I wouldn't blame you if news of MLB adding a second wild card team starting in the 2012 playoffs didn't give you any added hope about the chances of our New York Mets this season.
Getting to .500 seems like a daunting task given the dubious states of Johan Santana, Jason Bay, and others who we're counting on to create meaningful baseball at Citi Field in late July, let alone September. A second wild card means another berth that wouldn't have helped the Mets escape the Collapse in 2007 or the lesser one in 2008. It means five National League teams reaching the playoffs, but 14 others jockeying for the bonus spot including the four retooled clubs in the NL East.
But maybe we're asking the wrong question. Maybe, instead of handicapping the odds of the Mets attaining postseason glory come October, we should ask how a second wild card can add to the club's primary objection for 2012 -- rebuilding and reinforcing the system. Plenty of questions will turn to answers with the playing time being afforded to Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, and others, which will help cover the rebuilding part. The slimmer payroll and value-conscious general manager should help reinforce what the Wilpons have crippled in recent years by way of shady investments.
And the second wild card could make Sandy Alderson's job just a bit easier.
In the 2006 book Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know about the Game Is Wrong, Nate Silver reviewed when it becomes wise to start doubling down on roster payroll. He deduced that the marginal revenue generated from a win for a budget-conscious franchise doesn't outweigh the cost until about 80 wins, and not in a meaningful way until approximately 85 wins. The reason for the boost is the playoffs; people will pay more and keep paying to see a team in contention. There's some dispute regarding whether any club should aim for 80-89 wins, but it at least sets a range.
The kicker here is that Silver's numbers were based on a playoff system based on one wild card. Adding a second wild card reduces the barrier to entry for the MLB playoffs, which, in turn, lessens the level of success required to make the playoffs. (Yes, a second wild card dilutes the talent level of the postseason.) If it's easier to get in the playoffs, then it's easier to contend for the playoffs.
That easement on playoff prerequisites should theoretically also lower the win total required to make the marginal revenue from a win worth more than the cost. Because it dilutes the barrier to entry, the second wild card makes the Mets look slightly more palatable on our collective wallets if they can hang around in the Wild Card race past June.
None of that means the Mets should start spending big on the roster for the remainder of 2012. However, it does imply that Sandy Alderson might experience a slightly easier time turning the team into a moneymaker. The Wilpons could undo that progress if their financial woes continue, but I'm still a believer that the key to the Mets' longevity lies in their own hands. If they win, they make money. If they make money, they maintain or increase the payroll. If they maintain or increase the payroll, the team can improve.
So don't go punching those playoff tickets quite yet. But if the second wild card makes a Mets game even slightly more enticing to you come August, then the second wild card race is still a big help.