Realignment, Shmealignment? Even if It Won’t Float, This Idea Shouldn’t Sink

On Tuesday, SI’s Tom Verducci reported that a Bud Selig-chartered committee has begun to discuss a principle of “floating” realignment, whereby teams could choose their division of choice on a yearly basis “based on geography, payroll and their plans to contend or not.” The committee is largely made up of senior managers, front office personnel, and corporate executives — so they aren’t exactly teenage Bolsheviks. (Notably, there are no players on the committee, which means the union would be another hurdle if MLB ever decides to move forward.)

Rob Neyer was quick to point out the extreme logistical impracticality of it all: because of the Byzantine complexity of the baseball schedule, teams would have to decide “their plans to contend or not” months ahead of time and coordinate them with the team they were going to swap with. The basic tradeoff: a team (like the Orioles) might want to move from the AL East to an easier division, but they would be foregoing the revenue injections that come from 18 home games a year against the Yankees and Red Sox. A smaller-market team (like the Indians) might want to increase revenues by facing the juggernauts more often, but it might lose a few more games. The notion of a team willingly admitting that it has no “plans to contend” seems a bit hard to swallow, but the “rebuilding” euphemism is used all the time, so it’s quite likely that fans could come around.

The real issue is fairness. Ever since the beginning of divisional play in 1969, postseason play has not necessarily been awarded to teams with the best postseason records, but rather to the teams that ended the year at the top of their division. Famously, the 103-win 1993 Giants tied the NL West, lost a one-game playoff to the Atlanta Braves, and watched the rest of the postseason from home, while the 97-win Philadelphia Phillies won the NL East and went on to win the World Series. The Wild Card was meant to allow a good team in a strong division to make it into the playoffs, but even the Wild Card can’t change the fact that the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays are stuck in an essentially unwinnable division, with three strong teams, two of which are the richest teams in the game. Thanks to the unbalanced schedule, they play a third of their games against those three teams, which Neyer notes isn’t fair either.

The AL East has been broken for some time now. The five teams finished in the exact same order for seven straight years from 1998-2004; since the beginning of the three-division era, either Boston or New York won the division every year from 1994-2009, with the exception of the Orioles in 1997 (the following year, they had baseball’s highest payroll!) and the Rays in 2008. The thing is, no one’s going to move heaven and earth to make life more convenient for the O’s and Jays. Floating realignment is a fascinating solution to the structural disparity in the AL East, and the fact that it’ll never happen doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Historically, realignment has been tied to expansion, but we’re not getting a 31st team any time soon. Periodic realignment may not be such a bad idea, though, especially considering that the NL Central has 6 teams and the AL West has 4, bizarrely handicapping those teams’ relative postseason chances. Especially if baseball is going to continue to operate without a payroll cap or payroll floor, other solutions like this need to be considered in order to ensure that every team has a fair shot at October. Baseball’s inequality need not be iniquitous.

(An earlier version of this blog post messed up the entire chronology of 1993. The Giants lost the NL West and the Phillies lost the World Series.)




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


115 Responses to “Realignment, Shmealignment? Even if It Won’t Float, This Idea Shouldn’t Sink”

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  1. how about a balanced schedule? eliminate divisions altogether? increase wildcard by one?

    there are lots of different options rather than giving teams the option to compete or make a cash-grab. also, by allowing teams that are “rebuilding” to align with the Yankees and Red Sox, doesn’t that just give the Yankees and Red Sox more opportunity for easier wins?

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    • Torgen says:

      If you’re not going to stop the Yankees and Red Sox from spending as much money as they do, the next best thing is to make the money they do spend pointless.

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    • PL says:

      Best post first post. We just need 2 leagues with no divisions, every team plays every other team the same amount of times, and the best 4 teams make the playoffs, best overall team goes to the WS. Simple, logical, perfect.

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      • Standard_Deviance says:

        Two leagues with no divisions sounds like a good idea, and has certain advantages to it, but the net result of it would be that many more teams would be out of playoff contention much sooner in the season. That would be bad from a business and promotional standpoint for the league and thus would likely never happen.

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      • Jason B says:

        That’s a good counter-argument, or at least a point worth considering. While it’s sometimes painful to see a .500 team in contention late into the season (gee they sure don’t *look* like a playoff team), but it is a positive for that market and the fans of that team to stay in contention longer. They would in all likelihood be buried by August in a one-division league.

        Still, the “one division per league” format would at least ensure the best teams in that league make the playoffs every year. I think some leagues (Premier league soccer, maybe?) use that format.

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  2. CSJ says:

    I think it would be great to have no divisions and just an American and National League. Then, balance the schedules and remove interleague play. The top 4 teams from each league advance to the playoffs.

