Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | February 28, 2010

Random Thought on Realignment

Earlier this morning I was reading a post in Joe Posnanski’s blog that had absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter of this post. Such is the way my mind operates. The most random seemingly irrelevant topics can spark a chain of thoughts in my mind that lead me to conclusions about drastically different topics altogether. The post was about predicting league outcomes in February and there was a mention in the comments section about how hopeless the situation is for Baltimore and Toronto at the bottom of the AL East. This is something that has not escaped me either. Even in my rather lengthy post celebrating the apparent agreement for the Florida Marlins to spend more money I went into a larger tangent about league-wide spending and briefly made mention of the fact that the only teams in the league that are severely threatened by the spending of the Yankees are the teams that share a division with them.

Reading the blog comment about the dire situation in the East and thinking more deeply about it led me to conclude that perhaps the league and competitive balance in general would be better served by a minor realignment, similar to (and actually even smaller than) the last realignment in 1997 that moved Detroit from the AL East to the Central, Milwaukee from the AL Central to the NL Central, and dropped Tampa in the AL East along with Arizona in the NL West.

It appears that a salary cap is not coming to the league any time soon, and especially not in the next collective bargaining agreement that will be effective starting on December 12, 2011 when it is negotiated. If we’re to judge by the history of such agreements, then the next CBA will last four to five years. Therefore the issue of a salary cap won’t even have the potential to be on the table until somewhere around 2016. I’ve outlined in the past (in the very post about the Marlins and money) my opposition to a salary cap and to me this lack of potential is a good thing, but just as there are drawbacks to a cap system there are also drawbacks to an uncapped system and the league must move to do as much as they can to neutralize them. Therefore, with a cap nowhere close to being on the way and with revenue imbalance not particularly close to being curbed (though I would imagine in the next CBA a more equitable revenue sharing plan will be worked out to at least help that problem, assuming more spend-happy owners are not continually frustrated by the Florida Marlins and Oakland A‘s of the World), I think a minor realignment will at least be a minor help in mitigating the effect of revenue imbalance.

The realignment I would propose would move the Toronto Blue Jays from the American League’s Eastern Division to the AL Central and the Kansas City Royals from the American League’s Central Division to the AL West.

What would be achieved by this move? Well it is no secret that much of the revenue imbalance problem in the league centers around the AL East. The New York Yankees are the spending superpower of the Major Leagues, and the Boston Red Sox are consistently in the top 4 in league spending. In fact, since 2005 the Yankees have had (by far) the league’s largest opening day payroll every season, and the Red Sox have three times (2005-07) had the second largest and twice (2008-09) had the fourth largest. It seems to me that if the MLB is dedicated to maintaining a thirty team league with four divisions of five teams, one division of four teams, one division of six teams, and an unbalanced schedule, and that this league is already aligned in such a way that two of the consistently highest spending teams already share a division, that it would work out best for all parties (specifically in the American League, but also league wide) to make the division with the Yankees and Red Sox in it the division with the lowest number of teams.

With the unbalanced schedule in effect, what this does is essentially lessen the impact of imbalance by spreading the combined 36-38 games they play every year against a (normally) clearly inferior opponent (in the case of my specific realignment proposition, Toronto — But this could apply to Tampa or Baltimore as well. I just happen to think for reasons that I will explain momentarily that Toronto is the most sensible candidate for relocation) out amongst the remainder of the league in the form of interdivisional matchups. Having two of the league’s consistently better teams play an extra series against six other teams will have a less profound impact on overall results than playing six series against one team. This same effect ought to also increase attendance, as in every season since 2001 (which is the earliest year I could find such information — It could very well have been going on for much longer than this) both the Yankees and Red Sox have been in the top five in the league for road attendance and in many of those seasons they’ve been number one and number two. By having them visit other locales more frequently it ought to bring up ticket sales in other locations a few extra times per year. As many teams are going to tiered schedule prices, this could be a major boon for less competitive teams who find the Yankees or Red Sox in their town. In addition, there will be less teams in the division for them to “suppress”, as one team (again, in my case Toronto) will be freed to a situation where it would be on more equal spending footing with its peers. In sum, by spreading out the dominance, increasing attendance in more locations, and setting one team free from the extreme difficulty of competing in the AL East, this seems to be a no-lose scenario for the league.

This brings me to the phase of explanation: Why Toronto and why Kansas City? Simply put, given the current alignment of clubs and their geographical locations, this makes the most sense with regard to shifting each Westward one division. Of the current Central Division clubs excluding Kansas City, two are in the Central time zone and two are in the Eastern time zone. Adding another club from the Eastern time zone at the expense of a team in the Central time zone ought not to be a particular hindrance to marketing or scheduling. Likewise in the AL West while currently three teams are in the Pacific Time zone, they have been for years competing with the Texas Rangers who are in the Central Time Zone. Adding Kansas City to the schedule would add another 9-10 dates per team in the Central zone, but in all reality those 9-10 dates would replace dates that otherwise would’ve already been played in that zone (remember, Kansas City would be added to the division outright and so the extra 18-19 games against them would come out of the interdivision schedule for current AL West teams) or in the Eastern Time zone which is an even more prohibitive proposition. While the AL West is currently a tougher division than the Central, this is not a set-in-stone situation and the balance of power between the two divisions is fluid and cyclical. Moving a perennial doormat like Kansas City to the West and a Toronto team that in some years in recent history likely may have competed for a division title had they not played in the East to the Central division in all likelihood won’t have a dramatic effect on play for the teams currently in either division.

While separating Toronto from the AL East terminates long-held rivalries with Boston, New York, and Baltimore in much the same way it did when the Tigers moved to the Central, it does reunite them with the Tigers — A geographically close team that they shared a bitter rivalry with during their rise to power in the late 80s — And the Indians, another fairly geographically close team that they shared a slightly less bitter rivalry with during their fall from power in the mid 90s. Meanwhile Kansas City hasn’t been good enough recently enough to foster any true rivalries, their strongest ones still seeming to be remnant rivalries from times when they were competitive, all of which are against teams that they never shared a division with anyway (St. Louis and the Yankees). They would join an AL West composed entirely of teams that they shared a division with during the 70s and 80s which might revive rivalries and fan interest if they become competitive again.

In my eyes, there seems to be very little downside to such a move. Logistically, on the league wide level as well as to all the teams involved it seems like the smart thing to do and the right thing to do. Lessening the impact of the spending imbalance by constricting the two big spending heavyweights to the division with the least amount of teams and creating that four team division by shifting a pair teams to places where they probably more sensibly fit anyway would make for a healthier league that would create more opportunities for more teams and likely strengthen league wide attendance. While the situation would remain dire for Tampa and Baltimore, Tampa has shown that they can compete in the East at least briefly on a cyclical basis and its likely that Baltimore could do the same, even if neither team can compete on a year-in-year-out basis with the powers at the top of the division. Overall, given the structure of the league and the way things are likely to continue into the next decade of baseball, this seems like the best solution to help a problem become slightly smaller.

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Responses

  1. Thanks Bill, I appreciate it!

  2. Hi Larry, Just wanted you to know I did a Shout-Out on my baseball blog about your web-site, and a couple of others. Regards, Bill


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