ESPN’s Buster Olney is reporting that Major League Baseball Officials are discussing a divisional and league realignment that would leave both the American League and National League with 15 teams. As a person that has been pushing this idea on friends and colleagues for years, I’m all for it.
By Peter Christian
As Olney reports, the switch is being considered mainly for the purpose to add an extra playoff team in both leagues, but would need three, 5 team divisions in each league to make it work. The logic is solid. Which is a little out of the ordinary because this is MLB that we’re talking about.
Very few details were released in the initial story, which means that I (an uninformed outsider) have just as much information as the guy in cut off jean shorts at US Cellular field, but I’ve got a few ideas of where this could be headed.
The only team mentioned by Olney as possibly switching from the NL to the AL was the Houston Astros, which would create an instant rivalry with the Texas Rangers. That’s a good thought and it’s a solution that kills two birds with one stone. By moving the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West it means that the overall realignment will be very slight and will keep the majority of the rivalries that have been developed since the last realignment in 1998.
Any other options would also surely include an NL Central team moving to the AL and if they didn’t move directly into the AL West (for example if the Brewers moved back to the AL) the Kansas City Royals would likely be moved to the AL West.
Of course, MLB could go the opposite route and completely overhaul the current divisions to really reset the league. This path would mostly be to appease the teams that have to be in the same division with the Yankees and Red Sox every year while having a fraction of the payroll (read: Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles). This route could allow the league to really change the landscape of the league in a myriad of ways, they could go by proximity (AL East would be more Northern Seaboard, NL East would be Southern) or they could go by payroll averages. I don’t really like the latter idea but the former has legs.
A major proximity realignment could put the Phillies and Mets into the AL East with the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays while the NL East could be made up of the Orioles, Nationals, Braves, Rays and Marlins. The AL Central would be made up of the Pirates, Indians, Reds, Tigers and Cardinals and the NL Central consist of the Cubs, White Sox, Twins, Brewers and Royals. The AL West would contain the Rangers, Astros, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres and the NL West would have the Dodgers, Angels, A’s, Giants and Mariners.
You’d be throwing out a lot of history and doing a lot of league switching (which would likely be deemed unnecessary) but you’d have divisions that are packed much closer than they are now. And for anyone complaining about the loss of rivalries due to the changes of leagues or divisions, there’s still one giant point that hasn’t been discussed: Interleague Play.
MLB, unlike any of it’s pro sports league counterparts has been able to stave off the complete integration of interleague play throughout the season. Currently, the league plays interleague games for one weekend series in May and then two weeks of series at the end of June. Four of the six divisions play 18 interleague games while the teams in the NL Central and NL West only play 15 (because of the extra two teams in the NL). With any change that is made to balance the AL and NL it would mean that ALL teams play an equal amount of interleague games AND that interleague series would be spread throughout the season.
Some might argue the special matchups might lose their luster if they aren’t all clumped together, but many would drown that out by saying, “TOO LATE.”
What it will do is allow the teams to maintain their focus on the baseball season and avoid the annual questions about being worried about the different rules for two weeks or how much fun it is to play a team from the other league. The players don’t care anymore, the fans don’t either. The media will soon leave it alone if MLB quits treating it like a dessert rather than simply part of the season. Also, going back to the point of maintaining rivalries, a continuous interleague play means there can still be weekend series between the teams that hate each other, there just won’t be as many of them.
As a whole, I love this idea, I love that the league came up with this idea without a suggestion of a US Senate committee meeting and I also love that this could be one more step to pushing the league to right the biggest wrong in it’s 142 year history: Eliminating the Designated Hitter.
But, like Dr. Leo Marvin would remind us, baby steps, Bob, baby steps…