Over the weekend, Buster Olney of ESPN.com reported that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association were seriously considering realignment in the form of “two leagues of 15 teams, rather than the current structure of 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American League.”
According to a highly ranked executive, one consideration that has been raised in ownership committee meetings is eliminating the divisions altogether, so that 15 AL and 15 NL teams would vie for five playoff spots within each league.
In my mind, teams should be aligned in baseball based on three objectives:
- Ensuring that the best teams make the playoffs.
- Eliminating competitive imbalances.
- Keeping the regular season meaningful for all teams.
With a 162 game schedule over six months of the year, I feel as though baseball already does a pretty good job of objective number one. The only thing I don’t like about the current structure is that sometimes, the three best teams in a league are all in one division. It seems strange that whatever arbitrary, slightly geographical guidelines dictate which teams are aligned with each other should be the reason that the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays don’t all get a chance in the playoffs when the least of those three is better than the best of another arbitrary, slightly geographical division.
It’s also a bit bothersome, that teams who are essentially competing against one another in the Wild Card race will have a varying degree of difficulty in their different schedules. Currently, teams will play division rivals 18-19 times each season, except in the NL Central which has six members, meaning that members play other members only 15 – 16 times. The rest of a team’s schedule is comprised of 6-10 games against other teams in the same league, plus interleague games which account for six series of three games each year.
Outside of market and financial considerations, eliminating divisions would contribute to the accomplishment of the first two objectives. By eliminating division rivals, you eliminate the additional games that the two teams play against one another. So, instead of the Toronto Blue Jays or Baltimore Orioles playing the Red Sox, Yankees or Rays nineteen times a season, they’d play each team no more than ten times (assuming that interleague play is continued), just as they’d play every other team in their respective league.
How will the Blue Jays feel about giving up ten total home games against the Red Sox and Yankees to be more competitive? The change isn’t a small one. It would be reducing their percentage of pretty much guaranteed high income games from 23% to a mere 12%.
If the team is serious about its commitment to building sustained success and yadda yadda yadda, they’re probably hoping to drastically increase attendance no matter who their opponent is, but of course that’s much more easily said then done. Still, telling a fan base that you’d rather face tougher competition and gain more money than face easier competition while risking less income from attendance would be a tough sell in terms of optics for anyone.
Of course the Toronto Blue Jays aren’t the only team with a massive stake in how the leagues are aligned and what happens to the divisions. The bottom tier teams in the AL Central and AL West have to like the idea of the Yankees and Red Sox coming to town more often, in terms of attendance figures, but their fans can’t be thrilled with the idea of likely being out of a playoff race earlier than ever. For whatever reason being fifth in a division of five sounds a lot better than fifteenth in a league of fifteen?
Deluding fan bases into believing that their team still has a chance of making the playoffs when they’re ten games out in August is much more of a chore when there are also seven teams that they have to overcome. Hopefully, the amount of times the Red Sox and Yankees visit remains the only issue that the Blue Jays have to consider in a potential realignment.