Photo: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
Whether realignment in Major League Baseball is temporary for 2020 or not, there’s a better way to realign the 30 clubs in order to make what promises to be a treacherous schedule more palatable for the players and other essential staff.
When thinking about realignment there are a lot of things to consider, including:
- Location. Where will games be played? There’s been talk of Arizona only, Arizona and Florida, Arizona and Texas, Arizona and California, and the latest, which suggests teams will play games in their stadiums as usual. We’ll run with this as the most likely of the plans.
- How many games in how many days? How many off days will there be? Will there be doubleheaders? How many?
- Roster size. The league was already expanding to 26 for 2020, but with a more difficult schedule ahead it may be expanded to 30 or more, especially early in the season.
For me, realignment should be about making the schedule as easy on essential staff as possible, regardless of all of the above, which means as little travel as possible, within reason.
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Another goal should be to keep rivalries part of the season, both same-league rivalries such as Yankees-Red Sox and Cubs-Cardinals, and regional and/or interleague battles such as A’s-Giants.
Here’s what I came up with considering the aforementioned:
As you can see, I kept same-city clubs in the same division, even if they typically are in different leagues. That helps me accomplish easier travel/proximity goals.
I also kept Cubs-Cardinals and Red-Sox-Yankees, put the Reds- Indians rivalry in the same division, and did the same with Rangers-Astros, but split up a few division rivalries that may have mattered in 2020, such as Mets-Nationals, Twins-Indians, and Braves-Nationals, but did so for the right mix of competitive balance.
But I’m not suggesting the Mets, in my American League East, can’t play multiple series versus the Nationals, who reside in my National League East. They can, and should. At least a home and home setup, depending on how many games the league schedules.
Here were my notes after putting together the above realignment:
- Yep, one can easily make a few swaps and it can make a lot of sense. Orioles for Nationals, for example. In that scenario, putting the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Nationals in the same division is unfair to every team. Four of those teams have a chance at the postseason and the fifth, Boston, expects to be competitive, despite injuries and the trade of Mookie Betts figuring to lower their ceiling and expectations for 2020.
- Mostly play same-division and mirror-division series, especially early in the season to alleviate inherent scheduling issues.
- Limit trips across multiple time zones. Under this regulation, the Eastern time zone clubs wouldn’t travel to the Pacific time zone more than once, and vice versa, but if the schedule dictates, Phillies going to Colorado twice would be allowed if the schedule dictated.
- The proximity-based schedule makes the other parameters here plausible.
- Shorter trips and lack of longer trips allow for bigger ask of players, including fewer days off, doubleheaders, short spring training, et al.
On top of realignment and special proximity-based scheduling, the league should be open to other adjustments, even if just for 2020. These include:
Adopting the mitigated extra-inning plan instituted in the minors a year ago, with some add-on paramaters
- Start every extra-inning with a runner on second base and no outs.
- Starting in the 12th inning, the runner starts at third base, but the three-batter minimum for pitchers is removed.
- No ties.
I think rosters should expand to 32 for the first 30 days with a 28-man active limit and no limit on pitcher count, then after 30 days shrink to 30 with a 26-man active limit and a 13-man pitcher limit, as originally planned for 2020.
If the league can get in 80 or more games — and it seems reasonable, even though there are some things that have to happen before ANY games will be possible — the playoff format should remain the same.
If the schedule is less than 80 games, adding three playoff teams to each league would allow the league to take advantage of, well, time. There’s a better chance fans will be able to attend games in October than in August, therefore taking advantage of that time by adding more teams and playoff games makes a lot of sense.
I expect the regular season to be rolled into October some as it is, but it’s not reasonable to play deep into November when weather in most cities has too large an impact on the results and will often threaten whether or not the game takes place at all.
If three playoff teams are added to each league, the format can look like this, using 2019’s final standings in the American League to demonstrate
1. Division Winner Houston Astros
2. Division Winner New York Yankees
3. Division Winner Minnesota Twins
4. Wildcard 1 Oakland Athletics
5. Wildcard 2 Tampa Bay Rays
6. Wildcard 3 Cleveland Indians
7. Wildcard 4 Boston Red Sox
8. Wildcard 5 Texas Rangers
The first round is simply 1 vs. 8 and so on, in a three-game series played entirely at the higher seeds ballpark.
Winners advanced to seven-games series in traditional formats.
Highest remaining seeds host lowest remaining seeds in Round 2, the Divisional Round. If the No. 6 seed, Cleveland in our demo scenario, beats the No. 3 seed, the Twin, in Round 1, and all other higher seeds win, the No. 1 seed Astros would play the No. 6 seed Indians in the Divisional Round. It’s a simple re-seeding after each round plan, something all sports leagues should adopt.
Round 3, which normally is the League Championship Series, is simply the League Semifinals, using the same parameters as above. If the higher seeds kept winning after Round 1, we’d see an Astros-Yankees LCS, but they’ll have to earn it with an extra round of winning necessary.
The simple idea is more baseball when it’s more likely fans will be able to attend. I don’t think typically 16 playoff teams, eight in each league, is a good idea. In this demo, the American League would have a sub.500 club in the postseason, the Rangers. The NL would have been able to fill out the bracket with winning clubs — the Cubs at 84-78 would have been the No. 8 seed.
An expanded playoff for 2020 might be wise even if the league can squeeze in 80-100 games. But I think the fewer regular season games, the longer the postseason should be. I’ve even floated the idea of a March Madness-style postseason if the regular season is 30 games or fewer.
Every team is in the postseason for at least a three-game series. It’s out there, but it’s also not implausible and might represent the best chance to get as many games played in 2020 as possible without playing games well into November — which would be a terrible idea.
It’s a strange circumstance we’re in with sports and the game of baseball. Extreme, I’d say. And you know what they say about extreme circumstances.