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The Globe and Mail

MLB changes may boost Blue Jays' postseason hopes

It is not a free pass to the postseason, and the idea of a one-game playoff runs counter to the spirit of a 162-game schedule. But it became a little easier to be a Toronto Blue Jays fan on Thursday, and if you're Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos, a little easier to ask your owner for more money.

Commissioner Bud Selig announced in Milwaukee Thursday that Major League Baseball will add another wild-card playoff team in each league as early as the 2012 season.

Under the plan, announced at owners and general managers meetings, the teams with the first and second-best records among non-division winners will meet in what Selig said would most likely be a one-game playoff, with the winner advancing to the best-of-five division series.

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Selig made the announcement after owners unanimously approved the sale of the Houston Astros to Jim Crane from Drayton McLane, cutting the price from $680-million (all currency U.S.) to $615-million in return for Crane agreeing to switch the team to the American League West in 2013, with baseball picking up $35-million of the sale price spread over three years.

The move means there will be 15 teams in each league, and is the first realignment since the Milwaukee Brewers left the AL for the NL in 1997.

Selig felt moved to make the announcement even before the formal conclusion of negotiations won a new collective agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, because the union has long supported both initiatives.

Under Beeston and Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays have done less complaining about the inequities of playing an unbalanced schedule in a division that includes financial and on-field heavyweights such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Plenty of other people have hammered home the long odds of making the playoffs in a division that also features the Tampa Bay Rays, who have punched above their weight for four seasons.

Anthopoulos said in an e-mail that the announcement wouldn't change his approach to assembling his team, stressing that the goal was a "sustainable contender."

And while there is a significant element of the fan base that still views with skepticism the assertion that club owners Rogers Communications is willing to foot a payroll in the neighbourhood of $125-million to $140-million when Anthopoulos decides the time is right, the general manager was clear that the added playoff team did not mean he was any more likely to pursue top-tier free agents this winter.

The simple fact remains that any significant move made by the Blue Jays this off-season will more likely than not be a trade. Club sources say the internal appetite to add a significant contract through a trade is greater than the appetite to blow the doors off a free agent. Given the fact that Beeston, the Blue Jays' president, is philosophically opposed to guaranteeing six-year deals, that is no surprise.

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So for now the Blue Jays will count on the excitement created by Thursday's announcement, as well as Friday's unveiling of new uniforms that hint at a more glorious past, to excite the populace.

Truth is, the real impact of the newly open playoff avenue won't likely be felt this year until closer to the trade deadline. If the expanded playoffs are in time for this season, it stands to reason that more teams will feel they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. If the Blue Jays are one of those teams, approaching ownership to assume a big salary for the stretch drive becomes an easier sell – easier than persuading ownership that money must be spent in the off-season.

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