Saturday, June 11, 2011

Realignment In MLB - Srsly?

One of the things I like to do when I'm watching sports on TV is to read the streamers at the bottom of the screen, see the scores go by, watch for new little tidbits of this or that. When I woke up this morning, Joy was still asleep (as she usually is), so I turned on the TV and turned on ESPN to see what was going on. College baseball and pro women's fastpitch, two things generally not on my list of things I enjoy watching. Hell, it took me several minutes to figure out which team was which on the fastpitch game between the Chicago Bandits and the USSSA Florida Pride - whatever happened to home whites and road greys?

But I found something truly intriguing on the streamer below the game. It seems that Major League Baseball and it's players' association are pondering the possibility of a fairly radical realignment of the leagues, schedules, and playoff structure. In a nutshell, the American and National Leagues would each have 15 teams (currently the AL has 14, while the NL has 16), and the divisions within each league would be done away with altogether, and the top five teams in each league would advance to the playoffs (Author's note: I would presume that under such a system, the top three teams in each league would receive first-round byes, and the #1 seed would face the winner of first-round match between the #4 and #5 seeds). The article also suggests that the team most likely to switch leagues under the proposal would be the Houston Astros.

It's an interesting proposal for sure, but one that might be unworkable. First off, scheduling the season would be nightmarish at best. By removing the divisional structure, the new format removes one of the needs for an unbalanced schedule (where playing teams in the same division or conference takes precedence over playing teams outside said division or conference, while a balanced schedule is essentially a round-robin format). And with an odd number of teams in each league, that means that there would be an interleague series going on at all times throughout the season. Trying to do the math in my head necessary to generate how many games a season would be needed to make a schedule work rapidly made my brain ache and beg for mercy.

My honest feeling is that this is a nice try, but totally unworkable. The problems that would arise from scheduling 30 teams to play each other over the course of six months and 150 - 160 games into two- to four-game series make it a logistical nightmare. But it's still a nice try. If there were already the same even number of teams in each league, that might help. But what would it take to get there? Contract two clubs and then realign, or add two clubs and realign? I'm not sure either would work, because remember that there's more than just the big club you're dealing with. If a team were to be contracted, all of a sudden you'd have a AAA club, a AA club, and three single-A clubs without players, let alone a major-league team paying their salaries. That'd put a lot of people out of work. Likewise, two new MLB clubs would require a farm system that would need ten new minor-league clubs to be formed to handle those needs. Doable, but building an infrastructure like that takes a lot of time, and a lot of money. And in this economy, that kind of money would be very hard to find.

In closing, here's my take on it all: Getting rid of the divisional format? Nice idea, traditionalists would probably love it. Fifteen teams in each league? No way, man. Not workable. Stick with what works for the time being.

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