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A Closer Look at MLB Realignment
- Updated: June 21, 2011
MLB is considering realignment with the possibility of two 15 team leagues. Good idea? Not so fast. While it may sound great at first and seem to make logical sense, two 15 team leagues may not be the best thing for baseball. Some of the other options that are on the table may be great ideas. Two leagues without divisions, moving a team from the NL to AL (which would create the 15 team leagues), changing the teams in each division, and adding another wild card team for each league are all possibilities that are being discussed.
Let’s start with two leagues without divisions. Teams in the AL East (Tampa, Toronto, and Baltimore) would welcome the idea as it would give them a shot to make the playoffs without having to finish above the Yankees and Red Sox. If this were to happen, the top 5 teams in the NL and AL would make it to the postseason. No division champions, no wild cards, just simply the top 5 teams in each league make it. This may seem fair to a Tampa Bay team that finishes behind New York and Boston but has the 3rd or 4th best record in the league, but what you would be losing when you eliminate divisions isn’t worth it. Take away divisions and you take away division rivalries altogether. Many great rivalries would lose intensity because without divisions rival teams would not play each other as much during the regular season. The Yankees and Red Sox wouldn’t have as many games against each other, nor would the Cardinals/Cubs or Dodgers/Giants among others. As it is now, with divisions, teams in the same division play each other more often. Eliminate the divisions and those division rivals just become another team. Yes, the rivalries would still be there, they just wouldn’t be as intense. With as much revenue as these strong division rival games bring in it is not likely that owners would be in favor of this. Tell the Steinbrenner’s that you are taking away 3 home games against the Red Sox and replacing them with 3 home games against the Royals or tell the fans of St. Louis that they won’t see the Cubs as often and instead will get the Padres and see what happens. (No disrespect to Kansas City or San Diego) The bottom line is that revenue would be lost across the board. Ticket sales, TV contracts, and merchandise sales would all suffer. Teams charge more for premium game tickets against strong rivals and ratings are stronger for those games as well. Many merchandisers make money off of apparel and souvenirs that relate directly to rivalries as well. At the end of the day money will have an influence on this decision just as it does in any other.
Two leagues with 15 teams has been discussed as well. Unfortunately, this idea is not as good as it sounds. Yes, this would allow for three 5-team divisions in each league and give each team the same odds of winning their division and making the playoffs but there are drawbacks as well. The main concern would be that, with an odd number of teams in each league, there would be one team forced to have an off day every single day of the season unless interleague play happened all season long. Interleague play has been discussed lately as well, with some saying that it should be eliminated altogether because it can give teams an easier schedule than division foes. With those discussions going on, it is hard to believe that interleague play would be supported all season long, unless of course it was revamped to make all things equal for every team (Each team in the division plays the same teams from the opposite league each year). The other issue with this would be choosing which team to take from the NL and put in the AL. This could be done with little trouble but may take that team some time to adjust to the different style of play. The only way two 15 team leagues works would be expansion (to 32 teams) or contraction (to 30 teams) and let’s face it, that is not likely.
Simply realigning divisions is another option, but the benefits of it are small. The divisions are set up well geographically as it is, so the only purpose would be to mix things up or to save the rest of the AL East from Boston and New York, which can be taken care of by adding an additional wild card team to each league. Two wild cards in each league could produce three playoff teams from one division, making things more comfortable for those 3 other teams in the AL East. You can find a complete opinion on the wild card expansion talks here.
These are all options MLB will be considering in the near future. Let’s hope they make the right move after, of course, they implement full instant replay!