Major League Baseball could have "Major" Realignments on the Horizon
Before I tackle this sensitive subject let me lay a little bit of foundation. MLB and MLBPA have already begun meeting to discuss the specifics of their next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Lockout or strike...nope, in the words of C.L.U. from TRON: Legacy, "not in the cards." MLB is in great shape and thanks in large part to Commissioner Bud Selig the relationship between the owners and the players association looks like pure 14k gold compared to the NBA and NFL.
NFL is dealing with greed, greed, and even more greed that would make Gordon Gekko giggle. The NBA is about to deal with major financial issues, that if not fixed immediately they are looking at rough, rough times ahead. Whereas MLB is dealing with some minor tweaks and that is it, playoff format, number of playoff teams, and very recently the conversation for realignment has picked up some steam.
I'll dive into playoff talks and number of teams at another date, want to concentrate on realignment. What is being talked about, possible scenarios, BOLD scenarios, and rule and playoff implications.
History lesson - the realignment talks originated and have always done so from complaints about schedule imbalances. Owners' whining that they have a harder schedule than such-and-such and that's why they made the postseason and we didn't. In most cases these complaints go by the waist-side as exactly that...just complaints. But now three new factors are being tied in that I believe will attribute enough steam to this argument that MLB will in fact have some realignment changes for the 2012 season. First, the number of rainouts this season. I know that there is little to absolutely nothing that MLB can do about the weather, aside from avoiding more Gerry Davis incidents. But if teams placed in the same division are in fact closer in location, then make-ups can be easier to schedule, easier on travel fatigue of players, and cheaper financially. Again this is a small factor, but nonetheless it is a factor. Second, agree with it or not but money drives the business. Greed can be good...oh, that's my second Gekko reference, hence the picture. MLB can conceivably make more money with territorial rivalries. Rangers-Astros, Yankees-Mets, Rays-Marlins, Athletics-Giants, Angels-Dodgers, White Sox-Cubs, Royals-Cardinals, and so on, why have these rivalries in the middle of June, when baseball could be pitting these teams against one another in late September, playing in the same division, and fighting for the final playoff spot. Won't take a marketing genius to sell those tickets, baseball could in fact have sellout after sellout the final two weeks in most ballparks. Third and finally, similar to the second reason, baseball fans LOVE their rivalries, so reward the fans and let these bitter rivalries compete all season long. Look at the success driven from Red Sox-Yankees, Cardinals-Cubs, Phillies-Mets, and Giants-Dodgers. These rivalries have grown and grown because of their close location to one another, but mainly due to the fact that they are all in the same division.
I want to touch more on that third reason, because it is the basis for my opinions on both why I want to see some realignments and the changes that I would make. I love the close rivalries in sports, and by close I mean geographically. It is one of the great things about college sports, close locations leads to bitter rivalries, which will also lead to more money spent. Texas-Texas A&M, Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, Kentucky-Louisville, Florida-Florida State, USC-UCLA, and Duke-North Carolina, to name just a few. Now I would like to see MLB do the same thing, pit states and even cities' fan bases against one another for the entire marathon season. The state of Texas (Rangers-Astros), city of Los Angeles (Angels-Dodgers), city of Chicago (White Sox-Cubs), city of New York (Yankees-Mets), the Bay Area (Athletics-Giants), and the state of Florida (Rays-Marlins). Currently these teams compete in two series a year, six total games, but it's not too big of a deal. Win or lose, it's not hurting your divisional status too much. Instead play these games early in the year and at the end of the season, plus put them in the same division and now your cheering against your rival all season because it matters. Seriously you think Cub fans hate White Sox fans, wait till the ChiSox knock them out of the postseason, or the A's eliminate the Giants, Marlins upset the Rays, and so on.
Currently MLB is talking very simple changes. Adjusting from a 16-team NL and 14-team AL and moving to two 15-team leagues. Some of the talks take this even a little bit further and contemplate removing the divisions, having the two 15-team leagues in which the top three are automatic postseason qualifiers and 4th and 5th places play a quick three-game series.
Right now the front-runner idea seems to be two 15-team leagues, in which one NL team is moved to the AL. Keep the same divisions, three divisional winners and two wildcards. The one problem with that is the odd number issue, meaning every series there would be one AL-NL series. A solution to this is guaranteeing that every team plays a series against every other team each season. Right now a team plays roughly 51 series in a season. The math from there isn't too complicated; play the opposite league once a year (switch off home and away every other year) - that's 15 series, play two series (home and away) against the 10 remaining teams in your league league, not your division - that's 20 series, and finally play two home series and two away series against your four division teams - that's 16 series. Perfectly equals 51 series in a season.
The automatic plus to this is that every single team would have the opportunity to play every other team in a season, fan bases would get to see 21-22 teams at their stadium every year, currently that number is 17, and finally it would allow all fans the chance to see at their home stadium any player they want every other year.