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    • The A Team says:

      Add in more scheduling quirks too. A couple true doubleheaders a year would be nice. Maybe more 2 and 4 game series.

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      • Mike says:

        I think with more East vs. West games, I think it’d make more sense to have more 4 game series, but less 2 game series.

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  3. Bill says:

    As nice it would be, the 1993 Phillies in fact lost the World Series.

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  4. Jick says:

    Also, the Giants and Braves didn’t have a playoff in ’93, they finished one game apart the normal way.

    Great article, I agree with just about everything you’ve said.

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  5. notdissertating says:

    huh. i don’t really get the switching divisions based on contention plans. i could see a couple different equilibria occurring depending on the specifics of the process. you wouldn’t see all of the contending teams in one division and the non-contenders in another, or if you did, it would be terribly sub-optimal for the last contending team to still want to be in that very tough division. or, if there were some sort of a blind bidding process then some weird things could happen. interesting, but weird.

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  6. Rick says:

    I guess my question is: wouldn’t this also give the Yankees and Red Sox incentive to split from each other? They’re the teams least likely to need the revenue injection from the other one coming to town. Yes, some in their respective fanbases might whine about only seeing their rivals six or seven times instead of 19, but the unbalanced schedule is a relatively new creation anyway. They’d come around, especially when they realize the increased odds of making the playoffs.

    As it is now, there are three teams in the AL East at a severe, but not insurmountable (see Tampa 08) disadvantage. This plan (and I realize it’s still in the “brainstorming” phase, and probably shouldn’t have been leaked out in such an unfinished form) could well just serve to better distribute the game’s big revenue teams, actually giving even more small market teams less hope.

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    • Tom B says:

      This is pretty close. It took Tampa Bay less than 10 years to figure out how to compete in the division. Boohoo for the Orioles and Blue jays, i just don’t care.

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      • TerryMc says:

        Let’s see how Tampa competes when they don’t have the top pick in the draft every single year.

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    • Judy says:

      Since the Red Sox and Yankees both outspend everyone else by so much mostly in order to compete with each other, it’s at least possible that they’d come back closer to the pack if they were split up.

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      • To be fair, Boston doesn’t outspend everyone else by all that much. Over the past five years they’ve ranged from 2nd to 5th in opening day spending. Definitely at the top of the league, but not all that much more than other teams at the top.

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  7. Walt says:

    I’ve never liked the entire notion of divisions. Personally, I’d abolish them and go with American League and National League only. Obviously this is tough to do because of travel, creating rivalries and so on, but it allows the best teams to get into the playoffs, rather than just being the best of your geographically close teams.

    Heck, even if they went back to two divisions per League, it would be better.

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  8. Steve says:

    The Wild Card was meant to allow a good team in a strong division to make it into the playoffs, but even the Wild Card can’t change the fact that the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays are stuck in an essentially unwinnable division, with three strong teams, two of which are the richest teams in the game. Thanks to the unbalanced schedule, they play a third of their games against those three teams, which Neyer notes isn’t fair either.

    I don’t get this. Doesn’t the very existence of the Rays disprove the notion that the division is “unfair” or “unwinnable”??

    The Rays have better management than the Blue Jays and the Orioles have had in recent years. Is that unfair? The Orioles also have a much larger payroll capacity than the Rays, is that unfair?

    If you took the Rays roster and gave them Baltimore’s payroll capacity, they would probably be a force that would challenge the Sox and Yankees year in and year out.

    In other words, it’s doable. But the Orioles frittered away an entire decade of development time by bad management. Baltimore is a great baseball town with the best stadium in the game. The fans WANT to come back. And the Orioles are finally on the right track and will probably contend within a few years.

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    • Torgen says:

      The year the Rays went to the World Series they had a worse pythagorean record than the Jays. The next year they won 84 games–how many times did the Jays do that without getting pats on the back?

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      • Steve says:

        Not sure what your point is. The author stated that the AL East is not fair b/c there are THREE good teams in it. My response is that the TB Rays do not enjoy any systemic advantage over the Orioles besides better management. That was the author’s premise, not mine.

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      • Torgen says:

        My point is that the division isn’t unwinnable for the Jays just because there are so many good teams in it, because they’ve shown that they can be one of those teams when they don’t decide not to be, which unfortunately is what they’ve done. Right now the book that describes them isn’t so much Moneyball as it is Fooled By Randomness.

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      • Steve says:

        Gotcha. You’re kindof agreeing with me, I wasn’t expecting that…

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      • Torgen says:

        It just annoys me when people point to the Rays as a model organization when they combined a good season with good luck once.

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      • R M says:

        Torgen, I really don’t get why you are hating on the Rays. They are still going to be fielding a great team this year, and are much better than the perennial cellar dwellers they were a few years ago. They have built that organization from the ground up.

