For the first time in over a decade, Major League Baseball is seriously considering a plan that would shift the landscape of the game to dramatic end.

The change would be simple, but seismic: one team would move from the National League to the American League, and the three-division format would be scrapped. The top five teams in each of the resulting 15-team leagues would make the playoffs.

Obviously the genesis of this discussion is the currently-favored plan to add a second Wild Card team to the playoff picture, which team would play the other Wild Card team in a three-game first “round” of the playoffs. This new plan simply adds realignment to the equation.

While the plan is being seriously discussed, it’s far from a sure thing.

A source who has been briefed on the specifics of the labor discussions says that the players’ union has indicated that it is open to the idea of two 15-team leagues, but that the whole plan still hasn’t been talked through or presented to the owners.

“I’d still say the odds of it happening are less than 50-50,” one source said.

A sticking point involves interleague play. Because of the odd number of teams in each league, it is possible that a team in contention late in the season will have to be playing its final games in interleague play.

One of the biggest issues that would have to be resolved in any realignment resulting in two 15-team leagues is which of the National League teams would switch to the American League.

Two highly ranked executives believe the Houston Astros would be a possibility, because a switch to the AL for Houston would foster a rivalry between the Astros and the Texas Rangers.

“There are still a lot of details that would have to be discussed,” one source said.

From where I sit, I see three huge benefits to the change:

(1) Extends the length of the meaningful part of the season for more teams. Sure, this year it might not matter for Cubs fans, but with five teams making the playoffs out of 15 NL teams, in most years, the Cubs could easily make it to August before crushing our hearts. The same would be true for a number of ne’er-do-wells, and their fans could regularly enjoy a couple extra months of meaningful baseball. As it is, the season is over far too early for too many teams.

(2) Eviscerates crummy division alignment. While I have come to appreciate the NL Central for a variety of reasons, you can’t argue that the divisions around baseball make a ton of sense for reasons both competitive and geographic. Six teams in one division and four in another? The Astros in a “central” division and the Rangers in a “west” division?

(3) Restores old school rivalries. For years, beginning with divisional play in 1969, the Cubs and Mets had a pretty serious rivalry going, which was extinguished by the emergence of three NL divisions. I know that many of you would like to see it back. And there could be more – Cubs v. Dodgers? Cubs v. Giants? Cubs v. Braves? How about the Nats? F the Nats.

  • http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/5386b75c5ecdcd1a7490dde9cd6dd3fa?s=80 Jeff

    I would love to see more Cubs/Mets and Cubs/Braves. I know we had this discussion a couple of weeks ago among commentators, but I don’t think any of us came up with the idea to eliminate the divisions. I’m not really sure I see the benefit of moving Houston to the AL, except that the NL Central is the division with the most teams. If it was me, I would be more inclined to think Colorado would fit in the AL because of their park, or maybe just move Selig’s old team back where they belong. No one likes the Brewers anyway, and they are pretty much all offense most of the time, so it fits. The only thing bad about moving them would be the Cubs losing all those games at Wrigley North where they seem to hit a ton.

  • EQ

    what i’ve never heard explained is how exactly a 5 team playoff would work?? don’t you have to have an even number to make it work? Unless teams 4 & 5 played it out for the “4th spot”, but even then, what’s the point? I’d say, if you do this, make it 6 teams in with the top 2 getting 1st round byes.

    • http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/5386b75c5ecdcd1a7490dde9cd6dd3fa?s=80 Jeff

      I believe what was being talked about was a one game playoff between both 4 and 5 teams and then the rest of the playoffs is best of seven eliminating the five game crapshoot, I mean series.

      • EQ

        I get that, but it kinda seems pointless to do a 1 game play in.. i’d at least do a 2 of 3 series..

        • http://twitter.com/thomaswconroy TWC

          Don’t you think that a best 2-of-3 series is only slightly less pointless than a 1-game playoff?

