Floating Realignment Should Be Sunk

The "special committee for on-field matters" that Bud Selig created is taking legitimate looks into things that could make baseball better. Tom Verducci has a brief write-up on a floating realignment idea that they committee has bandied about, and apparently likes.

Read the article linked to above for more details, but the idea essentially is that teams could move into a division up to two time zones away from their "home division" if it is better for their team's goals. The specific example mentioned in the article is that the Rays could move to the AL Central, and the Indians to the AL East. The idea is that the Rays would benefit from not competing head-to-head with the Yankees, and the Indians would be happy to get more money from added home dates with the Red Sox and Yankees.

I give some credit for creativity with this idea. It's outside the box, and that's what is needed for true progress with anything. This is also just an idea, not something really actively being pursued or promoted by baseball to this point.

I hope it doesn't get pursued any further.

Think about it: the whole impetus behind this plan is to allow teams to get away from the Red Sox and Yankees (and perhaps the Dodgers too when their owners aren't tied up in an ugly divorce), to improve their chances at making the playoffs. To facilitate this, bad teams are supposed to prefer the added income of playing the juggernauts. In college football terms, it would be like all the good teams around Alabama in the SEC scattering to other conferences to get a better shot at the BCS, while a bunch of Sun Belt conference teams gobble up their spots. That's the plan presented to improve competitive balance.

Huh?

How in the world can anyone claim that competitive balance improves in a system designed to concentrate match-ups between the absolute best and the absolute worst? Sure, that means the middle ground plays each other more, and that should foster some really good balance in that part of the league, but it's at the price of so many mismatches.

This isn't a plan that improves competitive balance. It's a shell game, and it will give the illusion of competitive balance if someone looks in the right places and ignores others.

If baseball is really looking at floating realignment, they need to look at the English football league system. Check out the link for a few more details, but the gist of the system is that anyone can make a soccer team, you start at the bottom, and keep moving up if you are good enough. There is realignment every year, and it is mostly based on how good and bad teams are. The system apparently works for England, because soccer seems to be pretty popular across the pond.

With that said, copying England's format won't work for baseball unless they give every minor league team the chance to move up or down. That would be revolutionary, and it's not worth thinking about that much because it's beyond unrealistic.

However, if floating realignment is deemed the way to go, I would promote a system where the 30 MLB teams are stratified into three 10-team leagues: the AL, NL, and what's essentially a AAAA group. The AL and NL would each have a couple five-team divisions. The winner of each division would go the league championship series, and the winner of those series would meet in the World Series. At the "championship level," it would look a whole lot like how baseball was set up in the 1970s and 1980s.

The catch would be the AAAA league. The four best teams in it would replace the four worst teams in the AL and NL each year, or something like that. Scheduling would look different too, because I envision this set-up bringing "friendlys" into baseball. In other words, AL and NL teams would still play AAAA teams, but those games would not count towards championship standings. I would make them the first tie-breaker in both leagues though, so they would count for something  (I guess they wouldn't be true "friendly" match-ups then). Perhaps the top teams play one series against every AAAA team each year. So, if every team still plays 162 games, that means the championship season would be shortened to 132 games.

Anyway, there would obviously be ramifications, and perhaps I should devote another post to those. My point is that the only way floating realignment improves competitive balance is if it is used to stratify teams. The best must play the best regularly to make floating realignment worthwhile. The answer is not to use it to match the middle against the middle, and leave the top to face the bottom.