December 19, 2014

Is Radical Realignment Needed in Major League Baseball?

An AL Pacific Division featuring the Dodgers, Angels, Giants, A’s and Mariners? If you’re FOX’s Ken Rosenthal, that’s your recommendation as part of a much more radical realignment strategy that he floats in an article today.

After reading his piece and reviewing his various proposals, I am heavily in the NO camp with regard to his more extreme ideas. Part of this comes from being a baseball traditionalist…I’ve always been resistant to change in Major League Baseball, and love all the quirks that are part of the game (like the AL’s designated hitter rule). I was heavily against inter-league play at the time it was introduced, fearing that it was a temporary gimmick that would cause more harm than good when it would be eventually repealed. Plus, I would argue, that’s what makes the World Series so special. I was wrong in this case; interleague play is here to stay and I love seeing the AL teams come through Chavez Ravine each year. And the World Series hasn’t lost its luster as a result.

Rosenthal’s argument on radical realignment is based primarily on the competitive imbalance in the AL East, with the domination of the Yankees and Red Sox over their opponents:

“The Yankees and Red Sox will remain financial super-powers for the foreseeable future. Even scarier, both teams have become so efficient, they eliminated any intellectual edge that certain low-revenue teams had gained.”

“If all clubs possess similar brainpower, then dollars become decisive, dooming the AL East also-rans. A cynic might suggest they would be better off pocketing revenue-sharing money than trying to compete.”

Ok, fine; obviously there is a severe financial chasm that exists between the high and low-revenue clubs. I could be on board with potentially making some limited shifts in the AL East to address the issue, but where I disagree is Rosenthal’s solution of blowing up all the divisions in favor of prioritizing regional rivalries which he says draws more fans. I would argue that the scarcity of these games is what fans love and what matters most is how the teams are performing. Is there more buzz about Lakers-Clippers games than Dodgers-Angels games? Not when one team is consistently mediocre (unless you’re the Clippers). It’s just another game. Dodgers-Angels games just feel different…they almost have a playoff feel to them with fans from both sides excessively energized, and I wouldn’t want to lose that.

Rosenthal makes some interesting points about competitive balance and the financial benefits from moving the Red Sox to another division (presumably the AL Central) and moving one team from the AL Central to the AL East (he suggests the Tigers, which I’m sure makes Rosenthal persona non grata in Detroit right about now).

If competitive imbalance is truly a problem, I’d be more in favor of looking at scheduling and weighting teams’ opponents for the upcoming season based on how they finish the current season, like the NFL tries to do. Win the World Series, and you’re playing the toughest out-of-division schedule the following year.

Fortunately Bud Selig doesn’t seem too interested in Ken’s theories, so radical realignment appears to be just the musings of a baseball reporter with too much time on his hands during Spring Training.