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      • Torgen says:

        I object to the double standard. People in the stat community were dooming the Jays as being uncompetitive with the Rays when the stat community’s own measures, such as Pythagenpat and team WAR, said the Jays were perfectly capable of competing.

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    • Oliver says:

      The Ray’s had to be very, very, very bad to get to where they are today. They had amazing draft picks because, they were historically awful, and as a result, are now the strong team they are today.

      Toronto and Baltimore, were sandwiched between the two best (and highest spending teams) and one of the absolute worst, making it difficult to stand out of the pack.

      I am certain that if Baltimore remains awful for a few more years, then they would have a good chance of replacing the Ray’s as the #3 team in the division eventually.

      I’m all for rivalries, but the current structure of the unbalanced schedule, and playoff seeding being division winners and a wildcard, is systemically unfair.

      Cut inter-league play in half, eliminate divisions and have an un-balanced schedule. Top 3 team’s go straight to the playoffs, while the #4 and #5 seeds play a 3 game series. Is it ideal? No, but at least it’s more fair.

      My $0.02 at least.

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      • quincy0191 says:

        This. I don’t understand how people can point to the Rays as an example of “how to win with young guys and without a large payroll in a high-payroll division” while completely ignoring the decade of utter futility that led to that great young core. Without losing so much, they wouldn’t have Longoria, Price, Niemann, Upton, Young (and therefore wouldn’t have gotten Edwin Jackson) etc. that were so key to their 2008 postseason run. The Rays do have great management, but I don’t know too many fans or players who would be willing to trade a decade of complete subjugation for a single league championship.

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      • Reuben says:

        Look at the first round of the last ten years of the draft and tell me how many guaranteed prospects turned out poorly. Tell me how many supplemental picks or waiver acquisitions turned out to be starters or superstars. The baseball draft isn’t like the NBA or NFL draft where a significant % of the top picks go on to successful careers. Their success in the draft was based on BOTH their high picks as well as better scouting and statisticians. To point to one w/o the other is doing the Rays a great disservice.

        Plenty of high picking teams haven’t had the success that the Rays have had and in easier divisions.

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      • Pirates and Royals says:

        HI GUYS!!!!

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      • Jim says:

        This is actually in reply to quincy0191, but since there was no reply button in his post….well, you know. ;)

        “Without losing so much, they wouldn’t have Longoria, Price, Niemann, Upton, Young (and therefore wouldn’t have gotten Edwin Jackson) etc. that were so key to their 2008 postseason run.”

        I see what your saying, but of the group you listed, a few of them didn’t play much(or any) part in the success of the 2008 Rays.

        I. Delmon Young, who was the Rays first round(and #1 overall) pick in the 2003 draft, didn’t even make it to 2008 with the Rays. He was traded, but not for Edwin Jackson–he was sent to the Twins in that big trade involving Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan going to the Rays and Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie going to the Twins in November 2007.

        (However, it’s obvious that the guys the Rays got back in exchange for Young–Garza and Bartlett–were crucial to the 2008 Rays. Maybe that’s what you meant?)

        2. Edwin Jackson was obtained by the Rays for the 2006 season, and while he obviously played a part in their 2008 success, I don’t think he was as crucial as people would have you think to their 2008 success. But then again, even if he was crucial, the Rays didn’t have to send anyone of significane–such as a former first or second round pick–to get him in that 2006 trade. Nope, they sent veteran RP Danys Baez(who is well traveled and was originally drafted by Cleveland) and a career minor leaguer named Lance Carter to the Dodgers, since the Dodgers were fed up with Jackson. Oh, and the Rays also got Chuck Tiffany as well. ;)

        3. Longoria and Upton–no disagreement there. ;)

        4. David Price and Jeff Niemann–Well, Price played a big role in the postseason, helping the Rays to win the ALCS and get them to the World Series. He didn’t pitch as much during the season, mostly because the Rays had Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine. But he did play a crucial role. Niemann, however, may have played a crucial role in almost blowing their chances at the postseason when he lost a game for them down the stretch(and he only had 2 callups during the season, at the beginning and at the end, IIRC.) Luckily, they won the last game of the season to clinch.

        So, it’s more of a mixed bag in terms of the impact that their top draft picks had–most of them had a big impact, but a few you stated weren’t quite as big or they weren’t drafted/acquired by trading drafted players. :)

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  9. max says:

    The AL West and NL Central have to be at 4 and 6 because otherwise there would have to be either 2 teams not playing, or an interleague game, every day.

    As for the main topic of the article, I don’t think anything needs to change. The Rays were in last place for their practically their entire existence, and yet they were able to turn all their early draft picks into a solid team and win the division in 2008. The Orioles have a good young core, so it won’t be long before they are able to contend. Teams have their ups and downs often enough. Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, and Atlanta have all had at least one 100-win season this decade, and yet in 2008 they won an average of 70 games. Atlanta recently had a run of 15(?) division titles end. It may take a bit longer for Baltimore and Toronto, but they will have their time.

