David Schoenfield of ESPN wrote the first article I read on realignment in February. He proposed changing the teams in the divisions each season to improve competitiveness. He also blamed the Yankees for baseball's perceived lack of parity. I thought he was an idiot then and still do now.
To my shock, Schoenfield's basic idea - that baseball somehow needs to realign the divisions - has caught on. MLB is said to be considering a realignment idea similar to what Schoenfield proposed. The basic appeal is that solid, competitive teams such as the Rays could shift out of the AL East and rebuilding, small-market teams in need of attendance, such as the Royals, could shift into the AL East. Theoretically this helps both types of teams. The Rays can compete for a playoff berth in the less competitive AL Central while the Royals could cash in on the Yankees/Sox bandwagon.
This, too, is really stupid. Unfortunately, it's what I've come to expect from the geniuses who run MLB. As far as I'm concerned, baseball's real problem isn't the perceived lack of balance, (which by the way, doesn't pan out -- number of different MLB champions in the last 10 years? 8. Number of different Super Bowl winners? 7) it's the fact that the sport views its two most lucrative franchises, the Yankees and Red Sox, as some kind of hindrance. That makes sense how? I've gone to games in Oakland and Detroit simply because I was passing through and could see the Yankees, most certainly not for the rockin' nightlife, but by all means, cut those two down a peg.
Setting aside the illogic of attacking the sport's most visible franchises, what really stuns me about this proposal is that it completely ignores the real problem with baseball's divisional setup, and that problem's obvious solution. That problem, by the way, is the 2008 Chicago White Sox.
In '08 the White Sox made the playoffs with an 89-74 record while the Yankees went home empty-handed, taking their superior 89-73 record with them. Baseball's divisional system does not reward the best teams in each league. Every so often a mediocre team wins its division, and gives the boot to a more deserving team that played in a tougher division, or in the case of the 82-80 2005 Padres, blocks several better teams, like the 2005 Phillies, Marlins and Mets.
The obvious solution to this problem is to grant playoff berths to the best four teams in each league, regardless of division. The playoff impact would be the same. Under these rules, instead of confusing everyone and moving the Rays into the AL Central for a season, the Rays would be able to make the playoffs on the strength of their record, not the weakness of their division. The effect on the AL Central would be the same. Instead of losing a playoff berth to the carpetbagging Rays (or some other out-of-region team) the AL Central would lose a playoff berth because most of its teams are crappy. Either way, a good team that struggles in a tough division makes the playoffs, while the AL Central's current roster of mediocre teams don't.
People will counter that this effectively eliminates divisions. I reply, so what? In the era of modern travel and amenities, divisions don't matter. Frankly, it drives me nuts that the current divisional setup doesn't reward the best teams in baseball.
That aside, the proposed floating realignment makes a mockery of divisions. Rather than changing the divisional alignment each year, the league could either keep them to dictate schedules, and keep profitable rivalries in tact, but ignore them for postseason implications, or simply make whatever schedule it wants for each team. This is similar to how the NFL already operates, and the NFL is said to be the model for baseball's considerations.
Rather than tinkering with divisions each year to create unbalanced schedules the league could keep things simple and ... create unbalanced schedules. Feel like punishing the Yankees with 20 games against the Red Sox? Great. I love the competition. Want to baby the Rays and let them play the Royals 20 times? Fine, go ahead; if that really helps them they'll just get their butts handed to them in the playoffs anyway.
The league could follow simple guidelines to avoid giving one team an overly punitive schedule, setup the most profitable regular season schedules for all teams, and then actually award playoff berths to the four best teams in each league. That makes more sense than the current system, and certainly makes more sense than changing the divisions each year.