MLB Geographic Realignment Just What Sport Needs

Posted: June 22, 2011 in Opinions
MLB Map

The current layout of Major League Baseball makes sense, but scheduling issues present unfair play for unlucky teams.

Breaking down a radical, yet somewhat practical, idea for making America’s pastime a fair and honest game

–Brett Lyons (Follow on Twitter @BrettLyons670)

CHICAGO, IL — There has been plenty of talk about what Major League Baseball needs to do regarding divisional and conference realignment.

It’s not as simple as just moving one team from the National League to the American League, though. The Astros or Marlins can’t just all of a sudden be included in the American League. Despite the fact that it would balance the conferences at fifteen teams apiece, it would however present more issues that would have to be ironed out across the sport.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle would be the designated hitter and what role it would play in baseball. If MLB wants to have two leagues with an odd number of teams in each, interleague play would “occur” all the time. This would be unfair and odd for teams who would have their pitchers always scheduled for when the random interleague games would pop up on the schedule.

As far as the DH is concerned, MLB needs to rule whether or not it wants the position for all 30 teams or for none of them. Either way, teams would be at a disadvantage. If MLB abolishes the DH, AL teams have a major player in their line-ups who they signed not for defense that are not forced to play them in the field. If MLB makes the DH a staple for its entire clubs, NL teams would have missed out then on the chance to sign a permanent slugger.

My personal theory would be to make a hybrid position. In softball, teams have a Designated Player, which is in essence allows a DH for a team’s worst defensive player. This does not necessarily mean for the pitcher. Why couldn’t MLB make this rule and link it directly to the pitcher? A team’s starting lineup could consist of eight position players and a DH. The strategy would be when the starting pitcher is taken out of the game, the DH will be lost and teams must bat personnel from their bench. I’m sure there are flaws, but it’s a jumping off point.

Baseball writer Jim Bowden from ESPN.com and Sirius XM radio (Twitter: @JimBowdenESPNxm)  recently presented what he considered to be a “radial” adjustment to modern day baseball. This plan would include an absolute shake-up of the former AL and NL teams, totally dismissing historical roots. The proposal would call for two “conferences,” not “leagues.” Similar to the NBA, NFL, and NHL, these conferences would be geographically determined and promote rivalries with teams from their closest proximities.  Here’s what the continental bombshell would look like:

AMERICAN CONFERENCE NATIONAL CONFERENCE
Eastern Division Southeast Division
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
New York Mets Baltimore Orioles
New York Yankees Florida Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays Washington Nationals
Central Division Western Division
Cincinnati Reds Arizona Diamondbacks
Cleveland Indians Colorado Rockies
Detroit Tigers Houston Astros
Minnesota Twins Seattle Mariners
Pittsburgh Pirates Texas Rangers
Midwest Division California Division
Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Angels
Chicago White Sox Los Angeles Dodgers
Kansas City Royals Oakland Athletics
Milwaukee Brewers San Diego Padres
St. Louis Cardinals San Francisco Giants

.

The “radical” comment would certainly be an understatement for this realignment. However, modern day baseball fans should be totally open for this much needed face lift of America’s pastime. There would be historical implications but the league would be even, fair, and much more simple.

The first point being is that MLB attendance and television ratings are down across the board. What better than a nice shake-up to regain interest and make for more local rivalries in heavier doses. Rivalries like Yankees-Mets, Indians-Reds, Rays-Marlins, Angels-Dodgers, Giants-Athletics, Astros-Rangers, and Cubs-White Sox would all be “divisional” games and we could see those matchups 18 times a year. This would be most appealing to the fans, who ultimately matter the most in this process. The only drawback would be if the teams in these local rivalries were non-competitive and didn’t draw the crowds like they would have if they only played six times a season.

Another area of concern would be divisional fairness. For example, look at Toronto in the Eastern Division. The heavy hitting financial division which consists of four of MLB’s highest spending franchises. The Yankees (1st – $201.7M), Phillies (2nd – $173M), Red Sox (3rd – $161.4M), and Mets (7th – $120.1M) all have more than twice the salary of the Blue Jays (23rd – $62.5M). This would have to call for a gradual salary cap to even out the dollars and cents. Also, The California Division would be ideal for teams to play in because of the short amount of travel between the divisional games as opposed to an Astros-Mariners divisional series in the Western Division.

What really seemed to have gotten this realignment ball rolling was the talks about playoff expansion, adding an additional wild card team in each league for a total of ten postseason berths. With an even playing field, MLB would be able to adapt a similar system to the NFL playoff bracket. Three division champions and three wild cards from each conference could make a total of twelve teams. The one and two seeds would get a quick three to four day bye while the 3-6 and 4-5 matchups could be quick best-of-three series. The advantage for the higher seeds would be they get the short (key word: short) rest to revamp and rest their starting rotations and be able to watch their potential opponents.

Last but not least, a change of conferences will result in a change of scheduling. The biggest complaint currently with interleague play is that teams like Milwaukee this year play at the Yankees and Red Sox while St. Louis gets the Blue Jays at home and would travel to the Orioles.  Because of the imbalance in teams per division, no one division can have all of its teams play the same teams. Working the geographic interconference rivals into annual play too throws a wrench into the schedule but that issue will be resolved with new divisions as is.

Here’s an example of what a sample schedule for any team would look like. Let’s do an example with the White Sox from the Midwest Division. The White Sox would play a total of 72 divisional games, as is the normal in modern day five team divisions. That would breakdown to be 18 games against the Cubs, 18 against the Royals, 18 against the Brewers, and 18 against the Cardinals. The White Sox would then play a series at home and away against every other team in its conference (30 games against the Eastern and30 games against the Central). Interleague play would be again like the NFL where divisions play entire other divisions on a rotation. The rotation would be set in advance. In 2012 for example the Midwest could play the Southeast, the Eastern could tackle the Western, and the Central would battle the California.

Now with the major issues ironed out, MLB would have a truly fair and balanced system giving every team a competitive chance to win. There’s even other things MLB could improve upon like starting the season earlier and perhaps out west and down south where the weather is nicer. All of this would equate to cherries on top of the sundae, but are certainly options.

Major League Baseball needs a drastic overhaul to level the playing field. It may take some tough love at first, but a news system could be the start to a new era in professional baseball.

 

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