The Houston Astros' rumored move to the AL West as a condition of the sale to Jim Crane has been made official. Starting in 2013, the Astros will be a bona fide American League team, with a designated hitter and everything. Of course, that means there are now 15 teams in each league, and that means interleague play will be ongoing. These changes won't take effect until over a year from now, but it's never too early to think about how this might affect the game of fantasy baseball going forward.
The most obvious changes will be to league-specific formats. AL only leagues will be the beneficiaries of a slightly deeper player pool. You'll want to pay attention to Houston in 2012 so that you'll be well-versed in their system when the 2013 draft comes around. So who on that team is worth owning? When the rumors of this move first came bubbling to the surface, Ray posted a primer on the Houston Astros that you'll want to check out.
NL only people: your player pool is about to get a little shallower, which means that player values will go up in general. Those of you in NL only keeper leagues who are looking to win now rather than rebuild may want to look to the Astros for help in 2012, as the price of every Houston player should steadily drop as the season goes on. If you're willing to take up a roster spot with a player that will be losing eligibility soon, you'll likely be able to find cheap production.
One of the by-products of this move mentioned above is constant interleague play. The commissioner's office hasn't given any hints about how they will reconstruct the schedule moving forward, but it's a safe assumption that they will want to avoid giving teams a ton of off days in the name of having dedicated interleague weekends. SBNation's Al Yellon has a proposal:
18 games against each team in your own division = 72 games
6 games against each other team in your league = 60 games
6 games against each team in one division of the other league = 30 games
It's not the only solution, to be sure - there are several other viable proposals in the comments of the same article - but I would say that an increase in the number of interleague games played is probably more likely than a decrease. If all of this is true, here are 2 major developments in fantasy for players in all formats:
1. True AL designated hitters that don't have a chance of playing in the field, even in an NL park, will see their value decreased.
2. NL players that regularly DH in American League parks will see an increase in value, not because of an increase in games or PAs (those should remain relatively static), but because they might find themselves gaining DH eligibility in mixed leagues that use the position.
Finally, fantasy players will need to be more diligent about watching which players get into the lineup every day. This is perhaps the most important development. NL players filling the designated hitter role and AL DHs hitting the bench will be a constant, not something that happens on a handful of weekends each season. There will be no reminders on every fantasy blog in existence shouting at you to bench Vladimir Guerrero because his team is in an NL park this week. Checking for interleague play will eventually be as regular as checking the weather or opposing starting pitchers.