Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement is still under negotiation, and reports are that it should be resolved soon. There is no sign of an NBA style lockout; baseball learned its lesson the hard way in 1994 and is now the most proactive league in terms of negotiating with the union. This deal will get done.
And when it gets done, some things are going to change. Some things are going to change a lot. Some of those changes are still being discussed, such as team compensations for free agents who leave, but one thing that is looking fairly clear is the new schedule. For the Cubs, there is a lot to like in the new format.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark, in his latest Rumblings and Grumblings column lays out what he is hearing about the new schedule. Rather than rehash his melodic prose, I’ll start by simply quoting him verbatim.
"We’ll be heading for 15 teams in each league, five teams in each of the six divisions and an interleague game every day. But the biggest change could be nearly TWICE as many interleague games, because every team in a division would play exactly the same schedule. Here’s the new format we’ve heard is on the drawing board:Eighteen games against each of the other four teams in your division; six games against each of the other 10 teams in your league; three interleague games against each of the five teams in the corresponding division in the other league (i.e., AL East versus NL East); three more interleague games against each team in one of the other two divisions (i.e., AL East versus NL Central one year, NL West the next)."
So let’s break down exactly what this means for the Cubs. First of all, the team that moves from the NL Central to the AL West will be the Houston Astros. That has been all but official for quite some time. That brings the NL Central down to five teams and back into balance with the rest of the league. It would be easy to look at the past few years and to say that losing a terrible team like the Astros is bad for the Cubs. After all, if the Cubs play Houston 18 times a year, they should win at least 12 of those games, right?
Not so fast. Houston is the only city in the NL Central large enough to provide its team the resources to potentially spend with the Cubs. Furthermore, starting in 1994 the Astros went on a 13 year run in which they finished lower than second place just once. They’ve been bad for the past three years, and terrifyingly bad last season, but the history of the Astros is that of a very good and competitive team. Losing Houston weakens the NL Central and makes it that much more winnable for the Cubs.
So with Houston allocated to the AL West, this is how the Cubs schedule should look.
NL Central – 18 Games Each – 3 home and 3 road series
St. Louis Cardinals
Rest of the NL – 6 Games Each – 1 home and 1 road series
New York Mets
San Francisco Giants
Los Angles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
AL Central – 3 Games Each – Alternating home series by year
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
For example, in 2013 the Cubs might have the Tigers and White Sox at home. In 2014, they might have the Royals, Twins, and Indians. In 2015, it would be the Tigers and White Sox at home again.
AL East or AL West – 3 Games Each – Alternating division and home series by years
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
For example: NL Central vs AL West in 2013, NL Central vs AL East in 2014.
So what does this mean for the Cubs?
First of all, the series with the White Sox is down to three games a year. I’ve got to count that as a bad thing simply because of how well loved that series is by the fans of both teams. I’d love to see that series get moved to Soldier Field, but the odds of that ever happening are virtually zero. Still, it’d be great to have that three game series played out in front of 60,000+ fans per game.
Second, this should limit the number of west coast road trips the Cubs make. Even in years when they are matched against the AL West, either two or three of those teams should be coming to Chicago. Most years the Cubs should only have three or four series in the Pacific Time Zone at all.
Third, when the Cubs have to play the powerhouse teams in the AL East, the rest of their division does as well. Gone are the days when the Cubs could get stuck with both the Yankees and the Red Sox while the Brewers get off with just the Orioles and the Blue Jays (and vice versa, of course). That is a positive change that baseball has needed to make since they first introduced unbalanced divisions and interleague play.
Fourth, every team in baseball should visit Wrigley Field at least once every four years, and the Cubs will visit every other stadium at least once every four years. For those of us who grew up with the Cubs but now live outside of the Chicago area, that is a tremendous positive.
Finally, this new schedule strongly favors a team that wins against its own division. With 72 games against the NL Central the Cubs will have plenty of opportunities to recover from a slow start, make up lost ground, or put the division away. The team that wins the Central should be the best team against the Central, and that’s what this schedule accomplishes.
I like the way things are looking under the new CBA. As we get details of any changes to free agent compensation picks, draft slotting, or any other system governed by the CBA, we will have a breakdown of those changes as well.