There is always talk among sports fans and pundits where the next team in a particular sport should be, about how boundaries can be drawn to ensure equal competition, about which franchise doesn't even deserve its place in the league.
Baseball fans are do different.
"Let's split up the Red Sox and the Yankees to ensure more teams have a better change of making the postseason," some say.
"Let's chop up the existing divisions and place more emphasis on geographical locations," others argue.
Or: "Make all of the teams with a similar payroll play in the same division. Let the mighty fight the mighty; the weak against their own kind."
I have a different idea, one that doesn't involve just moving the current teams. I say, let's cut the dead weight and give pro baseball to the other cities that deserve a shot at Major League glory.
Here's how realignment should be, with five teams making way for a new Major League franchise in a new city, state, or even country.
Bringing baseball back to the nation's capital was great in theory but awful in practice. Twice Washington had a pro baseball franchise and twice it was relocated to another city...first Minnesota and then Texas.
I'm not sure why people thought moving an awful Montreal team to DC was the way forward, and if it initially looked good, it's once again the mess. The Nationals are one of the worst teams in baseball, and not a dozen Stephen Strasburgs can change that.
The franchise doesn't even own the rights to broadcast its own games, and many of the baseball fans in an around Maryland and Virginia could care less about the team. It's bad enough that the Orioles stink so much, but to put a second awful club within 40 miles is crazy.
There just isn't enough interest here to have two junk teams. While the allure of cherry trees beyond the outfield wall and Capital Hill in the distance is cute, it isn't even close to being enough to keep pro baseball in DC.
Let's move the Nats to...
You wanna know an area that should get a pro baseball franchise...Montana.
Okay, so it's not the best idea, but hear me out.
If you live in the central Montana, you are about 800 miles from the Mariners or a nine-hour drive from Denver. If you wanted to head east, you'd need three full tanks of gas to get to Minnesota and back in your '07 Honda Civic Sedan...and about a full day on the road.
Montana may not be a hotbed of baseball activity, but there are four Minor League teams there that actually do pretty well for themselves.
The Billings Mustangs averaged over 2,800 a game in 2009, while the Great Falls Voyagers had more than 2,700. The Missoula Ofsprey filled more than 2,300 seats every night and only the Helena Brewers drew less than 1,000.
These are all Rookie-level clubs in the Pioneer League, not even Single-A affiliates. To have that many fans at these games is remarkable, evidenced by the fact that Billings and Great Falls drew the second and third-highest numbers of fans last season.
Add these numbers up for a minute and you'll see that it amounts to almost 9,000 fans going to watch the lowest level of pro baseball. Imagine what the interest would be for a pro franchise right there.
I know that California is a massive state and I recognise that it's a very appealing place to play baseball, but do the people there really need five teams to choose between?
If you're looking at it by success, San Diego has never won a championship and they have been without a pennant since 1998.The Padres also have the least amount of history, having only been a franchise since being incorporated into the league in 1969 with the Expos, Royals, and Pilots.
If you were looking purely at fan support, Oakland has considerably fewer fans at their games than any other team in Cali, and virtually every other franchise in the Majors. The Dodgers and Angels and two of the best-supported clubs in the land and the Giants are easily inside the top half in terms of full seats.
Out of the Padres and As, it has been San Diego who have been baseball's surprise package in 2010, leading the NL West from the early stages of the season and sitting 19 games above .500 and with the best record of the entire National League.
It would be hard, therefore, on this season's form to ditch them. But they are .464 lifetime, 481 games below .500 in their 41-year history. The As aren't a whole lot better, but you can't forget the glory days of the mid '70s and late '80s and their dominant years in the first part of this millennium.
They have a history, from Reggie jackson and Catfish Hunter, to Rollie Fingers and Rickey Henderson, that the Padres can never match.
Until the Padres prove 2010 is no fluke, they are first in line to get the chop in California.
Ship them off to...
I've already outlined my reasons for wanting to send a franchise over to Montana, but how about moving one to Charlotte.
The city is the ninth biggest city in America without a Major League Baseball franchise, and with the exception of Indianapolis, all of the other eight cities that are larger at least have an MLB club within its state borders.
North Carolina is actually thriving with baseball activity, with 10 Minor League affiliates playing in-state. While the majority of affiliates are at the Class-A level, there are two particularly noteworthy clubs there—The Charlotte Knight and the Durham Bulls.
These two teams are both Triple-A affiliates, the Knights of the White Sox and the Bulls of the Rays. Tampa Bay has one of the better farm systems in the game right now and the Bulls are 71-44 in the International League South, 13 games ahead of second-place Charlotte. Jeremy Hellickson was with the club until being recalled to the Majors on Tuesday to make his second start and Desmond Jennings is still there, one of the outfielders of the future for sure.
There's enough interest in North Carolina for a Major League baseball team, so send a team to Charlotte to let baseball thrive even more. Michael Jordan, already a part owner of the NBA's expansion Charlotte Bobcats, might like a second investment in the city.
