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How Do the Proposed Rule Changes Affect the Cardinals?

The league will look different when the players and the owners come to an agreement, but does that benefit the Cardinals or hinder them?

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It now appears that Major League Baseball is on the horizon with an agreement that will bring some changes to the league. The owners and Union missed the agreement deadline that would have allowed for a full regular season, but extended it to 5 P.M. on Tuesday after making a ton of progress Monday night. It is still unknown if the two sides can reach an agreement by then, but there seems to be a renewed sense of optimism. It is also unknown what the deal will look like, but some things are clear. The universal DH and a draft lottery are coming to baseball. Besides that, an expanded playoff format is almost certain to be implemented. How do these three changes affect the St. Louis Cardinals? Let’s find out.

Universal DH

Not everyone is on board with the the universal DH, but a major reason why the Players Association desired it is because it creates 15 more jobs. This is something that benefits the Cardinals. St. Louis has always been good at developing prospects, but some of them have gotten blocked over the years by established starters at the major league level. Would players like Patrick Wisdom, Luke Voit, and Adolis Garcia have gotten a chance if there was a universal DH? Would Tyler O’Neill have been given an earlier chance? I don’t know, but these scenarios seem likely.

Look at this year. If there wasn’t a universal DH, where would Juan Yepez play? Last year, in the minors, he played all but two games at first base, third base, and left field, which are manned by the intimidating trio of Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Tyler O’Neill. These players aren’t going to see much of the bench. It’s not hard to see a scenario where Juan Yepez is treated like John Nogowski last year, who got 20 pinch hit appearances before getting pushed out of St. Louis. As someone who was limited defensively, Nogowski was unable to carve out a role despite strong production in 2019 and a strong performance in the spring. Yepez is definitely a better prospect than Nogowski ever was, but he has the same limitations. With a DH, Yepez will get a chance. Without one, it would be tough for him to get into the lineup.

The benefit extends beyond Yepez. The Cardinals can use the DH to integrate other prospects into the big leagues. Players like Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, and Lars Nootbaar could all see more playing time next year because of the DH. A prospect like Luken Baker may also have a chance of reaching St. Louis now that he can do something besides sit on the bench behind Paul Goldschmidt. For a team with a strong crop of young hitters reaching the upper levels of the minors, the universal DH is a huge benefit.

Besides providing a pathway to playing time for young players, the DH also provides a quasi-rest day for regulars, which should be helpful for players like Goldschmidt and Arenado who are penciled in for the lion’s share of playing time at their positions. The new rule should also prevent injuries to pitchers that occur when swinging a bat or running the bases. The Cardinals have certainly been hurt by this in past.

Really the only negative is that Adam Wainwright won’t get a chance to finish his career with a .200 batting average (.194 career BA).

Expanded Playoffs

This is something that could have a huge effect on the Redbirds. It seems like the players and the owners have agreed to a 12-team playoff. This adds another wild card team to each league, for a total of three division winners and three wild cards from each side.

I don’t know if there is a team made to benefit from this change more than the Cardinals. They are always competitive but rarely dominant, and typically fall in the 86-90 win range. With another playoff spot, 86-90 wins almost guarantees a playoff birth instead of a fight for the postseason. Since 2010, the Cardinals have missed the playoffs four times (including the 2010 season). If the 12-team playoff had been in effect, they would have only missed the playoffs once. The Cardinals would have qualified in 2010, 2016, and 2018, while only missing out in 2017.

Personally, I’m not a fan of expanding the playoffs. There is a lot of statistical significance in a 162-game season and by the end of the year, playoff teams and true contenders have separated themselves from everyone else. Expanding the postseason too much runs the risk of watering down the regular season, much like the in NBA with a 16-team playoff (and a play-in tournament). Still, adding just two teams, instead of four teams like the owners desired, finds a good balance. The players got to use the expanded postseason as a bargaining chip without expanding the playoffs too much. It does seem like the players are worried about the negatives of expanding the playoffs too much, though, as they reportedly rejected an offer by the owners of a 14-team playoff structure in preference of the 12-team structure.

Now, perhaps middling teams will have more incentive to shoot for the playoffs instead of selling. Adding an extra playoff spot to each league gives a huge boost to the Cardinals, though, and it may not be long before we see the team taking advantage of the change.

Draft Lottery

The draft lottery is something that will hardly have an effect on the Cardinals. They are likely to stay out of the lottery for the foreseeable future, especially now that the playoffs are almost certainly going to be expanded to 12 teams. It depends on how the lottery will work, but one thing is for sure - if a team makes the playoffs, it won’t be in the lottery. As I mentioned earlier, if the 12-team playoff had always been around, the Cardinals would have missed the postseason just one time since 2010. This means that the team would have been entered into the lottery just once in the past 12 seasons.

Regardless of how many picks are decided by lottery, the Cardinals are not likely to ever have a great chance of receiving a top-5 or top-7 pick (or top-whatever pick depending on what the owners and players agree to). Since 2000, the Cardinals have never picked in the top ten or higher than 13th. Simply put, they are not a lottery team, no matter what agreement the two sides come to.

As long as the Cardinals keep their current philosophy, plenty of playoff appearances and few, if any, lottery appearances will be the reality.

The lottery will affect other teams, though, but it may not have as much of an effect as the owners and players hope it will. The idea of the lottery is that it discourages tanking. The problem is that if a team tanks, it is still incredibly likely to receive a high draft pick. It may not be guaranteed the number one pick but the odds that it falls out of the top three are low, and the odds of falling out of the top five are even lower. That won’t stop a team from tanking or going through a prolonged period of being bad. The incentive is still there.

The NBA uses a draft lottery and one of the most famous examples of tanking (76ers) came from the league. I don’t think the lottery changes much. It may change the order of some picks but really bad teams are still gonna pick at the top of the draft. If a team wants the number one pick and ends up with the number three, it will still feel justified for losing so many games during the season. This may seem like a big change, but it is not likely to have a huge effect, especially not on the Cardinals.

Conclusion

There will almost certainly be a mixed reception to these changes. Like them or not, at least baseball seems to be on the horizon and we may be able to have Spring Training baseball and a full regular season at last. The Cardinals seems to be a team that will benefit from these rule changes, and that may help us watch the Cardinals in the playoffs more often while seeing young players have a greater chance to establish themselves in St. Louis. The league may be different after the players and the owners reach a deal, but at least there will be baseball when it happens.