ORLANDO, Fla — Baseball management is more likely to consider expanded playoffs for 2012 than for next year.
After discussing upcoming collective bargaining Tuesday with major league general managers, MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said adding wild-card teams for 2011 would be “a difficult trick to pull off” because it would have to be a modification of the current labor contract, which runs through next season.
Manfred said the proposal would have to be made by the owners’ labor policy committee, then endorsed by owners and agreed to by the players’ association.
“In the middle of a contract, we can’t act unilaterally,” said Manfred, baseball’s chief labor negotiator.
Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry favors additional wild cards. He credited commissioner Bud Selig with pushing through the initial wild-card playoffs, which began in 1995.
“It turns out the commissioner was right on,” he said.
Hendry thinks a majority of GMs would back more playoffs.
“It’s all about postseason baseball. That’s what fans like,” Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said.
Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said the sentiment of the group isn’t that clear cut.
“There was definitely a split on the topic when it came up. It’s not per se that everybody’s for it,” he said.
GMs were to discuss bargaining some more Wednesday, and owners gather Thursday for the final day of meetings.
In the first trade of the session, two-time All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla was dealt from the Florida Marlins to the Atlanta Braves for infielder Omar Infante and left-hander Mike Dunn. Uggla is eligible for free agency after next season, and the Marlins couldn’t reach an agreement on a longterm contract.
Florida is close to replacing some of the lost power with free-agent catcher John Buck, who is nearing agreement on an $18 million, three-year contract.
Among free agents, right-hander Jake Westbrook decided to stay with the St. Louis Cardinals, agreeing to a $16.5 million, two-year contract. Also, Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels said he met with Cliff Lee and his agent on Monday in Arkansas, where the left-hander lives. The top starting pitcher on the market, Lee also is being pursued by the New York Yankees.
Last month, union head Michael Weiner said players were open to considering additional playoffs as part of collective bargaining, and Selig said the concept intrigued him. Baseball would have to gauge the interest of its television partners before deciding whether to add more postseason games.
Baseball doubled its playoff teams to four in 1969 and again to eight for 1995, a year later than intended because of a players’ strike. If there were additional wild-card teams, baseball would have to decide the length of the new round.
“I think best-of-one would be a little short, but I don’t see how you go more than best-of-three given the need for travel and all the other playoffs that have to take place,” New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. “But somebody may be able to figure it out on a best-of-five basis.”
Management also seems intent on proposing a slotting system for amateur draft picks to eliminate individual negotiations.
“There are reasons why major league players should want a slotting system, because what’s not spent in the draft arguably could be or would be spent on major league players,” Alderson said.
Having worked for MLB in the Dominican Republic before joining the Mets last month, Alderson said a worldwide draft remains another possible proposal. Currently, the draft is limited to the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and U.S. territories, but baseball may propose expanding it. That would eliminate large free-agent deals for Latin American players and problems caused by buscones who have taken cuts of signing bonuses. MLB also has struggled with age and identity fraud.
“Based on what I’ve heard from the commissioner, that’s an option still on the table,” Alderson said. “If we can clean up some of these problems, there’s a less likelihood of a draft being instituted.”
While the NFL, NBA and NHL are facing potentially acrimonious labor negotiations, MLB remains confident it can reach another deal without strife. Since the 7½-month strike that wiped out the World Series, players and owners have learned to deal with each other with more harmony.
“Of all the sports, I’d say we are the least likely to experience a work stoppage,” Alderson said.