It may not feel like it, but it’s been nearly 20 years since the last time Major League Baseball expanded. If comments by Rob Manfred are any indication, expansion to 32 teams is a matter of if, not when.
Whether it’s Montreal, Mexico City, Las Vegas, Portland, or somewhere else, adding two teams will present some logistical challenges for MLB to work out. About two weeks ago, Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs did a fascinating deep dive on some of these issues, which include things like altering the playoff format and making changes to interleague play.
Let’s focus on one of the issues in particular: division realignment. Moving to 32 teams would necessitate a realignment to keep the divisions balanced; Manfred has publicly stated he favors an NFL-style setup with four-team divisions rather than an NHL-style alignment with four divisions of eight.
It seems easy enough to just add one team to each league, split the leagues into North/South/East/West divisions and call it a day, but there’s one fly in the ointment: the AL West.
MLB would probably be keen to keep the developing Astros-Rangers rivalry together, which presents a bit of a problem. One option would be to keep them where they are, but then you’d have a team like Oakland or Seattle moving to a division where their closest “rival” is over a thousand miles away.
It makes more sense to put Houston and Texas into a new “AL South” division and leave the other three in the West, but which team would join them? Minnesota? Sawchik suggested something in his article that actually makes a lot of sense: move the Rockies to the American League.
This would add another team to the AL West that is actually, well, West. It also cuts the NL West to four teams. Plus, it’s not like the Rockies have much history in the NL West to speak of outside of their epic Game 163 against San Diego in 2007.
So, the Rockies are in the American League now. Who goes the other way? Sawchik suggested…get ready for it…the Baltimore Orioles.
Now, before you start destroying your mobile device like Tom Brady after picturing Chris Tillman batting 80 times a year against teams called the “Diamondbacks” and “Padres”, there are actually some reasons why this makes sense.
The first (and biggest) reason is geography. The two teams geographically closest to the Orioles (by far) are the Nationals and the Phillies. The Mets are in a virtual tie for third with the Yankees. The Pirates are the fifth closest.
Quick, off the top of your head, name the second-closest American League city to the Orioles. If you said Cleveland, you’d be correct. Putting the O’s in the NL East with the Nats, Mets and Phillies would significantly cut down on the travel time for division games, and probably for non-division games too.
That’s obviously a plus, but there are minuses as well. The O’s would miss out on playing home games against the Yankees and Red Sox, which bring in gate revenue and give O’s fans someone to hate, but is that really a bad thing?
As Stacey pointed out last year, these games aren’t exactly fun. Yankees and Red Sox fans can be brutal, especially the influx of Red Sox fans from Towson and Columbia who curiously lack a Boston accent or any piece of Red Sox gear made before 2004.
We’d probably have similar problems with fans of the Phillies and Nats (actually, who am I kidding, we wouldn’t have that problem with the Nats), but at least it would be easier to return the favor on their turf.
Also, it’s impossible to deny that being in a division with two of the three biggest spenders in baseball puts the O’s at a competitive disadvantage. That may sound like loser talk, but it’s the truth. The bottom line is that over the long term, as long as there isn’t a salary cap, winning a division without the Yankees and Red Sox is easier than winning a division with them.
Finally, we come to the DH. To many of us, moving to a league without the DH would be a catastrophe and a deal-breaker. Every Orioles fan knows the indisputable fact that the designated hitter improves the game and is generally good for baseball.
Sure, forcing pitchers to bat “adds strategy.” So would forcing a random NBA player on the offensive team to play blindfolded each possession, or flipping a coin to determine whether a kicker has to use his left or right foot for a field goal. It’s possible to have a rule that “adds strategy” while simultaneously being asinine and harming the level of play.
Anyway, this whole “different rules for different leagues” thing isn’t going to last forever. Its days are numbered, and the player’s association would never let the league adopt NL rules and put fifteen veteran AL hitters out of work in one fell swoop.
The NL will adopt the DH in our lifetime, and if the rules are going to be standardized, it makes sense to do it when the league expands and starts shuffling teams around.
So, what say you Orioles’ fans? Would you support the O’s joining the NL East with the Mets, Phillies and Nationals, assuming the NL adopts the DH at the same time? Would you begrudgingly accept it? Should I be banned from ever writing on this site again for even suggesting it? Let me know in the comments.