In light of comments from Commissioner Rob Manfred that he could envision Major League Baseball expanding to 32 teams, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports searched for the most ideal suitors on Sunday and settled on Montreal and Austin, Texas. You can read his reasoning here. Today, Morosi took it a bit further and imagined what division realignment could look like in a 32-team MLB (with 16 in each league consisting of eight 4-team divisions).
As you can guess, adding two teams and reducing divisions down to four teams is going to shake up what's essentially been in place since the Wild Card era began in 1995. But dreams of division realignment are nothing new. Last September Jesse Spector of the Sporting News caused a stir in these parts when he devised his own system and separated the Cardinals from the Cubs and stuck us with the likes of the Astros, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Rockies, and Royals. Worse, Spector had this to say (emphasis mine):
Setting up rivalries with a storied franchise like St. Louis would be a particular boon to some of the less-established teams, and while the Cardinals would be separated from their historic rivals, the Cubs, when you look at the history between those teams, it's not exactly like breaking up the Dodgers and Giants or the Red Sox and Yankees.
Whoa, whoa...you believe this guy? (On the other hand, if there was ever a time to sever intimate ties with our championship-challenged rival that time might be now.)
Thankfully, Morosi's plan is much more sensible. His nameless divisions look like this:
Astros, Austin (exp), Royals, Rangers,
Blue Jays, Montreal (exp), Red Sox, Yankees
From the Cardinals' standpoint, and assuming team schedules still rely heavily on division play, this is about as good as you can imagine from both a practicality and rivalry standpoint. Milwaukee, which is 327 miles as the crow flies, would be the furthest the Cardinals would have to travel within the division. Currently, Pittsburgh is the furthest city away at 559 miles. And the Cardinals are one of the teams who already benefit from easy travel. Imagine being the Mariners who have to travel nearly 1,900 miles to play their division-mate Houston? Under Morosi's plan, the Rockies would be the furthest within the division at just over 1,000 miles away, which, while still a haul, is a big improvement.
Furthermore, all of the cities in this realigned division are in the Central Time Zone as opposed to the current model which has two teams (Pirates and Reds) on Eastern Standard Time. This matters, as Morosi notes, because when the Cardinals play the Pirates and Reds on the road they are typically starting at 6pm St. Louis time which is not ideal from a ratings standpoint. Morosi also points out that the Twins would be the only American League team outside of the Eastern Time Zone, which is fine because, unless I'm mistaken, they still haven't been punished for 1987.
Lastly, this new division would allow the Cardinals the opportunity to cultivate a new local rivalry with the White Sox. The Cardinals fan base extends deep into Illinois. I'm living proof. There are plenty of Cardinals fans who need an easy second option to Wrigley Field when catching the Cardinals on the road. Wrigley might be my favorite sporting venue on the planet but sometimes you just want to go to a baseball game, find a nice, easy place to park and not feel like you're sitting directly on top of the person in front of you. In this regard, the Cell would be a perfectly pleasant alternative.
Some of the Cardinals' more recent rivalries would suffer. Because they were bad last year and will be bad for the foreseeable future, it's easy to forget that before the Pirates, before the dustup with the Brewers in '11, and certainly before the Cubs, the Reds were the Cardinals' competitive rival, which hit a fever pitch during the brawl of 2010. I would miss watching multiple Cardinals-Reds games throughout the year. Plus, the Cardinals need those wins.
This would also mean less trips to PNC Park, which, forget what I said earlier, other than from a history standpoint, PNC Park beats Wrigley in almost every category. And the Pirates are the Cardinals' most recent and consistent division rival and it's a rivalry which goes back to the days of the old NL East.
From a league standpoint, I understand tradition must sometimes be compromised to move forward but this proposal makes parts of the old league look almost unrecognizable. One of the NL divisions would have three former AL teams and the expansion Austin club. One of the AL divisions would have the Braves, Marlins, and Nationals. This would be a complete break from the baseball we all know. And speaking of the Nationals, I don't think they'd be pleased being paired with cities like Atlanta, Miami, and Tampa, when there are perfectly good baseball teams just up the road in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.
Bottom line, if MLB adds two expansion teams some semi-radical changes are inevitable. Morosi notes the realignment could also be used to usher in the DH to both leagues, which everyone knows is a separate argument in its own right. And like Spector, because of my regional-bias I'm likely overlooking some other teams' hardships, but I do think this particular plan of division realignment is better than most.