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    • The A Team says:

      Close enough, it was 14. Here’s the Phillies matching that.

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      • Cooper S says:

        Good luck with that ;)

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      • Jason B says:

        Don’t pretend that 1994 didn’t happen, even if it was strike-shortened. I think it was 11. Plenty impressive without having to make believe a season didn’t exist. =)

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    • Bryz says:

      +1 for first comment. I never knew that.

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    • tomsteele says:

      “The AL West and NL Central have to be at 4 and 6 because otherwise there would have to be either 2 teams not playing, or an interleague game, every day.”

      But why does it have to be the AL WEST and the NL CENTRAL? You could at least try to rotate which divisions have 4 and 6 teams.

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      • RDV says:

        Why can’t there be two leagues of fifteen teams with one inter-league series being played at all times?

        Each team could be allotted a single inter-league rival and those games would be spotlighted throughout the season. Send the Brewers to the AL Central and move the Royals to the AL West, thereby creating six equal divisions of five teams.

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  10. Kent says:

    I have thought that alignment by payroll, within AL and NL of course,would make more sense. So there would be 3 divisions – high, medium, and low payroll. (Payroll as of, say, opening day.)

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      Reminds me of English League football.

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    • Tom B says:

      I don’t see why low payroll teams should be awarded playoff spots.

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      • Reuben says:

        What if it was based on a % of actual profits or something? So as to make it equally hard for cheap owners like that of the Marlins as opposed to including an incentive to cut payroll?

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  11. Glanzer says:

    I think the current system is the best option and is relatively fair to most all teams. You can put the Yankees and Red Sox wherever you want, but they’re still both going to make the playoffs 90% of the time. If anything the solution should be limiting spending so the Blue Jays, Orioles, and other such teams have a chance.

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    • David says:

      I completely agree with you. Instead of changing up the divisions and such there should just be a payroll cap. Not having one is just stupid and fuels teams like the Yankees and Red Sox because instead of having to have good scouting and a good farm system they just buy whoever the hell they feel like.

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      • Tom B says:

        What do you think the Yankee’s and Red Sox are going to spend all that extra “cap” money on? Scouting, International Scouting, and Farm Player Development.

        Also, where are the teams that will pick up the extra $200 million in player contracts that the Yankees/RedSox/Mets/Cubs/whoever won’t be allowed to purchase? They are no where because they won’t spend the money now, why would they spend it with a cap in place?

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      • Reuben says:

        How many players did the Yankees “buy” this offseason? I think both of those teams have pretty good scouting if somewhat weak farm systems due to years of trading players away for chances to compete now.

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  12. Andrew says:

    I agree with Rick, in that seperating the Yankees and Red Sox doesn’t help competitive balance all that much. So now NY and Boston wouldn’t have to beat each other up, and they can each dominate a weaker division? How much better of a chance would Baltimore or Toronto have against a Yankees team that gets to play the Indians 18 times instead of the Red Sox???

    Toronto and Baltimore are at a disadvantage (funny, we currently don’t mention Tampa in this category.) But to you really shake up all of baseball just to help two teams?

    Now matter how you divide it out :
    *The Yankees and Red Sox will always compete.
    *The Royals and Pirates won’t
    *Everybody else will have to play the building/re-building game and look for their windows of opportunity.

    That’s why, along with a lot of others, I would prefer there were no divisions. Top 4 in each league are playoff bound. If people want fairness, there needs to be a balanced schedule.

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    • Tobias F. says:

      It wouldn’t help them catch the Yankees but atleast with Boston out of the division they have a chance at 2nd place and a Wild Card berth.

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      • Tom B says:

        Why does everyone assume that with Boston gone the next team in the East would take the Wild Card?

        Alot of shortsighted opinions floating around on here, I’m just going to step away slowly…

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      • jw says:

        The AL East, as a whole, had a .605 winning percentage against out of division foes (including interleague). .605! That’s a 98 win pace. If they didn’t have to play each other, they would have had 490 combined wins split between the five teams.

        This isn’t an opinion post, I just thought that this fact was ridiculous.

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      • jw says:

        That really wasn’t supposed to go here, sorry.

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  13. Coby DuBose says:

    Any gains in revenue from drawing the Yankees/Red Sox 12 additional times would almost certainly be offset by losses in revenue in the other 69 home games. Do people honestly think fans are still going to turn out in numbers, paying big money to watch a team that has essentially punted the season by moving to the AL East.

    A 70-win team on a cash grab is going to draw once they’ve made this admission to their fans?

    This was an idea that wasn’t allowed to incubate for nearly long enough before they took it out of the oven.

