How Realistic Is Divisional Realignment In Major League Baseball?
Earlier in the baseball season, the topic of realignment reared its ugly head; specifically citing the American League East.
It was a hot topic for a few weeks in late April and early May. Tonight ESPN's Baseball Tonight program debuted their weekly Power Ranking list that displays what is believed to be the top five teams in baseball for the previous week. Tonight, it listed the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox, as the top three.
This pattern of the supposedly top three teams in baseball all being from the American League East sparked the debate once more in regards to realignment.
It is my belief that splitting these teams up will cause more problems than it is projected to solve.
Consider the AL East in 2000 and what it has become today. Ten years ago, there were complaints that the American League overall was skewed because if you weren't in the AL East, you knew you had to win your division to make the Postseason.
Ten years ago, the only controversy was which team between New York and Boston would settle for the AL Wild Card. Fast-forward eight years and the Yankees watch the postseason from the sideline as the Rays claim the AL East and Boston takes the Wild Card.
Today the issue is that with three competitive teams in the AL East, should Major League Baseball consider geographical realignment to distribute perennial powerhouses to make a League more competitive overall?
Yes, I am a Yankee fan. Yes, I favor the American League overall, but realignment is unrealistic. The MLB cannot separate the Yankees and the Red Sox. They belong in the same division. This is (arguably) the biggest rivalry in all of sports and it would be detrimental to Major League Baseball both in the form of agitated fan bases and pure revenue brought in from these teams.
What other regular season matchup brings in more hype and revenue in baseball than a Yankee/Red Sox game? If these two teams don't reside in the same division, MLB will not get the annual 18 matchups. That essentially equates to 18 sell out crowds that would not happen if these two teams are separated.
As for those scrappy Tampa Bay Rays, the idea of realignment was brought up because many in the MLB felt that even though this team appears to be more competitive, it would be beneficial to them and baseball if they moved them out of the AL East. What do they plan to do? Trade places with an AL Central team? This scenario has two outcomes.
1: If they swap with a weaker caliber team, that means the AL East becomes less competitive and the Yankees and Red Sox are once again in the position where they are both pretty much guaranteed a place in the postseason. The already competitive AL Central would just become more competitive while the AL East becomes less competitive.
2: If they swap with a Central powerhouse such as Detroit or Minnesota, then either of those two teams will fall into the same problem as the Rays experienced so ultimately nothing gets accomplished and all it yields are millions of upset fans.
An alternative I am sure many have considered is if the Rays switch Leagues and play in the National League East. The problem with this is that the NL East already has Floridian representation in the Florida Marlins.
One pivotal hurdle that will kill the realignment discussion lies solely in travel logistics and the regular season schedule. We see an example of this in the AL West with Texas. Ideally, Texas would be in the Central division but numerical logistics demanded that they play in the West.
It hurts them and it takes a toll on the other AL West teams that are forced to essentially travel to across timezones for a divisional matchup. It is true, teams travel and cross timezones frequently as it is, but teams will play teams in their own division many more times per year than they would play any other single team outside of their division. If Tampa were to join the AL Central, the situation would be similar to the geographical relationship between Texas and the AL West.
In this case, just as the AL West has a team that lines up in a Central geographic timezone, the alternative AL Central would have a team geographically located in the Eastern timezone disregarding the relocation of the Rays. The only difference is numerical discrepancy with regards to the number of teams that would have to travel farther and more frequently to play a divisional rival.
Realignment is logistically unrealistic without a considerable overhaul of both the National and American Leauges and that is not including the aggravation and misery that will be felt by the fans of certain teams. Realignment for the sake of making one or two teams more competitive deeper into the year is simply ridiculous.
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