          • Ace

            I should have added in the article that I think doing five teams (instead of, say, six) is totally stupid because a two of three series or a play-in game is really, really pointless.

            • EQ

              yeah, and for example… let’s say the 4th team has 92 wins and the 5th has 83.. does the 83 win team really deserve a spot in the playoffs? is it fair for the 92 win team to be in a sudden death game when they finished 9 games up? what if the 83 win team has an ace going against the 92 win team’s #4 because of how it all shook out.. to me it’s a stupid idea.. I agree..pointless and raises more scrutiny.

              having said that, if the Cubs were the 83 win team, I’d be okay with it. :)

  • http://twitter.com/thomaswconroy TWC

    I have no problem with the 15-15 split, but I don’t see how this does anything to reestablish old rivalries or instigate new ones. Where not purely geographical, rivalries came about because of the divisional play. The idea of baseball standings looking like NBA or NHL standings (in the second half of their seasons) really turns me off. It seems to me that the removal of the divisions would serve to reduce parity across the league, too. Meh.

    • MichiganGoat

      Agreed I’m hate the NBA/NHL standings, it removes the whole clinching/winning the division aspect of baseball. I know everyone wants a balanced schedule, the removal of parity, and “equality” with who plays who and how often, but I like that baseball is somewhat unfair, unequal, and full of luck and divine interventions. Baseball is not perfect and I like that way.

    • Ace

      Parity is a myth as things stand now (Yanks have made playoffs 15 of 16 years in the WC era, Red Sox 9 of 16 years, and so on).

      • http://twitter.com/thomaswconroy TWC

        I think that’s exactly the problem with the floated proposal. In the AL, to of the 5 spots will be locked up, leaving only 3 real possibilities. In the current system, just because the Yanks and Red Sox might alternate division wins doesn’t mean they’ll both make the playoffs.

        • Ace

          The point is, that’s the way it is in the current system – and it’s worse if they just add one more Wild Card, which is the alternative proposal. Know how many times either the Red Sox or Yankees would have missed the playoffs since 1995 if there were two Wild Cards? Just once. ONCE.

          So pick your poison, it’s happening either way.

  • http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/5386b75c5ecdcd1a7490dde9cd6dd3fa?s=80 Jeff

    “I like that baseball is somewhat unfair, unequal, and full of luck and divine interventions”

    I love this line, absolutely brilliant!

    • Ace

      It’s a great line, but I’m not sure I see how it applies here. There’s as much luck/divinity/etc. in finishing 3rd out of 15 teams as finishing 1st out of 5.

      • MichiganGoat

        I think the magic of winning your division or winning the sole wild card is absolutely diminished and destroyed by having a 5 out of 15 chance of getting to the playoffs. I’m no math person but I’d be curious of what the odds of making the playoff are now vs. the proposed 5/15 plan laid out above. I just think the proposed plan is too logical and organized for a sport that is beautifully flawed.

        • Andrew

          I do like the 15 per league idea, but not the elimination of divisions. I’d still like to see 3 divisions/league, but I’d be okay with an extra wild card team.

          I think with Interleague Play we’ve already crossed that bridge, so it may as well be spread out across the entire season. Having every team play every team in the Major Leagues across the course of a season wouldn’t be a bad thing.

          Maybe 48 games against the opposing league (3 against each team, alternating home and away each year, with the 3 extras for your “natural rival.”), 60 against the the teams in the other 2 divisions of your league (3 home, 3 away), 48 against your own division (6 home, 6 away). Have the remaining 6 be against the teams in your league who finished in the same spot in their division the previous year (i.e. – the previous year’s 4th place central team plays 3 additional games against the 4th place eastern and 4th place western teams).

