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Fair play at root of realignment
The argument for realignment in baseball boils down to a simple premise: Making the competition as fair as possible.
“I can confirm that the topic has been discussed in bargaining,” union chief Michael Weiner said Monday. “I expect the discussions to continue.”
The chances of realignment actually happening are difficult to determine, major-league sources say. But sheer math suggests that the idea makes sense.
A shift from 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American to 15 in each league would enhance the integrity of the regular season in two ways.
First, every team would compete with the same number of clubs for a division title; the NL Central currently has six teams and the AL West only four.
Second, every team would compete with the same number of clubs for wild-card berths, the number of which could expand from one to two in each league.
AL clubs currently stand an easier chance of winning a wild card simply because there are two fewer of them competing for a berth than in the NL.
The team most likely to switch leagues, sources say, would be the Astros, who would move from the NL Central to the AL West.
The discussions between the players and owners, first reported by ESPN.com, also include talk of interleague play throughout the season, an idea that is generating resistance among some owners, sources say.
The creation of two 15-team leagues would require continuous interleague play, but the number of interleague series could be weighted so that fewer are played both at the beginning of a season and at the end, when pennant races are most intense.
Again, the goal would be fairness – interleague schedules that were more equitable so that one team would not have a decided advantage over another.
This season in the NL Central, the Brewers must play the Yankees and Red Sox, the two super-powers of the AL East. The Cardinals will play neither of those clubs, while the Reds will play only the Yankees.
The proposed addition of one wild-card team in each league is tied to the argument for fairer schedules through realignment, according to one source.
The value of winning a division would be enhanced if baseball went to a one-game knockout in the wild-card round, putting greater emphasis on scheduling inequities.
One source says there is “not a lot of traction” for the idea of eliminating divisions entirely and enabling only the teams with the best overall records in each league to reach the postseason.
Commissioner Bud Selig remains a strong proponent of the unbalanced schedule, a concept steeped in the tradition of division rivalries, another source says.
The timing might be right, however, for baseball finally to adopt two 15-team leagues.
The Astros currently are in an ownership transition, increasing baseball’s leverage if the franchise is resistant to a move, sources say.
Jim Crane, the Astros’ proposed new owner, needs to gain approval from baseball to secure the franchise.
Under the major-league agreement, an owner can reject not only a move from one league to another, but also one between divisions.
Crane, though, is not the Astros’ owner yet.
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