BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

The sale of the Houston Astros to Jim Crane was finally approved by Major League Baseball.  One of the conditions of the approval was that Crane would agree to move the team to the American League in 2013.  He received a $65 – $70 million discount of his purchase price for agreeing to the move, theoretically for the reduction in value of his television rights.

To some degree, this is a set back for baseball fans in Texas.  In the Metropolitan areas with two teams – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, and Washington-Baltimore; as well in the states of Florida, Ohio, and Missouri; there is a team in each league.  Texas baseball fans will no longer have National League baseball available in state when the move is finalized.

The Astros will join the American League West, which will make all six divisions equal in size at five teams each.  It will also force inter-league play throughout the season with an odd number of teams in each league.  In past years, inter-league play took place mostly in June and was completed by early July at the latest. 

As for the effect on the Rangers, there is still some conjecture.  Certainly, the two interleague series the Astros and Rangers have played each year for most of this century have been a success at the box office.  The schedule format is still up in the air, but the best guess is that each team will face its four divisional opponents 18 times each year, for a total of 72 divisional games out of the 162.  The Astros then will most likely play three series in Arlington each year instead of one, and vice-versa. 

There is also uncertainty as to inter-league play.  Most likely, each division will be matched up against another in the opposite league for a three-game series against each team.  That would total 15 inter-league games each year.  Formats are being considered that would expand inter-league play beyond that figure.

Ultimately though, the schedule should provide more equity than in past years, and should also make the overall travel situation easier on the players.

ODDS & ENDS:  Also announced was an expansion of the playoffs from eight to 10 participants, as each league will have two Wild Card teams instead of one.  The playoffs will start with the Wild Card teams facing each other in either a one-game playoff or a two out of three series to determine which team advances.  Rumor has it that the decision is trending toward the one-game playoff.  This revised format will make winning a division more important, which is certainly a plus.  The expanded playoffs format will commence in the 2013 season for sure, but perhaps even next year.

Ranger manager Ron Washington finished third in the voting for American League Manager of the Year.  The Rays Joe Maddon was the winner and deservedly so.  He lost offensive players such as Carl Crawford and Carlos Penas well as most of his bullpen from his 2010 division winning club, but still managed the 2011 Rays back in the playoffs coming out of the same division as the big spending Yankees and Red Sox.  The Tigers’ Jim Leyland finished second.

The voting is based upon the regular season.  It is interesting though that Maddon’s and Leyland’s teams were eliminated in the playoffs by Ron Washington’s Rangers.

Texas also added six players to the 40-man roster, which will protect those players from being taken in the Rule 5 draft.  All six are pitchers, including left-hander Martin Perez, rated as the Rangers #2 prospect and one of the top 10 prospects in baseball.  He combined for an 8-6 record with a 4.43 ERA at AA Frisco and AAA Round Rock.

The others are right-handers Neil Ramirez, Jake Brigham, Justin Miller, Roman Mendez and Matt West.  Their inclusion brings the 40-man roster to 37.

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