Pros and Cons of a Houston Astros Move to the AL West
A lot has been made of the Houston Astros ownership situation.
Bud Selig wants to find a way to expand the playoffs and evening out the leagues at 15 each seems to be the way to do it. Clearly, if someone from the NL Central will move to the AL West then only one team will have to change.
Bud Selig grew up as a Braves fan, so it is understandable that he would have a sort of nostalgia for the National League. Still, 2011 marks the 50th year of National League play for the Astros. Half a century may not seem like a long time to some fans, but for most of us it's a lifetime. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Here we look at the pros and cons of the Astros moving to the AL West.
Pro: Increased Chance at the Playoffs
This is simple mathematics. In the National League you have to be one of the four best teams in a league with sixteen teams. For the math challenged that means you have a 25 percent chance of advancing to the postseason.
Of course, that is not even literally true.
If you finish third in your division you could be the third-best team in the league and still miss the playoffs. The notion may seem unlikely, but go talk to a Tampa Bay Rays fan about the unlikelihood of that scenario.
Under Bud Selig's new proposal, six teams will make the playoffs with the top two teams getting a bye in the first round.
Of course, a number of different scenarios will be proposed between now and then, but six teams appears to be the consensus. In a fifteen team league, six teams amounts to close to forty percent of the participants. Also, if divisions are kept, as many as three teams in one division could make the playoffs under some scenarios.
Pro: The Designated Hitter
Don't get me wrong, I hate the DH. Players like Carlos Lee are allowed to remain because of the possibility of the DH. However, we have to be sensible about this. Lee will be gone by the time the Astros move to the American League (if they do at all), but there are always logjams somewhere on the diamond. Some teams don't employ a full-time DH at all. They rotate players in and out of the position.
The Astros are beginning to stockpile prospects and having the DH gives them flexibility when two or more players can play the same position. At this point, the DH would not be an advantage for the Astros, but that can change quickly. When you look at the future you see a lot more depth and the DH is depth's best friend.
Pro: The Yankees and Red Sox Come into Town Every Year
Drayton McLane joined the rest of the league when he changed ticket prices for the Red Sox and Yankees' series at Minute Maid Park. Since the Astros are launching their own network, having an opportunity to televise high profile series (as many as eight series in all) would bring in extra advertising revenue.
This doesn't even talk about the extra attendance that will come in as many as twelve home games against the two clubs every year.
If we conservatively assume that they draw 5,000 additional fans in those games and that ticket prices are doubled (as they were last time), it would be like an extra 10,000 fans in 12 games. Folks, that's a lot of extra coin.
Of course, this only works under certain scenarios, but at the very worst they would each come into town once a year.
Con: As Many as 27 West Coast Games Per Season
The two-hour time differential is a killer for television. The Astros are starting their own network, so this is a huge consideration. Ratings are way down for west coast games. Of course, in most seasons, that amounts to only a few series a year. Under the unbalanced schedule, you play 18 games within the division and six games outside of the division. So, for the west coast teams (only three in the NL West) that amounts to nine games. In the new AL West that would become 27 games.
One possible scenario has the leagues disbanding the divisions and simply taking the top six teams as playoff teams. In that scenario you would play a balanced schedule with 10 games against each team. That would be 15 games on the west coast not counting interleague play. That would be more manageable and that is something Jim Crane is more in favor of.
Con: The American League Is Tougher
It has often been said that talent tends to collect in one league more than the other. Over the past couple of decades, the American League has dominated the All-Star games and have won more games in interleague play. Obviously, some put that on the DH, but others think it is a simple imbalance. The National League seemed to have control in the 1960s and 1970s. It's the circle of life.
The Yankees and Red Sox constantly play leapfrog over each other. The other teams have to do what they can to keep up.
The National League teams don't have to play that kind of game. Right now, the Astros can't compete in the weakest division in baseball. It's hard to imagine them doing better in a more difficult league.
Con: No Natural Rivalries
Ask any Astros fan to pick out a team they hate and a majority might pick the Cubs. Most of it stems from Hurricane Ike and other incidents with Cubs players.
Others will pick the Cardinals or the Braves because of their many playoff battles. The Astros and Cardinals have more division championships in the Central than the other four teams combined. There is a lot of history there going back fifty years.
Mention teams like the Mariners, Athletics, Angels, and even the Rangers doesn't inspire the same emotion. In point of fact, some Astros fans got used to rooting for the Rangers as a secondary favorite. They aren't ready to consider them a rival whether there is a silver boot, golden boot or platinum boot.
Sure, these rivalries may develop over time, but you cannot create one out of thin air.