There has been a lot of talk amongst the press and amongst the fans in regards to baseball needing to realign in order to create more evenly competitive divisions. Most of this conversation has been generated on the belief that some teams will never be able to compete while stuck in a division with certain larger market opponents, where the belief is that dollars buy playoff appearances.
While there is some merit to that point in some regards, there is also evidence to the contrary. Smaller fiscal markets like Tampa, Minnesota, Colorado, San Diego, and Toronto have all found themselves either leading their divisions or in the thick of the hunt this season despite having jettisoned salaries or playing under an ownership imposed salary cap much lower than their division rivals.
That’s not to say that there isn’t merit to the idea of realignment of the divisions. It simply means that it is being looked at from the wrong perspective. Some teams, like Pittsburgh or Kansas City may never experience competitive balance because they choose not to or are not forced to invest in the product on the field. Division alignment or not, engaging in constant rebuilding will only result in constant growing pains, usually felt at the bottom portion of the division.
So that said, realignment should be looked at as a means to make each division reach its potential and remain competitive against the other divisions. It is a disservice to the game when a mediocre team from a weak division makes the postseason and gets pummeled by a team from a stronger division. It’s the same problem that plagues college football. If realignment is discussed, it must be done in a manner of which creates an even playing field across the game, both for the regular season and the postseason.
With that in mind, I have a proposal of sorts for realignment, with the following goals in mind:
1.) Create an even playing field for all teams.
2.) End the Wild Card argument once and for all.
To accomplish those points, the first step we’re going to undertake is changing the system back to the two division model that baseball enjoyed for many years until the Wild Card was instituted in 1994. This is not to say that the Wild Card should go away or that baseball returns to just a two round playoff system. Rather, I’m proposing that each division be awarded one Wild Card berth to reward the teams that finish second in each respective division.
So with that out of the way, let’s look at how the divisions would align under the new system, in alphabetical order:
American League East
Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Pittsburgh is a team that needs to be rejuvenated and a move the American League would help that. Bringing in consistently stronger competition will help to bring the fans back to the park, allowing for the ownership to see that investment with the on-field product is necessary.
American League West
Kansas City Royals
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
If there was a team in the National League that presents itself as an American League team, it is the Diamondbacks. They are a team built on run production and play in a ballpark built around that concept. That makes the transition into the offensive-minded AL an easy one.
National League East
New York Mets
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are a team that has been stymied by their participation in the American League East for over a decade, but part of that is their inability to build off of their success the way that Tampa did. Moving the National League East would allow them to add to a very competitive field and bring a new flavor to a race that recently has become stale as well.
The Indians on the other hand, are a team in transition, who needs a direction. Moving to the NL East would allow for them to plot their course a little more definitively by moving away from the designated hitter, a position that has plagued them in recent years. It would also add a new rivalry to the game by promoting Indians versus Reds.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
St. Louis Cardinals
You’ll notice that I still have the unbalance currently in the leagues, with the American League having fourteen teams to the National League having 16 teams. Remember, this was done in order to prevent on team from being scheduled off at any given time due to having an uneven amount of teams in both leagues.
Keep in mind, that two teams from each division would receive playoff spots, so by limiting the leagues to two divisions, you will also be doing away with the current unbalanced schedule that sees teams play more within their own division than against the entirety of the league.
Perhaps it is not a perfect system, but the current one has its failings as well. In the end, all either can do is strive for an even playing field and hope for the best.
MLB Standings, MLB.com
When Did Baseball Institute The Wild Card, answers.yahoo.com
Milwaukee Brewers, Wikipedia.com