Two more wild-card teams will be added to the major-league playoffs, and the Rays could be one of the biggest benefactors.
The Rays have always found themselves in the difficult position of trying to make the postseason while competing in the American League East against the Yankees and Red Sox — and their mammoth payrolls. It took a September comeback and a historic Boston collapse for the Rays to clinch a wild-card berth on the final day of this past season
But commissioner Bud Selig announced Thursday at the meetings in Milwaukee that owners approved adding a second wild-card team to each league, with hopes that a new playoff format can begin next season. It's possible the expanded field might not start until 2013, when the Astros are scheduled to move from the NL Central to the AL West, a realignment that will form two 15-team leagues and lead to interleague play throughout the season. The Astros' move was approved by owners along with the $615 million purchase of the franchise by Jim Crane.
"We believe after a lot of study and a lot of thought that the addition of two wild cards will really help us in the long run," Selig said.
The altered playoff structure is subject to an agreement on a new labor contract with the players' association, which is expected before the current deal expires Dec. 11.
The idea of adding another playoff team to each league had been discussed the past two years. Selig said details and scheduling haven't been sorted out for the new format, but it's likely that the two wild-card teams in each league would play each other in a one-game playoff, with the winner moving on to the division series.
That means the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays could all make the playoffs in the same season.
"With the fact of how competitive our division is, I like the fact that we add another element to it," Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "It should make October even more interesting."
The Rays have made the playoffs three of the past four seasons, including winning two AL East titles. But with their payroll at least one-quarter the size of Boston and New York, whom the Rays play 18 times each per season, it continues to be a challenging task.
"We are in favor of any change that might help improve competitive balance," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "And this at least does something to further that."
In other Rays news, the team appears close to signing veteran free agent catcher Jose Molina. FoxSports.com reported that the sides are nearing a one-year deal with an option for 2013. The Rays declined comment. Molina, 36, has been primarily a backup during his 12-year big-league career, but he would provide strong defense and experience. He hit .281 in only 55 games for the Blue Jays last season and has thrown out 40 percent of attempted base-stealers in his career.
Astros sale spurs league realignment
HOUSTON — Owners unanimously approved the long-delayed sale of the Astros from Drayton McLane to Crane, a transaction that requires the team to move from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013.
As part of the Astros' agreement to switch leagues, the sale price was cut from $680 million to $615 million, the Associated Press reported. The deal is expected to be completed Tuesday.
"We're focused on bringing a winner back to Houston," said Crane, who added that staff changes will be made after Thanksgiving.
It's baseball's first realignment since the Milwaukee Brewers went to the NL after the 1997 season.
With an odd number of teams in each league, there will be interleague play from April through September. Since interleague games began in 1997, they had been concentrated around May and late June.
Sveum to pilot Cubs
The Cubs hired Dale Sveum as their new manager, hoping the Brewers hitting coach can help turn around the long-suffering franchise.
Sveum will be introduced at a news conference today at Wrigley Field, the team announced.
Sveum replaces Mike Quade, who was fired by Theo Epstein, the new president of baseball operations. The Cubs finished 71-91 after a disappointing season that extended their title drought to 103 seasons.
Sveum, who turns 48 Wednesday, has little experience as a manager, other than an interim stint with the Brewers late in 2008 after Ned Yost was fired. Sveum was chosen for the job over Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. and Red Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale. Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona pulled himself out of contention.
Phillies: Catcher Brian Schneider, the 34-year-old backup to Carlos Ruiz, re-signed with the club, getting a one-year, $800,000 deal in which he can earn an additional $200,000 in performance bonuses.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.