Major League Baseball is examining several different realignment options for the 2012 season, including a move to two 15-team leagues and the potential elimination of divisions as a method for determining playoff teams.
The options, first reported in USA Today and ESPN.com, could be something as simple as one team moving from the National League to the American League or something as complex as a new approach to divisions and playoffs.
On the simple end of the spectrum, either the Houston Astros or Arizona Diamondbacks could shift to the American League. Officials with both teams didn’t sound pleased, but a move of the Astros to the American League would be the least disruptive possible: A shift to the American League West would put that division at five teams, streamline travel in both leagues and create a rivalry with the Texas Rangers. In addition, it would decrease the National League Central by a team, down to five. Moving Arizona to the American League West would make sense, but it also means some other shifts in the National League; the Astros would probably need to move the NL West. (Indeed, the Astros are in play no matter what.)
Two 15-team leagues also means perpetual interleague play as a way to balance the schedule. Right now interleague play is an event, with 28 teams participating at once. But it’s an event that’s lost its appeal to a great extent; seeing the Minnesota Twins visit the Arizona Diamondbacks doesn’t really engender too much in the way of passion. There’s the potential to scale back interleague play to the traditional rivalries (Cubs/White Sox, Twins/Brewers, Mets/Yankees) as a scheduling tool.
There are more drastic changes being discussed. It’s no secret Bud Selig has argued for an additional wild card team in the playoffs, an act that’s popular with players and fans alike. As part of this, MLB is looking at eliminating divisional championship as a tool for determining playoff participants, instead going with the top five teams in each league. That plan certainly has appeal for big-market teams like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, fighting it out in a tough American League East. It may have less appeal for smaller-market teams in the American League Central, where parity rules.
How much will actually change? Depends on negotiations between MLB and the players union. Discussions on these topics have already occurred and will continue in coming weeks. Expanding the wild cards is pretty much a done deal; the issue is whether the two sides can agree on more.
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