Suffice to say, if anything, the 2011 season will go down as a memorable one. Even before the season started lots of controversial events occurred finding our beloved Rays in assumed dire straights. However, those events have been discussed at length on other sites by people much more eloquent than me, so far be it from me to bring them up again. Besides, we all know that we lost players x,y,z,1,2,3, yadayadayada, so yeah, pointless to bring that up again.
We’ve too had the pleasure of reading some lovely accounts from folks like Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Forbes Magazine’s Mike Ozanian regarding the controversy surrounding the issue of possibly contracting the Rays and A’s. More on that in a moment. We’ve also been told, time and again, by Stu Sternberg how we’re not good fans based on attendance numbers. I’ll discuss attendance and stadium issues at another time though.
There is one topic has quietly crept into the consciousness of baseball fans, and no Rays fans much to your chagrin, it’s not the potential trade of BJ Upton. It is, however, a topic that definitely effect the Rays. As the season progresses, the whispered rumors surrounding this topic get louder. That topic? Realignment. And from all accounts it seems as though realignment will be openly discussed during this winter’s CBA meetings. The question stands though; What effect might this have on the Rays?
First, it bears mentioning that if realignment is on the docket (and it seems as though it is) then the Ken Rosenthal’s and Mike Ozanian’s of the world can drop both the criticisms of small market teams and the hyperbolic arguments for contraction. In short, it would be counterintuitive to contract teams if Major League Baseball is indeed planning on realigning the American and National leagues. So how does Major League Baseball plan on realigning the leagues? Well, that answer is not so simple.
Since the league hasn’t officially put the issue of realignment out there, nor have they mentioned what route they might be taking, we can only base the hows and the effects of, on speculation.
One rumored plan would be to abolish the divisions, and move a team from the NL to the AL so that both leagues would be composed of 15 teams a piece. Which team would be switched? Presumably the Astros. How might this effect the Rays? With the absence of divisions, all of the AL teams would be put to task to fill the top five or six spots (depending on a rumored expansion of the playoffs in the winter CBA meetings) at the end of the season. For example, the Rays would no longer be directly competing with the Yankees or the Red Sox for first place of the AL East. More so, all of the AL teams would be competing against the AL as a whole for a spot in the top of the heap. This would be beneficial for smaller market teams (like the Rays or the Orioles) because they would, potentially, have a better chance to make it to the post season. The downfall? Currently the Rays play teams in their division 18 times throughout the course of any given season; nine times away and nine times at home. Teams like the Rays depend on the income generated when big market teams like the Yankees or the Red Sox come into the Trop. Without divisions, the Rays presumably face the Yankees or the Red Sox in the Trop as often. One would assume that the income generated from those two teams would, in turn, drop.
Another idea has been making waves lately. This idea would find teams realigned by proximity. In this scenario, the divisions wouldn’t be done away with, rather teams would be shifted into other divisions based on their proximity to one another. For example, the Phillies and Mets would move into the AL East with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays. The NL East would consist of the Orioles, Nationals, Braves, Rays, and Marlins. The AL Central would consist of the Pirates, Indians, Reds, Tigers, and Cardinals. The NL Central would consist of the Cubs, White Sox, Twins, Brewers, and Royals. The AL West would have the Rangers, Astros, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Padres. Finally, the NL West would be made of the Dodgers, Angels, A’s, Giants, and Mariners. How would this effect the Rays? The Rays, for one, would find themselves in a more equitable division. They also would not have to fight it out with the Yankees or the Red Sox for a playoff spot at the end of the season. In this scenario however, odds are the Yankees and Red Sox (along with the income they generate) probably wouldn’t make their way into the Trop, unless they were to do so in the post season. The Rays would also be in the NL along with a handful of other teams, which would potentially find a lot of history (not necessarily on the part of the Rays) being thrown out.
Evening out the leagues would find all of the Major League Baseball teams playing an equal amount of interleague games. At the moment, four of the six divisions play 18 interleague games, and the other two divisions (NL Central and the NL West) play 15 interleague games to accommodate the two extra teams in the National League. Those games could, essentially, be spread out throughout the course of the season as opposed to the manner in which they’re played now.
Until Major League Baseball comes out with their official plan, the scenarios above (along with the others floating around the sports blogosphere) are nothing but speculation made by folks trying to gather some idea of what’s to come. However, what’s certain is that something needs to be done if we’re to see more equitable and competitive divisions. Any plan will certainly have some positive and negative outcomes, and we’ll ideally have a better idea of what’s to come as the season progresses closer to the winter CBA meetings.