This off-season 147 players who appeared in the majors last year switched leagues: 87 moved from the National League to the American; 60 took the reverse route. It wasn't just in quantity that the AL came out ahead—there's been a talent exodus out of the NL, particularly among sluggers. With Albert Pujols (Cardinals to Angels) and Prince Fielder (Brewers to Tigers) jumping leagues, here's how the AL now outmuscles its senior sibling.
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10 largest current contracts
Active home run leaders (top 10)
Home runs transferred this off-season (2011 totals)
RBIs transferred this off-season (2011 totals)
Interleague winning percentage, 2007--11
The New Magic Number
Beginning this season there will be two wild-card teams per league—they will face each other in a one-game playoff, with the winner advancing to the Division Series to face the division champ with the best record. The expanded postseason gives hope to teams that under the old system could only dream of playing in October—we're looking at you, Toronto and Washington. So how much easier will it be to call yourself a playoff team? Here's how postseason trends would have looked if the new system had been in place for the 16 full seasons played under the single wild-card setup (1996 through 2011). Past performance is no guarantee of future success—but playoff aspirants should aim for 89 wins.
Average wins by first wild-card winner
Average wins by second wild-card winner
Fewest wins needed for second wild card
AL 84 (1997 ANGELS)
NL 85 (2006 PHILLIES)
Most wins needed for second wild card
AL 93 (2003 MARINERS, 2005 INDIANS)
NL 96 (1999 REDS)
Who will get into the new October tournament? Good question—see page 64 for our predictions. But it's close to a lock that the party will be crashed by at least one team that had a losing record in 2011. Since the wild card was added in 1995, every postseason except one has featured a club on the rebound from a sub-.500 season—there have been 33 in 17 seasons, or nearly two a year. (Last year's quota was filled by the Brewers, who went 77--85 in 2010, and the Diamondbacks, who were 65--97 in '10.) There were 16 sub-.500 clubs in 2011. SI's picks for this year's turnaround teams, in descending order of 2011 record.
The Draft That Keeps on Giving
The 2005 draft class, already regarded as the best ever, is now the richest. In the past month Ryan Zimmerman, Cameron Maybin and Andrew McCutchen ('05 first-rounders all) signed multiyear deals to delay their free agency eligibility. That means nine of the 48 '05 first-round picks are playing under long-term deals (list below). The number will increase soon: Royals leftfielder Alex Gordon (the second overall pick), Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (23rd) and Cubs righthander Matt Garza (25th) will likely earn megadeals when they become free agents after the 2013 season—if not sooner.
Photo Illustration by GLUEKIT
MIKE CASSESE/REUTERS (CORDERO); TOM DIPACE (MELANCON, GONZALEZ); MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP (LOWE, CAHILL); JOHN BIEVER (PUJOLS, IANNETTA, CUDDYER); CHUCK SOLOMON (PENA, FIELDER, KURODA, THOME, PAPELBON, BUEHRLE); MARK LOMOGLIO/ICON SMI (IBANEZ); KYLE TERADA/US PRESSWIRE (SANCHEZ); BRAD BARR/US PRESSWIRE (BURNETT); BRAD MANGIN (QUENTIN, CABRERA); CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (KUBEL)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (MAYBIN)
GREG NELSON (HAMILTON)
ERICK W. RASCO (UPTON)
JOHN BIEVER (BOURN)
ROBERT BECK (ETHIER)
JOHN BIEVER (WELLS)
JOSHUA GUNTER/THE PLAIN DEALER/LANDOV (JIMENEZ)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (FENWAY)
DARREN CARROLL (HOLLAND)