With the recent revelation that division realignment has been talked about in labor meetings, I began to wonder just how I felt about that, how it could be done and what else could be changed at the same time.
When it comes to making drastic changes to baseball, I'm never sure how I feel about them initially. Part of the "baseball traditionalist" in me doesn't like change. However, the baseball fan in me realizes that sometimes change is good and sometimes desperately needed.
My Bleacher Report colleague Matt Strobl discussed some of his thoughts regarding topics such as the salary cap along with realignment, so I'll leave it up to him to discuss those.
The first thing that needs to be addressed would be what team would move from the National League to the American League? Would the Milwaukee Brewers simply move back to the American League? This would make the most sense. After all, the National League Central does have the extra team in the National League and the Brewers were in the American League initially and they were the team that moved during the last realignment.
I believe if you're going to realign the divisions and leagues, why not do it better than just simply moving a team? I do like how the NBA divides their divisions geographically and think this would benefit baseball the most.
Jim Bowden, the former General Manager for the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals and current analyst for ESPN, has an idea for geographic realignment among other ideas. I would tweak his idea slightly by swapping his Southeast Division and Midwest Division. This would keep most of the American Conference east of the Mississippi River and the National Conference would be west of it.
Rob Neyer of SBNation also discusses having two 15-team leagues, with no divisions. I'm not a fan of this at all. I believe it would hurt many teams and their fan bases because many teams' only shot at the playoffs comes because they can win their division.
In this idea, the top five in each league would make the playoffs and if it's the American League, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and probably the Tampa Bay Rays would be all but guaranteed three of the spots every year leaving the remaining 12 teams to fight over two spots. With the divisions the way they are now, eight teams in the American League fight over two spots (with the AL East generally getting two each year out of the current four spots).
One item that would have to be considered if realignment does happen is what does baseball finally do about the discrepancy between one league using the Designated Hitter and the other one not? I say you combine the two.
Why not have a 10-man lineup? Many softball leagues use an extra hitter and the pitcher hits. I believe this would be fantastic in baseball. You would keep the strategy involved in having the pitcher bat and you would also keep a roster spot for the DH, which we all know the players' union isn't going to give up. Baseball could expand the rosters to 26 players to allow for all teams to carry a DH and 10 to 12 pitchers.
Let's discuss playoffs for a minute. I've never been a fan of adding more playoff teams. I love how if a MLB team makes the playoffs, it means they actually accomplished something because so few teams each year make it unlike the NBA or NHL where half the teams make the playoffs.
If the divisions are realigned geographically and you have three divisions, the division winners and the three teams with the next best records would make the playoffs. Then you would seed the playoffs based on record (not on division winners). The top two seeds would get byes in the first round and then would play the winners of the first series.
The final thing that would have to be addressed would be scheduling. With two 15-team leagues, there would have to be an interleague series every set of days. While I think interleague play has played itself out, if the scheduling can be done more fair and balanced than it is now (every team plays every other team once from the other league), I would be all for keeping it.
I do think realignment should happen (and will eventually happen) and it should be done based on geography. With some slight tweaks to other rules such as DH, the league may actually be better for it. Baseball has to make some changes to improve the "fairness" of the league and I believe realignment and rule changes are the place to start.
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