    Additionally, moving the Orioles/Rays to the AL Central or AL West won’t make them any smarter. If they want to win, they need less Vernon Wells types of contracts.

    The author of this article also uses some very “creative” language to try and prove a point without actually proving it. Event X has happened every season since year X, except for the two times when it didn’t happen (one of which was 2 years ago). Clever work.

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  14. jim says:

    how about group teams based on payroll?

    yanks, sox, mets, cubs and tigers all in one division.

    this would give teams that win despite low payroll (twins, A’s) the credit and wins they deserve.

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  15. Jamie says:

    I would have more sympathy for the Jays and Orioles if they hadn’t been so terribly run for the last 15 years. I won’t be convinced they can’t compete with the Yanks and Sox until they start trying.

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    • Torgen says:

      The Rays were more terribly run than the Jays for most of those 15 years. It’s just the last 1.5 where the Jays stopped trying, and by no means do I think they should be excused for it.

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  16. Kampfer says:

    I like this idea a lot. AL East is just too strong and some NL division is just too weak. Switching division every 5~10 years seem to make team more competitive.

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    • Tom B says:

      This has to be the stupidest solution I’ve ever reqad to fix the balance of power in baseball.

      You want balance? All baseball revenues are pooled and distributed evenly amongst the teams.

      You know what will happen? The Yankees and the RedSox will still win because they aren’t designed to “run for profit” like the rest of the league.

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      • Tom B says:

        This was not meant as a reply to you Kampfer.

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      • Tom B says:

        Also, what teams in their right mind would willfully move into a stacked division?

        Until the focus of every team in baseball is to put a “winning product” on the field, instead of only worrying about their profit margins, there will be no balance.

        There are teams trying to win. They are spending money. The teams that aren’t spending money are only fooling themselves and disrespecting their fans. You don’t draw enough fans because you’ve systematically turned them away from baseball by putting garbage ont he field year after year? Fold, and stop crying about it.

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      • TerryMc says:

        The Yankees and Red Sox aren’t designed to run for profit?

        The difference between the Yankees and a small market team is that the small market teams stops making a profit when their payroll hits “X” amount, say something like 100 million while the Yankees stop making a profit when their payroll hits 2½ times that. The Yankees and Red Sox may have the largest payrolls each year, but the may also make the largest profit each year.

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  17. JimNY says:

    I don’t understand why I’ve never heard anybody talk about reallignment based on record if you really want to keep things interesting for the bottom-feeder fans. Every year, the five AL teams with the best record go in one division, the next five go in another division, and the last four go in another division. If we were to implement this now, the divisions would look like this:

    AL1: NYY, LAA, BOS, MIN, TEX
    AL2: DET, SEA, TBR, CHW, TOR
    AL3: OAK, BAL, CLE, KCR

    Each division winner and one wild card will make the playoffs each year, and the divisions get realligned every year based on the previous year’s record. This way, every team knows that, at worst, they’ll be one year away from contending for a playoff spot. The Yankees and Red Sox will probably still make the playoffs most years, but the other teams can always know that if they end up in the first division, and get beat up on by the Yanks and Sox, they’ll move down the next year where they can beat up on lesser opponents. Third division teams’ fans will be happy because they’ll have much better records than they otherwise would (somebody has to win those games), and they always have a chance at the playoffs (even the Royals are bound to get lucky once in a while and have a better record than the three other worst AL teams).

    I don’t see why this has never even been mentioned.

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    • Tom B says:

      Probably because giving away playoff spots to garbage teams is a dumb idea?

      European soccer teams have to qualify for higher divisions of play for be allowed to compete for the highest prize. They don’t let the C division compete on an even playing field with the A division at the end of the season, they go home.

      You want to split the league up by record? Fine. Then only the top 2 divisions get to play for the World Series come October.

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    • Everett says:

      Why would you punish teams for doing well by making them play with the other top teams, and reward teams that are bad by letting them play with other bad teams?

      If we’re going to realign by record, it ought to be in an S-curve fashion:

      1,6,7,12,13
      2,5,8,11,14
      3,4,9,10

      Or, we should just stick with regional alignments.

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    • PL says:

      Whats funny is if he wrote “Player Salary” instead of “Win-Loss record” I’d agree with him wholeheartedly. Teams like the Marlins and A’s who prefer the “First 6 years of a guy” method rather than the “Buy the 7th year and beyond” method would go into one division and the spenders like the Yanks and Red Sox go into another. There’s always great low budget teams in the game, and extremely crappy big budget ones every year too.

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      • Everett says:

        Again, why should we reward teams with low budgets? Some people have low budgets due to smart financial planning, others have low budgets because they’re cheap. I have zero interest in rewarding cheap teams with a potentially easier schedule.