          At least, if I were to think about it for about 2 minutes that’s how I’d set the schedule up…

  • oso

    I’m fine with any new arrangement that prevents me from having to watch the cardinals and brewers all summer

  • CubSouth

    I do like the idea of two 15 team leagues. And I heard another idea of keeping the divisions but making them geographical. (I.E. Atlanta, Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida and Baltimore would be in the N.L. South). And having interleague throughout the season isn’t bad, heck, the Cubs play San Diego at the end of the year so what’s the difference? With 5 team divisions, someone will have to play outside of their respective division and you can’t predict that the two teams will face one another for a WC spot at the end of the year. Plus, my opinion, the whole idea of more teams in the playoffs and divisions is to keep teams in the hunt longer. More revenue for the owners and more teams in the hunt keeps the fans happy and everyone across the board happy. If we went to a 15 team race for the playoffs, it would actually keep less teams in the hunt because as of right now, divisions can have an off year and the best team be .500, that would make the bottom team have a chance longer. If your in a 15 team race, no matter what, you won’t see a below .500 team have any chance in July or August. Its nice to see the best teams from each league battle it out, but to see your team place a banner for being the 4th best team out of 5 in ur league kinda sucks. I’d rather see a Divisional Championship or WC Championship up there. I’m greatly opposed to the whole idea of getting rid of Divisions.

  • wax_eagle

    I see 3 ways of making this work (and it would work well).

    1. Move Astros to AL. expand each league to 16 teams. Expand season to 168 games. Play 3 game series against each inter-league team. Play 8 games each against each league opponent.

    2. Move Astros. eliminate DH. Reduce season to 158 games. Play league teams 7 times play non league teams 4 times.

    3. Move Astros. Expand league. Eliminate interleague play.

    • jstraw

      Those are all workable.

      • wax_eagle

        I really think that expansion should be on the table. It seems silly that we haven’t heard about it. There are several growing markets in the US that would love a baseball team. San Antonio, OKC, Indianapolis, Even southern cities like Birmingham, Nashville or Raleigh-Durham would probably be in play. In a few years Vegas would probably be a great marketplace for a team and there are plenty of other midwestern cities (Omaha is one) that are growing and could fill a stadium.

        • http://BleacherNation Bric

          The only problem with the expansion idea (especially in the south) is that is what got us in this position in the first place. Selig moved Mil to the NL central to make adjustments for the expansion of the three southern teams (Rays, D-Backs and Marlins) in hopes that it would be temporary.

          Since then all three have struggled to establish fan bases and have had payroll and attendance issues. This despite the fact that ALL THREE have been to the WS in the last 15 years. So much for instance fan bases. And these moves were made when the ecconomy was strong.

          Selig wil never approve expension when too many of the already established clubs are struggling to sell tickets. It would be like the Cubs offering Adam Dunne all the money he wanted for x number of years when the club is obviously over paid and too old as it is. Hey- here’s a bad situation. Let’s see how we can make it worse.

          As far as the reallignment, the only reason it wasn’t done five years ago (apart from the inter-league question, which is no big deal) was because the Astros didn’t want to play teams in their own divsision at 9 o’clock at night or later because they’d lose advertising revenue.

          Money is the heart of this issue and unless MLB takes an NFL style approach by making all the game times standardized or by an advertizing sharing revenue, this thing’s never gonna happen because no team will leave where they already are. Just consider that the move was first offered to the cash strapped Royals before Mil and they passed on it because they thought they would lose money. And they were probably right.

          • http://twitter.com/thomaswconroy TWC

            I thought I remembered hearing Selig intimate (few months ago) that they’d contract the league before they’d look to expand again.

            And Bric, your Cubs-Adam Dunne analogy is terrifying. If Hendry was in charge, there’s be dozens of new teams every year: the Key West Tortugas! The Schaumburg Screamin’ Eagles! The Santa Fe Turquoise Jewelers! The Fresno Smog Chokers!

            Cubs could probably take 2 out of 3 from the Turquoise Jewelers. Probably.

