, they may become one of the ten lowest revenue teams–maybe.

          • Dougy D

            BINGO

  • Pete

    I read Bruce’s Tuesday ESPN chat today and saw he thinks the Cubs will try to move Volstad in the off-season. That makes little sense to me as he is only 25 and, as a tall pitcher, is still developing. Also, since his last recall, he seems to be pitching better. Is there anything out there that indicates the F.O. will try to move him?

    • Myles

      4.08 ERA in 46.1 IP since his last call up.

  • SirCub

    Financial advantages are already dwindling, well before the full impact of the new CBA can be felt. Dave Cameron wrote a piece the other day that showed that this season, payroll and wins have been as poorly correlated as ever before.

  • Tom in NY

    Ok. I’ve been saying this for years: Add two franchises to get to 32. Then split them into four eight-team leagues (like the old NL & AL) on a geographic basis. Play within your league, twenty-two games against each opponent. That’s 154 games with less travel. If you want to include Inter-league play, you rotate among the other three leagues, playing each team once every three years – four at home, four away. That takes you to 162 games, if you want.

    For post-season, two scenarios: First – the four league champions play off, matches decided by regular-season records. Victors meet in the WS. Second – league champions & runners-up play off. Eventual two teams left standing meet in the WS.

    Makes more sense than the crappy situation MLB is in now.

  • wait til next year…..again

    The only problem is finding two additional markets that can realistically support a professional baseball team. Baseball is a game that not many years ago the league was talking about contraction. In my opinion, MLB is not in any real position to be adding franchises. Not when franchises like Oakland and Tampa can not fill their current stadiums or seem to be able to find places to build a new stadium. These issues would have to be cleared up before baseball thought about expanding.

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  • Kyle

    The NL Central has the best young talent and the best collection of front office talent. In the really, really long term, the financial issues might catch up with these teams, but I expect the NL Central to be a tough division for at least five more years.

    • TWC

      These thoughts been rumbling around your head since last September, Kyle? Glad you finally got them out. Don’t hold out on us for so long next time, mkay?

      • Kyle

        You’ve really gone downhill the last five years or so. The constant sensationalized storm stories are bad enough, but the local forecast music has gone straight to heck.

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