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      • Doug Lampert says:

        We have a spot where you can watch low payrol teams with developing young players play. We call it the minor leagues. We don’t let them play for the series.

        Any realignment that puts the weaker teams in one division and the stronger teams in another should just go ahead and call the weak division AAAA and let the teams in it sign player development contracts with the big boys.

        I’d love a salery floor, and I doubt the union wouldn’t object at all, and it would do wonders for competative ballance, and I’d like realignment for various reasons, but realignment isn’t a way to get competative balance.

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  18. Chris says:

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a long time. Let’s see, I wanna be in a division with the Royals, Pirates, Orioles, and Nats. Fuckin stupid!! Why don’t we just throw all teams in a hat and pick them out for divisions. Plus aren’t the divisions already geographically separated??

    What baseball needs is a salary cap that will even the playing field. This is another one of Selig’s hairbrained schemes to appease his owner chronies by not having a salary cap.

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    • Tom B says:

      A salary cap will certainly give the illusion of a level playing field, but what you’ll have is the same 5 teams sitting right on the cap line every year, and the same 5 garbage teams paying their team 1/6th of the cap.

      A cap does not magically make bad teams better. What it does do is force teams with lots of money(ie yankees) to refocus their spending on player development and international scouting. So they will still have significant advantages over these “poor” teams.

      A better plan would be a salary floor, or forced spending of revenue sharing money. Someone has to make those low payroll teams start shelling it out to put a competitive product on the field. Trimming $100million off of the Yankees payroll is not going to make the Marlins a better baseball team.

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      • matt w says:

        Except that the way for low-revenue teams to put a competitive product on the field isn’t to “shell it out.” It’s to build from within. The Rays didn’t win the division because their payroll went up from $24 million to $43 million; they had an incredibly low payroll because they were preparing their young players instead of spending money on garbage vets.

        I’m a Pirates fan, I endured the Cam Bonifay and Dave Littlefield eras, and the problem wasn’t that the Pirates weren’t spending enough. (In 2001 and 2003 they were 19th and 21st in payroll — without the revenues to support it, which is why they wound up giving away Aramis Ramirez — and they didn’t win.) It’s that they spent on garbage players like Derek Bell, Pat Meares, Terry Mulholland, and Matt Morris instead of trying to do a real rebuilding, concentrating on prospects, scouting, and the draft. (Well, and their scouting and drafting was abysmal.) Which would’ve driven their payroll below the floor you’d like to set.

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      • Tom B says:

        matt w, do you go to pirates games every year and support your team?

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      • matt w says:

        What on earth does that have to do with anything we’re discussing? Are you suggesting that, if only Pirates fans were more supportive of the team, or if the team put a better product on the field somehow to make them more supportive, they’d have a revenue stream that would enable them to compete financially with the Yankees, Red Sox, or other rich teams? Because that’s ridiculous. And if you aren’t saying something that has something to do with revenue streams, why are you saying anything at all?

        Big-market fans are OK. Big-market fans who act like they have some sort of moral superiority because their team is able to spend a lot more money than other teams are absolutely insufferable.

        The answer is, I went to Pirates games when I lived in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, but now that I live four hours from the nearest major league baseball stadium (which is an AL park anyway), I don’t go to games.

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      • Tom B says:

        because if you are not in some way financially supporting your team, you can’t complain about how much money they spend?

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      • Tom B says:

        to put this in perspective, i attend roughly 15 yankee games a year and invest nearly $1000 a season into the team.

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      • matt w says:

        Congratulations, before expenses you’ve paid for Derek Jeter for about 6% of an inning.

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      • matt w says:

        Anyway, you’re the guy who was saying my team should be forced to spend more, even when it’s unwise to do so from a baseball standpoint. Thanks for making my point about insufferably self-righteous big-market fans, though.

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      • Tom B says:

        it’s time to get off your horse matt.

        it’s not about spending money for the sake of spending it, if you think that’s what i’m getting at then you missed it. do you think they choose to have a low payroll? no. if they had more fan support, they would spend more money(because they would HAVE more… get it? basic economics).

        i am proud of my team, and my contributions are rewarded back to me in great FA signings. you could seem to give 2 shits about your team, so i don’t care that you hate us for our payroll. get it?

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      • Look at what’s happening in the NFL as an example of this. They’re going into an uncapped year and what’s happening? Not that many teams are going above where the cap would’ve been anyway. But LOTS of teams are shedding salary as with the destruction of the cap comes the destruction of the salary floor. The inequality of the system comes not from the teams at the top, but from the teams at the bottom who are cheap and unwilling to spend.

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      • matt w says:

        Tom, I’ll say it again — your $1000 paid for 6% of one inning of Jeter’s salary. The Yankees’ massive payroll isn’t a reward for your personal virtue, it’s a result of the fact that they dominate the largest media market in the country. Not better fans, more fans (and their own personal TV network helps, too). This isn’t very difficult. You’d think that someone who reads a statistically minded website would understand this, but hey, you don’t have to pass a test to post here.

