A Plan for Realignment

There has been a lot of speculation lately about MLB potentially doing some sort of realignment.  The problem, at least accordingly to most people, is that teams like Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Toronto are forced to play in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox and that really hurts their ability to compete.

Now, I’m not going to belabor that point, though I do wonder how much extra revenue those teams make from being in the AL East.  The bottom line though is that it’s quite possible the best 3 teams in baseball are all in the AL East.  I certainly think that’s the case; I would pick Tampa Bay or Boston to win any other division in baseball.  Obviously though, 1 of those teams cannot make the playoffs under the current system.

You also have a team like Baltimore who, like Toronto is recent years, stands to be pretty decent and could probably compete in a different division, but really stands no chance in the AL East.

So how do we fix it?  There has been talk about rotating teams into different divisions so that maybe one year the White Sox come over to the East and the Orioles go to the Central (or any number of examples like that).  This could be done at random (in my opinion a bad idea) or move teams into the East when they are rebuilding anyways (a worse idea).

There really is no fair way to do this kind of rotation, and besides: it would crush a fan base if those fans thought their team wasn’t going to compete in that season.

In Monday’s blog post, Buster Olney proposes we do away with divisions entirely and that idea I think makes some sense.  However, that is a bit radical because it would mean that teams wouldn’t play the teams closest to them most often.

So why not just go to the old 2 division system again?  You have an East and a West.  The winner of each division goes to the playoffs and the next best 2 teams win the wild card – and it doesn’t matter which division those teams are in.  You play teams in your division more than you play teams on the opposite side of the country.  Maybe you even schedule a couple of series based on the previous year’s record, like how the NFL schedules 2 of each team’s games each year.

Does that make everything perfect?  Of course not.  Some teams would still be playing the Yankees and Red Sox more than others but the disparity would no longer be as great.  And if a couple of series were scheduled based on the previous year’s record, that would certainly be a way to schedule an extra Red Sox-Yankees series or two, so that if both teams are still competitive (as we all expect) they’d still be playing roughly the same amount each year and we won’t have to worry about diluting the rivalry that everyone talks about so much.

Baseball is supposedly also considering expanding the playoffs to 6 teams.  For this, Olney suggests 2 more playoff spots and the top 2 teams get a bye while the others play a 3-game series.  I am not necessarily against that, though I do think that you’re opening the door for some pretty poor teams to potentially make the playoffs, especially in the NL.

Either way though, the 2 division format would easily support any of these changes.  Most importantly, it’s a conservative enough change that it should be fairly simple to implement.  You still can have a sense of geographical rivals, but your season won’t be as influenced by the relatively few number of teams that were in your division under the current system.

Again, this type of system is certainly not without its flaws, but I think it would be a realistic way to improve the game.

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