Probably not anytime in the near future, but if commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball act on a potential version of team realignment being thrown around, it could be a possibility down the road.
According to SI.com’s Tom Verducci, Selig’s 14-person "special committee for on-field matters" is discussing a radical idea called "floating realignment." This means that instead of being chained down to one division, teams would be free to change divisions each season based on geography, payroll and their likelihood of contending.
The idea, which is somewhat comparable to the NFL’s scheduling policy that gives weaker teams a weaker schedule and stronger teams a stronger schedule, reportedly gained a lot of support from the committee for its promotion of parity, the article said.
Competitive balance has been a hot topic in baseball for years, especially when it comes to the Red Sox and Yankees. Verducci points out that Boston and New York have accounted for 38 percent of all American League playoff berths since the inception of the wild card 15 years ago. At least one of the two rivals has made the playoffs in each of those 15 seasons, and both have made it to the postseason eight times. They’ve also combined to win seven World Series during that span.
Although the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays have all been competitive at one point or another during the last 15 seasons — Baltimore and Tampa Bay have each won the division once, and the O's once made the playoffs as the wild card — the Red Sox and Yankees have utterly dominated the AL East.
If floating realignment were put into effect, though, the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays would have the option of switching to the AL Central and competing with other mid-market teams for a spot in the playoffs, rather than trying to keep up with the deep pockets in Boston and New York.
Of course, you can’t have a division of just the Red Sox and Yankees — 70-something Sox-Yanks games each season could put the space-time continuum at risk. But who would want to switch into the AL East?
Rebuilding teams like the Indians and Royals, that’s who. Teams that are known to be in rebuilding mode often struggle with attendance, but adding nine more home dates with juggernauts like the Red Sox and Yankees could theoretically help in that respect.
According to Verducci, no team would be allowed to switch into a division more than two time zones away from its own in order to protect against travel costs and late television start times. Verducci also emphasizes that floating realignment is only being discussed at this point and that nothing has been planned yet.
Although floating realignment might help a team like the 2010 Rays, who are expected to be very good but not quite as good as the Red Sox or Yankees, the concept doesn’t get to the heart of what’s wrong with the competitive balance in baseball.
The problem isn’t that the same three teams are forced to battle with the Red Sox and Yankees every year. The problem is that the Red Sox and Yankee are allowed to spend at will every season while mid-market teams simply can’t.
Sure, other AL teams have broken through to reach the World Series, but the fact remains that nine of the last 14 World Series have featured either Boston or New York as the AL representative, while no other AL squad has appeared more than once.
Is floating realignment going to fix that? No. The Red Sox and Yankees, who wouldn’t have any reason to switch to a different division, are still going to dominate one of the three AL divisions. They’re still going to claim the wild card more often than anyone else. And they’re still going to field better teams than anyone else.
Allowing the Rays to move to the Central might improve their playoff chances, but it hurts the playoff prospects of the Tigers, Twins and White Sox, who would now have a fourth expected contender to deal with.
The only other teams it helps are — get ready for it — the Red Sox and Yankees, who would now have no other contenders in their division and would get to pound on three rebuilding clubs every year.
It’s nice to see that this "special committee for on-field matters" is willing to discuss anything and everything, but if it wants to fix baseball’s lack of competitive balance, realignment isn’t going to do the trick. The only way to bring big spenders like the Red Sox and Yankees back to everyone else’s level is to change the league’s financial structure. Like, say, by implementing a salary cap.