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  19. J.Sun says:

    -Lower the ceiling for the luxury tax, and make teams give up draft picks for going over it.
    -Create a worldwide amateur draft and allow trading of draft picks.
    -Create a salary floor, and punish teams that are under it more than 2/5 years.
    -Add expansion teams in Portland and New Jersey. Gives the AL West another team and the Mariners a geographic rival in a good media market, and puts a team out East that can take away from the ridiculous market the NY teams have.

    That’s just what I think.

    I also think Selig’s idea is idiocy. I don’t want the offseason discussion to be “what division should the Orioles play in?”

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  20. GSTORE says:

    Teams should be placed in divisions based on the previous years finish. We have 14 teams in th AL and 16 in NL…for balance lets move Pittsburg to AL to make an even 15 in each league.

    In 2009, based on the final standings, the Yankees had the best record, Angels 2nd and Boston 3rd. These 3 teams will headline the 3 new divisions. Thus the Yankees will be #1, Angels #2 and Boston #3. The divisions go as follows…1,4,7,10,13 : 2,5,8,11,14 and 3,6,9,12,15.

    Divsions for 2010 below based on 2009 finish:

    #1 Yankees(1),Texas(4),Seattle(7),Oakland(10) and Kansas City(13)
    #2 LAA(2),Minnesota(5),Tampa Bay(8),Toronto(11) and Baltimore(14)
    #3 Boston(3),Detriot(6),Chicago(9),Cleveland(12) and Pittsburgh(15)

    Or the Divisions could go 1,2,3,4,5 and so on but I do like standings based on previous record

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    • adohaj says:

      If there are 15 teams in each league it doesn’t work.

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      • Doug Lampert says:

        Sure it does, there’s this thing called interleague play. It’s trivial to come up with a schedule if you don’t INSIST that all interleague play must be at the same time.

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  21. Neil says:

    A simple solution – add a second wildcard and have the two wildcard teams play each other in a one-game playoff to see who gets into the playoffs. It would, at least, increase the chance that Boston or New York would get knocked off, and would give all the teams vying for the title of 5th best something to play for other than pride.

    And as an added bonus, it would penalize the wildcard going into their match-up with the top-seeded team by likely burning one of their better pitchers. And that’s another thing, too – let the wildcard play the top team in the league, not just the top team that isn’t in their division.

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  22. MikeS says:

    As a White Sox fan I can tell you that if the team ever announced an intention “not to contend” they would draw approximately 300,000 people for the year.

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  23. just me says:

    Give the Yanks & Red Sox their own division… with the loser ineligible for the wild card. Add to that division as necessary (remember the Sox only went over to the dark side recently)

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  24. RodeoJones says:

    …or you could just institute a salary cap. Then it would matter where a team was from, rather the quality of ownership and management of said team. It works for the NFL where only the woefully inept teams don’t have a shot at rebuilding in a matter of years compared to the decade or so the Pirates have spent doing it. I’m even a fan of a team (Phillies) with a huge payroll and I’d like to see it but then again they’ve done well in drafting over the years so I think they’d still be a good club.

    However, any MLB salary cap should include exemptions where a player who was signed/drafted by a club would only count at 50% of his contract value against the cap. Call it the ‘Mauer Rule’. Another alternative would be to discount the contract by 10% for every one of the first six service years the player was with an organization to keep the trade market active and interesting for the fans benefit. That way a guy like Kyle Drabek would still be discounted for the Jays (assuming they hold onto him).

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    • matt w says:

      Well, the Pirates haven’t really spent a decade rebuilding; Dave Littlefield (I typed “Littlefiend” at first) completely half-assed the process, always trying to get people who could contribute (but not much) to the ML club so he could get win totals in the 70s and keep his job. Not until the last couple of years have the Pirates really tried to do it right — blow up the ML roster, trade away everyone who’ll be in their decline years by the time the team might compete, and restock the farm system so there’s a chance of having some team-controlled talent they can afford, without any albatross contracts holding the team down.

      A commenter at Bucs Dugout made an excellent point: The team that really illustrates baseball’s economic inequality isn’t the Pirates, it’s the Brewers. The Pirates were just mismanaged for a long time. The Brewers were supposed to be a small-market team who did the right things to compete, but they only made the playoffs once, and they’re facing trouble as their good young players get expensive.

      As a commenter above (I think) said, the question isn’t whether you can compete, it’s how often you can compete.

