Over the weekend, there was much chatter about possible realignment occurring in Major League Baseball. The current plan at the forefront of these preliminary (if you could even call it that) discussions is that a team from the National League (ideally the Houston Astros) would be moved to the American League, thus even leagues of fifteen teams. Divisions such as east, central and west would become a thing of the past and the top five teams would make the playoffs from each league.
If this were the case, that would mean that interleague play would be year-round. Many of us are not exactly proponents of interleague, but the positive to this is that it would even out unbalanced schedules and provide for more competitive balance between the top and bottom. It would just need to be scheduled properly.
The American League has flat out dominated the National League for as long as I've been a baseball fan. There's an argument out there that the American League is overall much better because there are two less teams than the National League. Therefore, there are less positions to play and there's less room for poor players.
Read on past the jump.
Take a look at this from a Wall Street Journal article written in 2010:
Under the current playoff system, the 16 National League and 14 American League teams are each divided into eastern, central and western divisions, with the winner of the six divisions and two Wild Card teams—one from each league—advancing to the postseason.
A Wall Street Journal analysis shows that if the leagues were united in one 30-team league, and each team had to play all the others a similar number of games, no more than two National League franchises would have even qualified for the postseason in the past five years.
In 2008, the Toronto Blue Jays finished well out of the playoffs and in fourth place in the brutal AL East, which includes the powerful Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. But in an adjusted schedule where all teams played one another, Toronto's actual .531 winning percentage that year would have been .564, with the improvement coming from playing the National League teams more often.
That would have put Toronto in seventh place in the 30-team league, good enough to make the playoffs. That year's World Champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, would have finished in ninth place, out of the playoffs.
The 2006 Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels suffered a similar fate, missing the playoffs despite weighted winning performances that placed them ahead of three National League playoff teams—the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals.
Incredible to see just how much better the American League really is. If teams from both leagues played each other more often, it would truly bring out the better teams. I like the point raised in the WSJ article about making one league and letting all the teams go at it, but that likely won't ever fly.
With interleague becoming a more common occurrence, that brings out the elephant in the room: the designated hitter rule. The DH has put more space between the American and National leagues as far as style of play. In the American League, there's much less room for error as opposed to the National League because there is no pitcher batting ninth. With this type of new league play, something would have to give. The DH would either have to stay or go, because splitting time between a DH and pitcher more often than fifteen times a year just doesn't make sense. Honestly, I don't see baseball getting rid of it. It provides a job for aging players that can no longer play the field, like Jorge Posada, and fans love to see the home run ball.
Elimination of divisions would likely be under high criticism. The only reason that I could possibly live with no divisions is that it benefits teams that are stuck in tough divisions and simply don't have enough resources to win the division (Orioles, Blue Jays, Marlins to name a few). Pennant races are the most exciting race to the playoffs in sports because it keeps September crucially important for a handful of teams. I don't imagine a race for fifth place in the league being particularly exciting, but I could be wrong.
This would affect the Yankees in numerous ways. Just like every other team, they'd have an even better shot at making the playoffs every year. With a $200 million payroll, I don't imagine they'll ever finish in sixth place, making them a near shoe-in. They've had to compete with tough Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Ray and even Baltimore Orioles teams (on differing years, obviously) ever since 1995 to get to the playoffs and either A) win the division or B) be the best of the teams that didn't win their respective division. This leaves two slots for the Yankees to fill, and they've taken one of them every time since 1995 (except 2008). It could take out excitement surrounding the team if they're essentially locks every year and if they don't need to play hard the last month of the season. With no DH, the Yankees would have to say goodbye to aging sluggers instead of pledging their allegiance to "True Yankees".
If this does indeed happen down the line from now, interleague and DH questions will finally be put to rest. There will also be a tremendous amount of hoopla surrounding the potential elimination of divisions and number of teams to the playoffs.
I'm not sure exactly where I stand on all of this. I'm simply throwing out thoughts about what baseball could become if this scenario were to unfold. I will tell you, however, that I strongly dislike having ten playoff teams. Eight should be the maximum, because it can only work its way up to sixteen from here.
I want to hear YOUR thoughts. What would be the most logical option for Major League Baseball?