DALLAS -- Under the terms of the recently-completed collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players Association, a provision exists that baseball could institute its expanded playoff format for next season rather than wait for realignment and 2013.
After what happened Thursday, on the final day of the winter meetings, perhaps the Red Sox are thinking: The sooner, the better.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who, like the Red Sox themselves, have missed out on the postseason the last two seasons, came to terms with both first baseman Albert Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson Thursday morning, dramatically altering the balance of power in the American League for the near future.
"They're aggressive moves,'' said Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. "Certainly, they're putting their front foot forward in the American League West and the American League in general. There's a lot of good teams in the league and that will be a very competitive division with Texas and Anahiem going after each other.''
The Angels, who have gained a reputation for passivity in their dealings with past free agents, changed their image with their aggressive -- and expensive -- strikes. They can now consider themselves the equals -- at the very least of division rivals, the Texas Rangers, who have won last the two American League pennants.
Take the four A.L. playoff teams from last fall -- the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and Rangers -- and added improvements made by the Toronto Blue Jays and Angels, and the American League playoff picture looks more crowded and competitive than ever.
"There are a bunch of teams that will be in pretty good shape going into 2012 to compete in October,'' said Cherington.
If the playoff format doesn't expand for 2012 -- MLB must make a determination by March 1 -- that leaves seven quality teams fighting for four playoff spots. And it greatly increases the chances that next year, for only the second time in the last 10 seasons, the wild card team will come from somewhere other than the American League East.
"We're trying to build the best team we can,'' said Cherington. "However many teams are in the playoffs is not going to affect that. We're trying to build a team that wins as many games as possible. If we do that, we'll have a good chance to be in the playoffs. I don't know what other teams' perspective is on it, but we've always tried to build a team that wins the most games possible and let the chips fall where they may.''