About two weeks ago, the story broke that Major League Baseball was contemplating another round of realignment for the 2001 season. While the plan floated is subject to change, the primary adjustments would lead to a four-division, no-wild-card National League, and a three-division, wild-card American League. The two most recent expansion teams would switch leagues, and teams would be aligned in a time-zone-friendly manner.
Jeff Hildebrand: Take this with the grain of salt it deserves given the source, but Jayson Stark's column in today's Philadelphia Inquirer mentioned in passing that the current plan is indeed to forcibly move the Diamondbacks to the American League after this season. While he didn't give a full rundown, I think the plan is as follows:
East —- Montreal New York Philadelphia Pittsburgh
South —- Atlanta Houston Florida Tampa Bay
Central —- Chicago Cincinnati St. Louis Milwaukee
West —- Colorado Los Angeles San Diego San Francisco
East —- Boston Baltimore New York Toronto
Central —- Chicago Cleveland Detroit Kansas City Minnesota Texas
West —- Anaheim Arizona Oakland Seattle
Now am I missing something or does this make far too much sense to actually happen? The geographic groupings actually match the names, and are such that travel times aren't too awful for in-division play. The two teams switching leagues don't have any substantial history, so it's not a big blow to tradition. It gets rid of one of the wild cards, which I'm in favor of, and I assume in a few years there would be two more expansion teams added to the AL and it would go to the same four-by-four format.
As a Phillies fan I love the idea, if for no other reason than it gets the damn Braves out of the NL East. Having the chance to continue the Philadelphia/Pittsburgh rivalry is extremely nice as well. I'm sure the New York media spin would be that this sets up the Mets as perpetual title contenders, but I'd make Pittsburgh the very early frontrunners in that setup, assuming they don't make any further idiotic moves on the order of Pat Meares or Wil Cordero.
And at least for the first few years we should see some spectacular pennant races in the NL South between Atlanta and Houston.
Anyone seeing major flaws in this particular plan?
Keith Law: Yes: the advent of the sub-.500 playoff team. Four-team divisions are an atrocity.
Greg Spira: Agreed. I much prefer a wild-card team to four divisions of four, which will inevitably lead to some very bad playoff teams.
The realignment of teams is almost certain, I think. The Diamondbacks have been moaning over the possibility all spring. I'm not sure about the switch to four divisions.
Chris Kahrl: Beyond the four-team division evils, this also will have problems/possibilities with the D’backs wanting to fight the move to the AL in every way possible. They've even volunteered to pay the Giants the compensation they believe they're due from the A's to open up San Jose for an eventual franchise shift. Magowan has asked for something like $150M, but the suspicion is that it'll take a tenth of that.
The payoff? For Colangelo, no move to the AL.
Skip the four-team divisions. I'd lump them into two divisions apiece, and then award wild cards for the next two best records in the league, regardless of division.
If necessary, stick with three divisions in the AL, with the wild card.
Steven Rubio: I am completely irrational on this point. I hate the idea of wild-card teams in baseball with a passion, and think they are the single worst thing to happen to baseball in the past few years.
Michael Wolverton: So do I. So you're not irrational at all.
With a gun to my head, I might rate interleague play as slightly more evil than wild cards, and the extra playoff round might rate ahead of both of them. That's like choosing from among Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, though.
JH: Trying to schedule interleague games will be a pain due to the one six-team division, but it already is. If you drop interleague play (yeah, I know, fat chance) the numbers actually work out nicely:
National League: 18 games against teams in your own division, nine against teams in the other divisions.
American League East/West: 20 games against other teams in same division, 12 games against each team in the other East/West division, and nine games against the Central teams.
American League Central: 18 games against teams in same division, nine games against teams in other divisions.
The wild card is a problem with the unbalanced AL schedule, I suppose, but that doesn't seem to have stopped them up to now, and is further argument for adding two expansion teams and getting rid of the wild card. This schedule also allows everyone to finish the season by playing only teams in their own division, which is a plus.
Once they move to 32 teams total, interleague scheduling becomes very easy again. For a three-game series against everyone in another league’s division, you either cut your in-division games down to 14 or your in-league, other-division games to eight.
CK: What I'd really want is a season between 154 and 162 games, the best four teams in each league going in and fewer off-days in the playoff season. Test a team's mettle by forcing them to use a deep pen or the bottom half of a rotation in the postseason. Create serious home-field advantages in terms of games (4-1, 5-2), with regular-season record defining home-field advantage for the World Series. Damn the ease for ticket sales–I'd rather have the good teams playing to win down the stretch if need be.
And dump interleague play.
I guess I'm really big on creating a playoff setup that reproduces some of the regular season's pressures, which means fewer off-days. Would it have killed the Red Sox last winter? Probably. Would it hurt a team like the 1987 Twins or the 1997 Marlins? Undoubtedly. I don't see that as bad: I want a contender to win on the strength of their entire roster, a roster as close as possible to the one that got them to the playoffs in the first place.
Here’s one realignment proposal that could achieve these goals:
The AL gets Florida, Texas and most of the Midwest, while the NL owns the West Coast and Mountain time zones. There are balanced schedules, and two wildcards (best records, not second-place finishers).
Playoff structure: the first round is seven games, with five home games for the homefield advantage (3-2-2 and no off-days unless there’s a two-time-zone swing from west to east. The league championsip series is seven games, a 4-3 home/road split, and the teams with the best record gets home-field advantage.
AL East (All Eastern time zone) ---- Baltimore Boston Florida Detroit New York Tampa Bay Toronto
AL Central (All Central time zone except for Cleveland) —- Chicago Cleveland Houston Kansas City Milwaukee Minnesota Texas
NL East (With the Cubs and Cardinals, for history's sake) —- Atlanta Chicago Cincinnati Montreal New York Philadelphia Pittsburgh St. Louis
NL West —- Anaheim Arizona Colorado Los Angeles Oakland San Diego San Francisco Seattle
Of course, this will never see the light of day.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now