Does baseball need to realign its teams and divisions? Probably not, but that won’t stop interested parties from discussing the possibilities. A few weeks ago Ben addressed Ken Rosenthal’s plan, which includes many teams switching teams and leagues. That might have sounded radical, but it’s not quite at the level of the plan Tom Verducci shares. Unlike Rosenthal’s, this plan, which involves changes on a yearly basis, is actually being considered by baseball officials.
Just how would a floating realignment scheme work?
One example of floating realignment, according to one insider, would work this way: Cleveland, which is rebuilding with a reduced payroll, could opt to leave the AL Central to play in the AL East. The Indians would benefit from an unbalanced schedule that would give them a total of 18 lucrative home dates against the Yankees and Red Sox instead of their current eight. A small or mid-market contender, such as Tampa Bay or Baltimore, could move to the AL Central to get a better crack at postseason play instead of continually fighting against the mega-payrolls of New York and Boston.
For starters, I’m sure only three teams want to break up the AL East. The rest would rather see the Yankees and the Sox in the same division. After all, why would you want one of the two biggest spending teams to separate and possibly move into your division? That could actually make it easier for both the Yankees and the Red Sox to win their divisions, since 1) they’re not fighting for the same division title, and 2) they would no longer play each other 18 times a year. In fact, if one moved to the NL — interleague moves would be permitted under this plan — they wouldn’t play each other except during the interleague period.
At first I thought that the complexity of a floating system was a bug in the system, though after further thought I think it’s a feature. Fans love the off-season. The Yankees won the World Series this year, yet more people visited the site during the Winter Meetings than the World Series. A series of measures to determine yearly realignment could add another level to the off-season. I’m sure we’d all pay close attention as teams vied for optimal places within divisions, thus determining their main competition for the following season.
The flipside is that plenty of teams would try to use the system as a way to punt their rebuilding seasons. In Verducci’s example, the Indians would essentially be running and hiding from the competition, taking their licks from the AL East — or whatever division at the time presents the toughest competition. This not only allows teams to hide away as they rebuild, but it allows better teams to face weaker competition. This is the part of the idea I like least. If floating realignment does become a real possibility, I’d far rather see a system where the best teams get grouped somewhat together, so that they can play each other more often.
While MLB likely won’t implement this plan, it is a much better option than static realignment in order to break up the Yankees and Red Sox. Again, only three teams really care about this issue. The rest probably like having the two in the same division. Static realignment also ignores the possibility — and, in the long term, certainty — that the Sox and Yanks fall from power. The whole thing will be for naught if two teams in another division accumulate the power the Yankees and the Sox currently wield.
Still, floating realignment does have its benefits. I’d like to see a sampling of exactly how teams can change divisions. That will determine its viability. If it allows for strong teams playing strong teams more often, they might be onto something. But if it allows low payroll teams to hide out among the big boys, raking in cash at the gate when those teams come to town, I’m not sure I favor it. Any realignment plan should favor the teams that put out a quality product. To favor the Indians just because they’re rebuilding doesn’t seem like a solid reason to propose a plan like this.