Realignment? So Goofy It HAS To Be Bud’s Idea

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the geniuses that have been running (or should that be ruining?) Major League Baseball have come up with an idea. Realignment.

It’s almost as thought Bud Selig woke up one morning, looked at the standings, and said, “Hey… we don’t have the same number of teams in each league.”

You would think that would be ridiculous… that the Commissioner would just now notice that their are 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American League (especially since the team he owned at the time, the Milwaukee Brewers, that switched leagues as part of the weird scheme that led to the unbalanced leagues in the first place). But, then again, Bud apparently was the last person in the country to notice some players might be taking steroids, so he’s obviously not the sharpest tack in the drawer.

So now that Bud has noticed this imbalance, what’s he going to do about it? Why… move one of the NL teams to the AL, of course!

So the Brewers are coming back to the AL? That’s GREAT!

Oh… no… they aren’t. Apparently, baseball thinks the Houston Astros would be a better fit in the AL. It’s not altogether clear whether they’ve bothered to ask the Astros how they feel about that, but since the team us up for sale, I guess nobody really cares.

It makes sense, though, right? Why not have two 15-team leagues? Why were they not balanced in the first place? It’s a scheduling issue, of course. If you have 15 teams, you end up having to stretch out your interleague series over the entire season because you need to have at least one such series going on at all times.

But maybe you think that’s a small price to pay to have balanced leagues and besides, it would allow for six 5 game divisions, right? Well… no. The proposal would eliminate all divisions. There would simply be two 15-team leagues. Yes, this means the Twins would not currently sit in 5th place in the AL Central… they would be 14th in the American League.

The proposal is that teams would play a balanced schedule (within their own league anyway) with the top five teams in each league making the playoffs.

It’s tough to really get your mind around this proposal if you do nothing more than think about it as a concept. So let’s put the concept in to practice. Let’s look at what the current American League standings would look like if the proposed realignment were in place today (understanding that teams would not have played the exact schedule they’ve played this season).

New York 2
Cleveland 3
Detroit 3
Texas 3
Tampa Bay 4 1
Seattle 5.5 2.5
Toronto 6.5 3.5
Baltimore 7 4
Chicago 7.5 4.5
Los Angeles 8 5
Kansas City 10.5 7.5
Oakland 11 8
Minnesota 13 10
Houston 14.5 11.5

There are a couple of interesting things about these standings. First, notice how tight the race at the top is. Six teams within four games of the league leading Red Sox. Then there are also six teams within five games of the final playoff spot.

Another interesting thing, at least for Twins fans, is that the Twins are no further out of a playoff spot in this scenario than they are in today’s standings… 10 games. Of course, the real difference is that, instead of only having to pass four teams to reach that playoff spot in the Divisional set-up, the Twins would have to climb over nine teams to claim 5th place.

It’s easy to see who would really like this approach. If you’re a fan of the Orioles, Blue Jays or Rays, this gives you a much more realistic hope of reaching the playoffs than having to displace the Yankees or Red Sox and claim one of the top two spots in today’s AL East.

But if you’re the GM of the Twins, A’s or Royals, while today you can still convince yourself (and more importantly, your ticket-buying fans) that there’s still some hope, under the “one league” alignment there would be virtually no chance to scratch past all the teams you’d have to get by to claim that 5th spot.

But the Twins have had a pretty good run in the Central Division, having won six Division Championships since 2002. That’s six trips to the playoffs. Would they have done as well without the division alignment?

Well… maybe.

Again, the schedule would have been very different, so you don’t know how many games each team would have won or loss with a balanced schedule, but assuming identical records, let’s see how the Twins would have fared.

YEAR Actual AL Central Proposed Single League
2001 2nd 5th
2002 1st (by 13.5 games) 4th (9 GB 1st)
2003 1st (by 4 games) 5th (11 GB 1st)
2004 1st (by 9 games) Tie 3rd (9 GB1st)
2005 3rd 7th (19 GB 5th)
2006 1st (by 1 game) 2nd (1 GB 1st)
2007 3rd 8th (9 GB 5th)
2008 2nd (lost game 163) Tie 5th (12 GB 1st)
2009 1st (won game 163) Tie 5th (17 GB 1st)
2010 1st (by 6 games) 3rd (2 GB 1st)

Interestingly, in the two years the Twins had to play an extra game to determine the AL Central Champion, they would have tied with the White Sox (2008) and Tigers (2009) for 5th place and, we would assume, would have still resulted in those teams playing a game 163 to determine the final playoff participant.

So, what should we make of this proposal?

To the old school baseball purist in me, there’s something about the “one league” format that I like and it’s clearly the “fairest” approach.

But Major League Baseball isn’t fair. Until baseball establishes a financial model that levels the financial playing field, the Yankees and Red Sox will always have an advantage in any system. The single league format would assure that the “best of the rest” challenge the Yankees and Red Sox once the playoffs start.

But will fans’ interest be as high in other parts of the country when the local team is “just” challenging for 5th place and the final playoff spot, as opposed to being in a pennant race for a division “championship”? I’m not so sure.

Word is that the Players Association is receptive to this realignment plan, but the chances of adoption are less than 50-50. It sounds to me like we’re getting a trial balloon… someone wants to get a sense of fan and media reaction.

My reaction is “forget about it.” Until MLB is willing to show some balls and find a way to enforce a more level financial playing field, I won’t support any system that just makes it even more likely than today that the Yankees will be in the playoffs every season. Fix the financial disparity and you’ll fix the competitive disparity. Teams with resources that are at least in the same universe can compete in a single 15-team league. Otherwise, just add a single “wild card” play-in game, but leave the divisions alone.

But what do you think? Keep the Division arrangement or realign in to two 15 team leagues? Let us know in the comments section.

– JC