Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Radical MLB Realignment Not Necessary, What About Expansion

It's gonna be a surprise to most, but it's just as surprising to us that the subject has not been broached in the debate over Major League Baseball realignment, with some of the radical ideas that are being thrown around.  Get rid of the American and National Leagues.  That's throwing one hundred years of history down the drain.  Go to a fifteen team, one division format.  Talk about getting rid of rivalries and expanding travel times.  Put the DH in everywhere.  That's right, get rid of traditional baseball altogether.  But in all this hubbub about what's gonna be done to get those extra playoff teams involved and what the players union will agree to as far as divisions and playoffs and no DH or all DH, plus a new baseball draft slotting system for signing bonuses, the solution may be staring them right in the face and would solve more problems than it would cause, and we're pretty sure the players union would love it, ... Expansion.

Yes, we know that expansion in many purists minds is a dirty word.  It dilutes the product.  There's not enough pitching to go around already (oh, wait a minute, right now there's too much good pitching and not enough hitting, so we'll forestall that debate for now.)  But in reality, neither might be true.  Since the last two teams were added in 1998, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays, there has been approximately 16% more people added to the census of the USA.  Doing quick math, ... that means there would be no further dilution, if all other things were equal which they surely are not, if baseball added 4.8 more teams.  So our proposal for adding two teams, with each league now having 16, parceled out in four divisions with one wild card playoff team per league, is far from problematic on the dilution front.  And we even agreed to five teams per league in the playoffs per Bud, even though we don't really like it.

But can Major League Baseball handle two additional teams economically in this poor economy.  Well, ... the answer is likely yes.  First off, the additional two teams would begin play in 2014, giving them three years to choose the location, owners, get stadium plans in order, and more.  Hopefully the economy rebounds by then.  But second, and more importantly, Major League Baseball has seen a revenue boom since the last two expansions.  In 1993, total revenues for MLB were $1.87 billion.  In 1998, total revenues for MLB were $2.479 billion.  Six years after the last expansion, they had grown to $4.1 billion.  And the last several years, even during the downturn.  $6.1 billion to $6.5 billion to $6.6 billion to $7 billion.  That's growth folks and there's more to come.

The major problems in baseball finances these days come from the personal financial problems of two current owners in Los Angeles and New York, and neither of their poor circumstances come from the profitability of their clubs, two of the largest and traditionally most successful.  They have to do with specific issues in the McCourt family and the Bernie Madoff and Wilpon ponzi scheme relationship.  And it might even help to give them part of the expansion fee pie, which surely would grow significanlty from the $130 million per in 1998.

So we say now is the time to throw off the shackles of expansion fever and get two new franchises on board over the next three years.  Give us traditional American and National Leagues, a division race and rivalries to root for, and I'd even throw in let's get rid of the DH along the way.  Seems like a good tradeoff for the union with 50 new jobs and $150 million payroll dollars to throw around that we can lose 14 DH's.  But hey, I'd even keep the one league only DH if that was a dealbreaker.

And what about the scheduling.  4 divisions of 4 each in both leagues keeps rivalries, pushes down travel costs, and makes more sense than you'd think.  No, we're not crazy about only 4 teams in a division, but it's better than 15.  With 4x4 leagues, the following is possible.

You'd play 18 games against your 3 division opponents = 54 games.
You'd play 8 games against your other 12 league opponents - 96 games.
You'd play 3 games against one division of 4 in interleague play - 12 games.

For a total of 162.  And as far as interleague.  Every other year you play your corresponding division for those great rivalry series.  On the off year, you play another division.  Keeps parity in scheduling for the division schedule that way.

As far as the playoffs.  4 division winners.  1 wildcard.  Worst division winner vs. wildcard in a one game playoff.  Quick.  Simple.  Easy.  Lots to root for.

So here goes our divisions, with two new teams added in the Las Vegas Silverados and the Mexico City (or Monterey) Iguanas.  Yes, we know there's other candidates, but we'll start with this.  And the only changes of leagues of today's teams are Arizona and Tampa Bay switching leagues.  Yes, we know Arizona won't like this, but hey, we're okay with getting rid of the DH, too, which had been one of the things they didn't like.

American League
East - New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays
Central - Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins
South - Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Mexico City Iguanas, Arizona Diamondbacks
West - Seattle Mariners, LA Angels of Anaheim, Oakland A's, Las Vegas Silverados

National League
East - New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates
Central - Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers
South - Tampa Bay Rays, Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros
West - Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies

So there it is, our opinion about one possibility of where baseball goes as far as realignment.  And it seems less radical to us than the suggestions we've seen, and might even grow the revenue pie to boot.