Realignment plan needs work

Slowly but surely, Major League Baseball realignment is bubbling back up to the surface.

Commissioner Bud Selig's latest plan to restore some balance to the regional breakdown was recently reported by both Hal Bodley at USA Today and ESPN's Peter Gammons. To the right is a breakdown of the proposed deal, and of course it's by no means set in stone.

The first thing you'll notice is that there is a difference in the number of divisions for the American and National leagues. The National League would have four divisions, with only the winner of each division making the playoffs. In the American League, the three division winners would make the playoffs in addition to the wild card.

The other big switch is flip-flopping Arizona and Tampa Bay between leagues. Arizona goes from the NL West to the AL West, with Texas jumping from the AL West to the AL Central.

Selig has made it clear that he wants to keep realignment within time zones, making it easier for the media and fans to follow the hometown team in a pennant race.

Clearly there needed to be a team swap in any kind of realignment, and it appears that swapping the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks is the easiest way to do so. When they entered the league three years ago, these two franchises agreed that they could be moved after three years, whereas any other team must approve a switch between leagues.

The latter is a tough situation, because there are only a few veteran teams that could be switched sensibly, and most of them have enough history that they probably wouldn't approve a change.

What that means is that baseball realignment will be like health care reform - everyone agrees we should do it, but few want to make the necessary sacrifice. Obviously the consequences for baseball are far less drastic, but we digress.

The National League plan nearly makes perfect sense. The Northeast and West divisions are fine, but surely there has to be a better way than breaking up Chicago and St. Louis.

The Cubs and Cardinals have the NL's longest-running rivalry, and splitting them is akin to putting the Giants and Dodgers in separate divisions. The best solution is to switch Houston and St. Louis, as their time zones are the same and it makes more sense in terms of fan interest.

As for the American League, one wonders if it really needs a six-team division and two four-team divisions.

Switching Texas to the Central makes more sense. Imagine being a Rangers fan, having to stay up until midnight just to follow the division race down the stretch.

Still, why not just keep Cleveland in the East? It certainly would make the Central more competitive, at least in the short term, and it would keep some sense of divisional balance.

And of course, switching Arizona to the AL West will bring out the requisite amount of whining from that organization. Buck Showalter has already been quoted several times as saying he built the team to be an NL franchise. Still, the team agreed to a switch after three years, so it has no choice in the matter.

It's clear that no realignment will be perfect, and if baseball were to expand again in the next few years to 32 teams, maybe it's important that it look at doing so on a regional basis rather than on markets.

Remember that this plan has two expansion teams switching leagues, which makes us wonder why it wasn't considered in the first place. If the lords of baseball decide to expand again (and dilute the talent pool even further, which is another column for another day), it might make sense to have a realignment plan approved in conjunction with bringing in new teams.

That way, we won't have to do this all over again in another few years.

Jeremy Littau is the Nevada Appeal sports editor.


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