- Joined Jul 14, 2003
Selig, committee considering radical realignment plan
Tom Verducci, SI.com
When baseball commissioner Bud Selig named a 14-person "special committee for on-field matters" four months ago, he promised that all topics would be in play and "there are no sacred cows." The committee already has made good on Selig's promise by discussing a radical form of "floating" realignment in which teams would not be fixed to a division, but free to change divisions from year-to-year based on geography, payroll and their plans to contend or not.
The concept gained strong support among committee members, many of whom believe there are non-economic avenues that should be explored to improve competitive balance, similar to the NFL's former use of scheduling to help parity (in which weaker teams were awarded a weaker schedule the next season).
As with most issues of competitive balance, floating realignment involves finding a work-around to the Boston-New York axis of power in the AL East. In the 15 seasons during which the wild-card system has been in use, the Red Sox and Yankees have accounted for 38 percent of all AL postseason berths. The league has never conducted playoffs without the Red Sox or Yankees since that format began -- and in eight of those 15 years both teams made the playoffs. Since 2003 the Sox and Yankees have won at least 95 games 11 times in 14 combined seasons.
One example of floating realignment, according to one insider, would work this way: Cleveland, which is rebuilding with a reduced payroll, could opt to leave the AL Central to play in the AL East. The Indians would benefit from an unbalanced schedule that would give them a total of 18 lucrative home dates against the Yankees and Red Sox instead of their current eight. A small or mid-market contender, such as Tampa Bay or Baltimore, could move to the AL Central to get a better crack at postseason play instead of continually fighting against the mega-payrolls of New York and Boston.
Divisions still would loosely follow geographic lines; no team would join a division more than two time zones outside its own, largely to protect local television rights (i.e., start times of games) and travel costs.
Floating realignment also could mean changing the number of teams in a division, teams changing leagues and interleague games throughout the season, according to several sources familiar with the committee's discussions. It is important to remember that the committee's talks are very preliminary and non-binding.
"But if there is something that comes up we feel should be addressed during the season, we can make a recommendation then," said committee co-chair and Braves president John Schuerholz, referring to less complicated issues such as pace-of-game directives. "This is all about any ideas that help make the game better."
The floating realignment idea is nothing more than a concept at this point, part of the brainstorming sessions that have occurred in the committee's one in-person meeting and occasional conference calls. (Selig is pushing for another in-person meeting, such as at the All-Star Game. The committee includes current managers and executives, making in-person meetings logistically difficult.) The mechanics of the system are far from nailed down. But what is important is that the committee is making good on its mission to look at absolutely any on-field idea that could make the game better. Blowing up fixed divisions as we know them -- and even leagues -- certainly qualifies as radical thinking.