        • Dave

          You’ll see relocation (Oakland and Tampa) before expansion is considered. I’d worry about talent when it comes to expansion. Are there really enough good players to keep fans in 32 cities interested? Would people in OKC or Portland or wherever support what would basically be a AAAA team?

          • Ace

            Do people still support the Cubs?

            • Dave

              Attendance had been down compared to a couple years ago when the team was good. The Cubs have the advantage it having a long history and a sympathetic story. An expansion franchise in Memphis or Trenton isn’t going to be the same.

              • Ace

                I was just playin’.

  • Jeff

    I miss me some Cubs vs. Braves!

  • jstraw

    The elimination of divisions is a total non-starter. As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s neither the pride nor the merchandising opportunities attached to finishing third, as opposed to winning a division, even if they’re functionally equivalent. You can’t have a situation where instead of six teams getting to sell Division Champion merchandise, then two teams getting to sell League Champion merchandise…you award no titles until a World’s Champion is crowned. This just won’t happen.

    Yes, the Astros need to be moved to the AL West. And Selig wants more post-season so we’ll probably see two Wildcards in each league with a play-in to play the #1 seed. Divisions aren’t going away.

    Now an odd thing to think about is that both the late season fight for the Wildcard slots and the play-in game or series reward the owners of second tier teams over divisional winners. They get the additional gate.

    • wax_eagle

      I’m strongly in favor of 16 team leagues with 4 division each. 2 wild cards playing a play in game against the bottom rung division leaders. Lots of merchandise, 2 more teams and 4 guaranteed elimination games a year (knockout games always do well on TV). This makes sense to me and I really don’t know why this isn’t already in the works.

      • jstraw

        Why would you have wild cards with four, four team divisions?

        What two cities would you designate for expansion?

        • Raymond Robert Koenig

          There are too many teams with poor attendance now. Expansion is not the way to go.

  • EQ

    well I’m sure the driving intentions behind this whole plan is to increase ratings, attendance & media coverage. Baseball has fallen behind Football in the U.S. and needs a boost.. I do welcome the idea to help the possibility of MLB gaining some popularity back.. I’m not thrilled with the overall idea I’m hearing, but 6 teams with the top 2 getting first round byes, well that would be fun to me.. and maybe the Cubs would be in the playoff race a little more often.

    another aspect to think about, this will affect trades at the deadline.. more playoff spots means more teams in contention… so fewer trades.

  • CUB5

    I like the idea, but it does take some of the rivalry out of the traditional division opponents. It would at least prevent sub .500 teams from getting into the playoffs as we saw recently.

  • Dave

    I can get behind any plan that eliminates the unbalanced schedule, doing away with ESPN/FOX/TBS/MLBN shoving the Yanks and Sox down my throat 943 times a year.

  • Jake

    American League
    Red Sox, Yanks, Jays, Orioles
    Rays, Marlins, Rangers, Astros
    Twins, White Sox, Indians, Tigers
    Mariners, Angels, A’s, EXPANSION San Antonio
    National League
    Phillies, Mets, Nats, Pirates
    Royals, Rockies, Braves, EXPANSION Las Vegas
    Brewers, Cubs, Reds, Cards
    Giants, Dodgers, Padres, D’Backs
    Salary cap the league. No payroll over 100 million/year. All games are now standard times of noon, 3pm, 5pm, and 7pm.
    Playoffs: 6 teams from each league. Best 2 get byes and home field. 2 Wild cards. Thank you football for the best playoff system out there! First two series would be 5 games. League championship and World Series stay at 7 games.

    • Ace

      I would be totally ok with that kind of a setup – especially the 6 playoff team part; makes much more sense to me than 4 or 5.

    • jstraw

      It’s just wrong to cap what labor can make if you don’t cap what management can make.

  • Raymond Robert Koenig

    Exactly! If anything, they should consider a salary “floor”, not a cap. If any teams cry poor, I’m sure there’s someone out there willing to buy them.

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