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  25. Jack Cornelius (Jays fan) says:

    about divisions + playoff spots:

    The more playoff spots in a league, the more it encourages teams to aim for being good,
    The fewer playoff spots in a league, the more it encourages teams to aim for being great.
    see NHL/NBA, vs. EPL, early MLB,

    I like the old pre-division system best, I like the pre-wildcard system second best, and I like the current system least. We’re headed in the wrong direction and I know because of playoff money and popular support it sure won’t turn around, but nostalgia is nice sometimes, no?

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  26. adohaj says:

    I don’t see the problem with the current system. The Al east is the only division where there is a “problem” So what if a new team doesn’t get in every year. They obviously don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. Payroll does not equal wins. Look at the Tigers. Have they won the AL central every year? No, in fact they haven’t won it in over 20 years. Whereas those terrible Indians who deserve to be in the “easy” low payroll division have won the al central 7 times in the same time period.

    Every team has gone through extended periods without making the playoffs. Even the Yankees 1966-75 and 1982-94. Stop living in the last 10 years and let it equalize itself.

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    • The Tigers have actually never won the AL Central. When divisional play began in 1994 the Tigers were in the East. They moved to the Central in 1998 when the Rays+D’Backs came in the league, booting the Brewers out to the NL Central. Since 1998, they’ve held the lead in the division with five games to go twice (2006 and 2009), but they’ve never actually won it, losing to the Twins both times.

      Their last division title was on the 7-team AL East in 1987. They didn’t go to the World Series though. They lost to the Twins.

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  27. Coby DuBose says:

    I love the fact that this division that lacks competitive balance (AL East) has seen 3 different winners in the last three seasons.

    Love also how 23 teams have made the playoffs in the last decade.

    One short of half of the teams in baseball have played in the World Series in the last decade.

    Does anybody really want to copy the NFL model? I tend to think it’s boring, and it sucks. That sport is popular because people are in love with the game, not because they’re in love with the model which drives every team closer to 8-8.

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    • Not only is this true, but its borne out by the numbers. The NFL surpassed baseball in popularity for reasons I’m still not quite sure of sometime in the mid to late 70s.

      They didn’t institute the salary cap until 1991 or 1992. So the challenge for anyone who claims that the NFL’s popularity is in large part due to parity and the salary cap is to explain how football both caught baseball from behind and widened the gap with it over a ten to fifteen year period in advance of 1991 without the use of a salary cap.

      When you find that answer, I’m certain you will find the reason that they’ve continued to widen the gap in the twenty years since.

      The fact that 1991 was twenty years ago makes me want to cry.

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  28. Sean says:

    Did you tell the Blue Jays that the Phillies won the World Series in 1993? I mean Joe Carter’s homerun is only one of the most famous dingers of all time.

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  29. John says:

    I liked Al Leiter’s idea on the MLD network of two divisions within each league:

    NL West:
    SF
    AZ
    LAD
    SD
    Col
    Hou
    Mil

    NL East:
    NYM
    Phi
    Was
    Atl
    Pit
    Cin
    CHC
    Stl

    Al West:
    Seattle
    LAA
    Oak
    Texas
    KC
    Min
    CHW

    AL East:
    Bos
    NYY
    Bal
    TB
    Cle
    Tor
    Det

    Not perfect, but that seems more interesting then the current divisions. There just don’t seem to be enough West Coast teams to balance out the East/West and a couple of mid west teams might get tossed on the west, which would be brutal travel-wise.

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  30. Stephen says:

    There should be no NL/AL, go totally geographic and new rivalries will grow bigger than those of the past. 6 divisions of 5 teams, or 5 divisions of 6 (better). Division winners make the playoffs but are seaded by record with the wildcard teams. (1 vs 8, 2 vs 7, etc…)

    Here’s my guess on the 5 division format: (3 wild cards)

    East: Tor, Bos, NYY, NYM, Phil, Bal
    North: Det, Cle, Cin, Pitt, CWS, CCubs
    Central: MN, Mil, StL, KC, Col, AZ
    South: Wash, Atl, TB, Fla, Hou, Tex,
    West: Sea, SF, Oak, LAA, LAD, SD,

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    • Paul_Brooklyn says:

      Almost as crazy as my suggestion below, but I like.

      Presumably, it also kills the DH in the process.
      (I’m open to a plebiscite on whether we literally kill them).

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  31. Paul_Brooklyn says:

    None of this gets at the reason for the disparity in the first place: protected markets.

    The income disparity comes from local television revenue.
    Expand (or move KC, Pitt, etc.) into Connecticut, Jersey, and Brooklyn and wait 20 years.
    Anything else is an artificial fix.

    (now, if you want to go all crazy hypothetical: take this idea to its logical end and institute two-tier leagues like European football with promotion/relegation between them. Individual markets will support as many top level teams as they can naturally bare. If this means five or six in New York and two in Boston and none in KC, then, I think the term would be, “tough titties”.)

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