For years, baseball fans have wondered where the next new MLB franchise would pop up. Many, especially those in the region, have pined for a return to Montreal. Another franchise in the Pacific Northwest also makes sense; it provides a natural rival for the secluded Seattle Mariners, and helps satisfy a relatively untapped sports market. Other locations, such as Nashville, New Orleans, or Charlotte, have also been mentioned.
While we aren’t actually closer to realignment or expansion than the last time someone brought it up, the internet has been buzzing about a new proposal. Specifically, Baseball America’s Tracy Ringolsby unleashed a radical plan earlier this week that would (a) expand Major League Baseball to 32 teams, (b) reduce the regular season schedule to 156 games, and (c) eliminate the American and National Leagues.
Now that I have your attention, let’s take a look at the new alignment.
Consider four eight-team divisions with the addition of teams in Portland and Montreal:
East: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington.
North: Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, both New York franchises and Toronto.
Midwest: Both Chicago franchises, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Texas.
West: Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.
To put it lightly, this plan would absolutely screw the Detroit Tigers. As things currently stand, the Tigers play in a very winnable AL Central division. All five clubs have won division titles within the last decade, one of only two divisions that can claim such a feat. The Tigers have held a significant spending advantage over their competitors during that span, a big reason why they won four straight AL Central titles from 2011 to 2014.
Those advantages would disappear with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees in their division. Their high payrolls haven’t guaranteed success in recent years — the AL East is the only other division with five different winners in the last 10 seasons, in fact — but we appear to be entering another era of Yankees and Red Sox dominance. The Mets and Blue Jays also play in larger markets than Detroit, potentially providing a spending edge down the road.
The tougher division slate also makes Detroit’s road to the ALCS and World Series much tougher. With four division winners and eight “Wild Cards,” the Tigers would likely be forced into a play-in game more often due to the relative strength of their division opponents (if not knocked out of the playoffs altogether).
The Tigers may also be one of the few teams to see their travel schedule increased by the realignment. The suggested 156-game schedule involves four series against divisional opponents every year: two home and two road. Instead of taking multiple shorter trips to Chicago, Cleveland, and Minnesota, they would have to make slightly longer treks to New York and Boston, as well as four international trips per year (compared to their current one).
Detroit’s interdivisional travel would also increase slightly. Under the proposed schedule, the Tigers would play a three-game series against every non-divisional opponent in baseball. While only half of these would be on the road, Ringolsby also notes that all road trips would only be two-city trips, forcing more flights to and from the west coast every year. Instead of one long west coast swing — which the Tigers often have in years they don’t play the NL West — they could be forced to take as many as three separate trips to the Mountain or Pacific time zones.
Luckily, a realignment plan this radical doesn’t seem likely. Baseball has been hesitant to shake things up so drastically in the past, and two-team expansion seems like an aggressive move in itself. A more likely realignment plan would be to create eight four-team divisions while maintaining the current American and National League layouts.
In this case, the Kansas City Royals are the AL Central team most likely to get screwed.
Rob’s Realignment Plan
AL East: New York, Boston, Toronto, Baltimore
AL North: Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago
AL South: Kansas City, Houston, Texas, Tampa Bay
AL West: Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland
NL East: Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Montreal
NL North: Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati
NL West: Arizona, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego
NL Something: St. Louis, Atlanta, Miami, Colorado
Okay, so the National League is a bit of a mess. Someone in the NL Central would have a longstanding rivalry broken up. St. Louis makes the most geographical sense, while Milwaukee is the new kid on the block. One potential solution might be to swap Tampa Bay and Colorado between leagues — the Atlanta-Miami-Tampa trio could be interesting — but it still leaves someone out to dry.
Either way, it seems more likely than eliminating the Leagues altogether. What do you think?