Do I have you excited about possible change yet, alright now what would the changes be, your asking? Well their are two things that could happen: simple change - switch one team or BOLD change - make some geographic changes.
If there is to be realignment in MLB, there is more than a likely chance that it'll be a one team change. Simply moving one NL team to the AL, and I'm onboard with this. Already I have heard three teams mentioned: Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Florida Marlins. How would this work?
If Houston moves - they would be moved to the AL West in attempts to build on the interstate rivalry between Texas and Houston. Odds this is the change - 40% If Arizona moves - they would be moved to the AL West, and the Astros would move to the NL West. Geographically this makes sense, and unlike Houston, Arizona seems to be on-board with a potential change. Odds - 55% If Florida moves - they would be moved to the AL East, Pirates to AL Central, and Royals move to AL West. This is a lot of change that would have to take place to match two low-level markets in Florida and Tampa Bay. Odds - 5%
Buf what if MLB is not looking for a simple change, but instead wants to fully commit to geographic rivalries, then we would see two things. One, there would be some BOLD realignment changes, and two either the DH-rule would become league-wide or abolished completely. Not going to argue on that point today, because that is a whole another article, but my vote is DH-rule becomes league-wide. My reasoning is a potential increase in offense, which will interest the average fan a lot more than a pitchers' duel, plus it could indirectly lead to less pitcher injuries. Don't get me wrong, I love a good pitchers' duel, but since we are talking money and increased entertainment value, then league-wide DH-rule makes more sense.
Former GM and current ESPN writer Jim Bowden came up with his own breakdown of the major realignment changes he would make, and they are as follows:
AMERICAN LEAGUE - Eastern: Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Mets, Blue Jays. Central: Reds, Tigers, Indians, Twins, Pirates. Midwest: Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, White Sox, Royals
NATIONAL LEAGUE - Southeast: Braves, Marlins, Rays, Nationals, Orioles. Western: Rangers, Rockies, D'Backs, Astros, Mariners. California: Angels, Dodgers, Athletics, Giants, Padres
Agree of disagree with what he has, I'm good with debating it as well. Overall, I like it, and as a Rangers fan I love our division and league competition. However, I don't think this would work because I think there is too much power in the Eastern Division. Remember league-wide DH-rule and postseason would be three division winners and two wild cards to play-in. If that's true that means two of those five Eastern teams would ALWAYS miss the postseason and in many cases it's likely the two wild cards would come from that division. Still I believe he is on the right track.
I did my own version of both changes:
1) Simple change - I would move the Astros to the AL West. Move makes sense and only one team is moving leagues
2) Moderate change - - Astros to AL West, Nationals to AL East, Blue Jays and Reds to AL Central, Pirates to NL East, and Twins and Tigers to NL Central. This has just a few moves more, but really does set up some good geographic match-ups.
3) BOLD change:
WESTERN LEAGUE / AMERICAN LEAGUE: West - Rangers, Rockies, D.Backs, Astros, Mariners. California - Angels, Dodgers, Athletics, Giants, Mariners. Midwest: Cardinals, Royals, White Sox, Cubs, Brewers.
EASTERN LEAGUE / NATIONAL LEAGUE: Northeast - Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Nationals, Blue Jays. Coastal - Phillies, Braves, Rays, Marlins, Orioles. Great Lakes: Twins, Tigers, Reds, Indians, Pirates
Now before you tear this apart understand my thought process for a second. This was a BOLD change that sets the season up for some geographic advantages. The AL is very central and western located, while the NL is easterly located, I believe this will help not only for cheaper travel, but less jet lag, and inadvertently could help with injury situations. Next, as stated before I'm a big fan and true believe of the rivalry set-up and I believe these realignments could lead to some great match-ups throughout the season and fantastic races into late September.
I love pitting the Rangers and Astros, mixed with Rockies and D'Backs. Then having a California-Only division makes so much sense, as it would not be these teams competing for a division, but a state championship. Midwest keeps the Cards-Cubs, and adds the Cards-Royals and Cubs-White Sox. Northeast will be considered the powerhouse and it keeps the Red Sox-Yanks, but also mixed in the Mets giving a NY-NY battle and the up-start Nats. Coastal keeps the Phillies-Braves which is a building rival and adds some flavor with the Rays and Orioles to that equation. Great Lakes has keeps Twins-Tigers-Indians and adds in a Reds-Indians rivalry.
I know that I might not have the best solution, but I'm a fan of making some changes and building these geographic rivalries. Will there be realignment changes, that's still way too soon to say, one baseball executive has already said, "less than 50%." But the fact remains the conversation has started, and as it progresses, you know Let's Talk Rangers will always be right there to cover it.