With the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals now both in the books, and college football still 12 weeks away, I'd say it's high time for our sports focus to shift to the only sport still in season, baseball. The issue I'd like to deal with today is one that has gotten some recent press and will likely be settled in the off-season: realignment. But how will baseball shake up the 6-division format that it's used for the past 18 seasons? I've compiled the 3 best plans (in my opinion) that correct the biggest complaints about modern baseball: uneven divisions (6 teams in NL Central vs. 4 teams in AL West), unbalanced schedules (Orioles play the Yanks 19 times a year), and the small playoffs (which I personally don't mind but it's a given that Selig will add a 5th playoff team to each league)
With these problems in mind, let's look at 3 possible plans for baseball realignment:
Plan A: Keep It Simple
Change: Houston Astros move from the NL Central to the AL West, where they would join the only other Texan team in baseball, the Rangers.
Scheduling: Unbalanced as it is now, with each team playing their division opponents 19 times each (76 total), inter-division opponents 6 or 7 times each (68 total), and 6 series versus inter-league opponents (18 total). For teams with inter-league geographical rivals: (Mets-Yankees, Dodgers-Angels, A's-Giants, Orioles-Nats, Cubs-White Sox, Marlins-Rays, Cardinals-Royals, Indians-Reds), they are guaranteed to play each other 2 series per year (home and home), which will leave them their rivals + 4 other inter-league opponents. For teams without inter-league rivals, they will play 6 different inter-league opponents. There would always have to be one inter-league series happening, meaning that the 6 series for each team would be spread out, averaging about one per month for the entire season.
Playoffs: 5 per league, with each division winner earning a bye and the two wild-card teams playing a best-of-3 series.
Plan B: Balanced Schedule
Change: Houston Astros move from NL Central to AL West.
Scheduling: Balanced (at least more so) . 12 games against division opponents (48 total), 9 or 10 games against inter-division opponents (99 total), 5 series against inter-league opponents (15 games total). For the inter-league scheduling, no rivalries will be taken into account. Each team will play 5 inter-league teams spread out among the 3 divisions, with each team playing a different set of 5 teams each year for a 3 year rotation, so that each team will have played all 15 inter-league opponents over the course of 3 seasons.
Playoffs: Same as A. One variation that could be applied to the plan though would be to play the best-of-3 series entirely at the higher seeded wild-card team's park, giving a bigger advantage for finishing 4th rather than 5th.
Plan C: Party Like It's 1968
Changes: Eliminate divisions. Move Arizona Diamondbacks from National League to American League.
Scheduling: Balanced. For the 14 league opponents, play half of them 12 games each and the other half 9 games each (147 games total). This would rotate, so that over 2 years each team would play all of their league rivals 21 times total and over 4 years have 21 home games against each team. For inter-league opponents, play five teams one series each (15 games total), with each team playing all15 inter-league opponents at least once over the course of 3 seasons.
Playoffs: Top 5 teams in each league qualify, with the top 3 getting a first-round bye and the bottom two qualifiers facing off in a best-of-3 play-in series.
So there we have it, 3 ideas for how to change baseball for next season (and beyond!). Note that I included 5 playoff teams in all 3 plans as baseball seems set on it, but any of the three would work just as well with the current 4-team per league format. My personal favorite is plan B, although I think that people may gripe about losing their inter-league rivalry home and home every year.
I'd love to hear other suggestions or thoughts on these three plans.
Change is definitely coming to baseball, and I'm excited to see what form it takes.