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.”

In addition:

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:

  1. Ensuring that the best teams make the playoffs.
  2. Eliminating competitive imbalances.
  3. 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.

Comments (17)

  1. People will come to the ballpark if they know/believe/suspect the team isn’t going to be out of contention by the summer. People will DEFINITELY come if the team is actually in playoff contention come the summer. I suspect the counterbalance to fewer high-attendance games with the Yanks/Red Sox will be (in theory) more high attendance games against other teams if the team’s in a race for the post-season.

  2. I’m really opposed to realignment, but I can’t actually express why for some reason. I guess it comes down to how much I hate looking at NHL and NBA standings and just seeing a big mass of teams. Unless you’re a playoff team in those sports, lacking divisions kills rivalries: who is a ‘rival’ to the Raptors? The Leafs have the in-province thing with Ottawa and the historical beef with Montreal, but when we’re this bad those ‘rivalries’ just seem like fantasies we make up in Toronto to feel better. No matter how bad the Jays are, there’s always a little excitement on my end when we get a chance to beat up on the Orioles and knock them down the standings a little…

  3. When we are this bad is coming to an end Ray.

  4. Another rogers web site that won’t talk about the weekend mess. Sportsnet and now the score, no mention of weekend games or highlights. 1st time all year highlights have been removed from main page so quickly. Do you think we will forget. Reallignment and ols stories from John Gibbons is not what jays fans want to read. we want to know what is going to be done about the sinking rebuilding ship

  5. Darrell, Leafs fans are like the boy who cried wolf. If you don’t believe me, I’ve got 7 years worth of “the Leafs CAN’T miss the playoffs this year” articles to show you…

  6. Granted the schedules would have been different (less of the late 90′s – 2000′s Yanks/Sox and the late 2000′s Rays), but the Jays only have one top 5 finish since 1995 (1998). And the year they finished 2nd in the East (2006) they finished 7th in the AL which doesn’t sound as great as finishing 2nd.

  7. so would that mean, in a top 5 of a 15 team league making the playoffs, that we could potentially see all 5 former AL east ‘divisions’ in the playoffs?

  8. It’s simple mathematics…3 teams and a wild card from each league makes 8 owners and a limited fan base happy. Atleast in the NBA and NHL 16 teams get to compete in post season action; 50% of the NHL teams have fans that at least get the illusion their team has a chance this season. I’m a Jays fan, and even though they sit in the middle of the pack in the entire league, we have all these mopers on here who we have to listen to comment on how “bad” the Jays are. Well with an 8 in 30 chance, I guess all 22 teams that just got edged out are “bad”? Although they have some serious shortcomings in the pen, and we are just throwing E5 and Jo-Jo Geyes out there, the team is definitely on it’s way up, but we won’t have a chance for a while sitting under the Goldman Sachs’ of the baseball world in our division. Lame.

  9. A 15-team league would require at least one interleague series to be going on all year. I absolutely HATE that idea, and it seems totally unworkable unless you’re going to institute the DH in the NL, which I admit must be a possibility. I think it’s a matter of time before the league expands to 32 teams and then you can throw 16 teams in each league. At that point, I actually like the idea.

    Also, the business about realigning for geography is a terrible idea.

  10. Bowden’s realignment like most things he writes and says was absolutely ridiculous. I could see re-alignment happening I just don’t think there is any easy cut and dry answer.
    Until there is expansion to 2 more markets (unlikely given the current economic climate) or contraction of 2 markets (unlikely given MLBPA and Bud’s swan song) I think we’ll see more of the same with a second wild card team added.
    If the plan is to have any extra play in game as has been proposed I would float the idea of a weekend play in tournament for the 4-7placed teams, with the winner getting the #1 seed. Not ideal but workable.

  11. It’s unfair seeing teams that are better then the divisional winners but don’t get the Wild Card. I would love the realignment and the ridding of divisions. I would rather be 7th every year then 4th in the East. Just make the NL DH too while were at it.

  12. Any talk of a balanced (or shit, let’s be honest. . . “fair”) schedule is welcome as far as I’m concerned. For the record, I’d be in favour of MLB contraction to 28 before I’d ever support expansion to 32 — especially in the context of this two leagues, no divisions business. Isn’t there a big enough imbalance between the really good teams and the really shitty teams already? Would anyone really want to dilute the talent pool further by adding another two mediocre 25-man rosters to the mix?

    As far as having five playoff spots per league, though. . . How would that work? Top team gets a bye to the LCS while the winner of 2 vs. 3 plays the winner of 4 vs. 5 to determine who the opponent is? Seems like a little too much downtime for whoever that top team would be. Am I missing a more obvious approach here?

    • My guess,
      4 vs 5 in a One Game Playoff, Ace vs Ace
      Then, LDS Best of 5
      4/5 vs 1
      3 vs 2
      Followed by, LCS Best of 7
      And finally, World Series Best of 7

  13. @ dice k.

    aside from the different competition they’d have faced you also have to account for trade deadline/offseason outlook.

  14. I’m all for a balanced schedule, and top 5 make the playoffs. It would bring more teams in the race, free the Jays, Rays, and O’s from the AL East, and be a more appealing schedule over 162.

    I’d have each team play 11 games vs 10 teams, 10 games vs 4 teams, and just 12 interleague games–4 series spread throughout the season.

    I’d keep the DH rule the same in the leagues, but have the middle game of each series be the opposite league’s rule to keep the DH sitting for 3 games straight.

  15. Just to clarify–the middle game of each interleague series would be the opposite league’s rule.

    The format would seed the top 5 in the right order.

    4 should host 5 in a best-of-3, to face the 1-seed.

    I’d also shorten the season by a week and schedule six scheduled day/night doubleheaders to maintain the 162, and make the rest of the playoffs best-of-7.

    They could do all of this and still keep the World Series out of November,

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