You know who's had their chance and blown it, time and time again? The Pittsburgh Pirates. Eighteen consecutive losing seasons. EIGHTEEN, the most of any professional franchise in America EVER.
It's so sad, because intimate PNC Park is a beautiful old stadium where fans are close to the action, tickets are dirt cheap, and you can walk across the Roberto Clemente bridge to get to the game. Still, with habitual losing comes the realization that only half of the 38,000 seats will be full on any given night.
There are 25 home games left and I could go to all of them for $109. That is if I bought the tickets, right this second, on Stubhub, before the processing fees. 1Even with shipping and handling charges, that's less than $10 to see a Major League game.
There's no point waiting for the Pirates to get competitive because it's just never going to happen. They don't deserve their pro baseball franchise. Their football and hockey teams rightfully garner all of the attention, and I can guarantee that Sporting News didn't even consider the baseball club when they voted the city America's best sports city in 2009.
Dump the Pirates and move the franchise to a city that actually care.
Let's move it to...
The Cincinnati Reds have the only baseball presence in the city in the form of their Triple-A affiliate Louisville Bats, but the city is ripe for a Major League franchise.
It is the biggest city in a state without an MLB club, and with a population of more than 1.2 million in the metro area, there's no reason a team here couldn't thrive. Going further afield, the city is closest to St. Louis and Cincy.
There are few Minor League teams in the country that get the same amount of love the Bats do, and in terms of attendance, only Columbus, Lehigh Valley, and maybe Pawtuckett can match them.
Known for its horse racing more than its baseball, maybe it's time to change the perceptions of Louisville as a sporting city.
Let's start with the Marlins. At 17,874, the club's average home attendance is the worst in the National League. They barely fill even half of the stadium, and if it wasn't for the Indians being so poorly supported, the Marlins would rank dead last for putting bums on seats.
Attendance is down from 2009—when the club was the second-worst attended club in the county—and it's looking more like 2006 when they drew just over 1.1 million. The Marlins ranked bottom in attendance in each of '06, '07, and '08, and they have been in the bottom three for six consecutive years.
With baseball flourishing in Tampa Bay, there's really no reason for fans to turn out to games on the sunshine state's east coast.
Sun Life Stadium, Pro Player Park, Dolphins Stadium, or whatever you want to call it, is past its sell-by date, and people simply don't care about the product the Marlins have to offer.
The one saving grace from moving the franchise is the new 37,000-seat stadium being built next door to downtown Miami. Sadly, all that translates to is 20,000 very empty, very expensive seats.
Maybe we can move the franchise to...
Okay, so the logistics make this idea harder than most of the others, but with proper planning there's no reason it couldn't work. Scheduling would have to be perfect, but after the initial doubters had been silenced, what's really wrong with it?
It's 2,450 miles from LA to New York and almost 2,400 from Seattle to Florida, so what's that bad about a 2,560-mile journey from the west coast to Hawaii or 1,650 from the Sunshine State to Puerto Rico?
If you're overly concerned about the travel and the jetlag, the solution is simple. Say Honolulu is the the AL West and plays other divisional rivals 16 times a year, eight home and eight away, just play all eight of the games in a row when you are in that city.
So the Angels could play all eight of their road games in Hawaii in April and then they could play their home games against them as normal as part of a regular homestand sometime in the summer.
Who wouldn't love going to Hawaii for a series or two? It's a prime untapped resource, much like San Juan. At least the Mets and Marlins played there this season, showing that something like this in the future is a real possibility, following on from when Montreal played several series there back in the day. Puerto has a rich baseball history and a strong sporting culture, so why no embrace it?
The Cleveland Indians have, on average, 26,000 empty seats for every home game. Yeah, 60 percent of the stadium is empty.
It's not like the fans have anything to come for. The team ranks 27thin batting average, 26th in hits, 25th in RBI, and 21st in home runs. The club is already 20 games below .500 and the glory days of the franchise have been and gone.
I know many Cleveland fans and I have no problems with them. They are as passionate as any others I know, but they're just aren't enough of them to save baseball in the city. This isn't 1997 any more. It's not even 2007. Sport is dying in Cleveland right now and there are cities more deserving of a pro team than Cleveland.
Move the organization to...
I was never a fan of the Montreal Expos, although it was more for the team than the idea of baseball in Canada. I have fond memories of seeing my first ever Major League game at Olympic Stadium, and if I wasn't a Mets fan I probably would have liked the Expos a little more than I eventually did.
Canada will always be a hockey country, and that's fine, but why should Toronto be the only place with a Major League team? Montreal is a beautiful city with at least some baseball history, and it has more than enough people there (around 3.5 million) to support a pro team.
Similarly so would Vancouver, or either Calgary or Edmonton in the province of Alberta. Vancouver is the natural pick out of these three cities. With almost 2 million people there, it is the third biggest Canadian city, and it also has the advantage of already playing host to a Minor League club, the Vancouver Canadians, a Class-A affiliate of the Oakland As.
I would love to see baseball expand a little more north of the border, and if people get their preconceived ideas about another failing franchise like the Expos out of their head, the idea could maybe one day gather enough momentum to make it happen.