Over the weekend, Buster Olney shared with us that Major League Baseball realignment, an idea that is viewed favorably by both the players and management, is a change that could be implemented in the semi-near future. There have been a couple of ideas floating around regarding the actual structural change to MLB's leagues and divisions.
One of the main ideas is moving (back, in a sense) to a two-division league - still American and National - with 15 teams each. This would create a little bit of an "old school" atmosphere in which each team is battling with the 14 other teams in it's league. A lot of people like the Houston Astros or maybe the Florida Marlins to switch leagues and become the AL's 15th team.
The second idea is to move to six divisions with five teams a piece. Either way, the playoff field is likely to expand so teams would not need to worry - especially under the first scenario - about seeing their already slim playoff odds shrinking.
Jim Bowden is in the camp that believes realignment would provide Major League Baseball with a boost that will draw in more fans and improve the overall experience of the game. Piggy-backing on the weekend realignment chatter, Bowden suggests that MLB adopt geographical alignment. Bowden proposes some ideas that he recognizes could be considered "radical":
The Jim Bowden Plan
- Six divisions, five teams each
- No more American League or National League "as we know it". There are two conferences (Bowden suggests a "National" and "American" conference), but traditional NL and AL teams are mixed together.
- No more DH (I don't know about that. Would MLB rather eliminate 14 jobs or create 16? And I would have to believe that most fans would NOT prefer to see pitchers hit.)
- New divisions maintain traditional rivalries and foster "new" ones -- examples: he's moving the Phillies and Mets to the AC East, lumping every California team together, etc.
- Expanded playoff field similar to the NFL's - The three division winners earn a playoff berth and the teams with the three best records earn a wild card berth. Twelve teams total.
I'm a fan of Bowden's ideas (save for the league-wide elimination of the DH, but what do you expect from a former GM of two National League teams?). I agree that further developing natural rivalries (Dodgers vs. Angels, Athletics vs. Giants, Indians vs. Reds, Yankees vs. Mets, etc.) would have a positive impact and would generate more interest and more buzz around the game. The playoff format needs to smoothed out though.
Under Bowden's current proposal, six teams from each conference would make the playoffs, leaving three winners in each league after the first round is completed. Implementing byes is the logical solution, but in baseball a first round bye is likely to do more harm than good.
I'm sure there will be several more suggestions and variations to suggestions as the realignment discussions continue to heat up in the future, but I think Jim Bowden is off to a solid start.