On Tuesday a topic that I found particularly interesting and worthy of discussion here at the site came across Twitter. Jim Bowden of The Athletic wrote about possible expansion in Major League Baseball and why he believed divisional realignment was likely to come with it.
You can find the article here.
As usual, no one on the internet actually Bowden’s piece. They just took the images that The Athletic Twitter account posted and ran with it. Here are said images:
As you can see from the images (and read about in the article), Bowden is proposing a complete realignment of the game. Since the DH is now universal, there’s no reason to hold to the old division between the American and National Leagues. He cuts those and goes instead with a division breakdown based almost exclusively on region.
The Nashville expansion team is added to a Southeast Division of the East alongside the Braves, Marlins, and Rays.
An oddly named “Pacific Coast” division would be in the Western Conference and would include the A’s, Giants, Seattle, and (everyone’s favorite surfing spot) Colorado.
You can maybe already tell that fly-over country in the central US becomes particularly troublesome for him. He drops St. Louis into something he calls the “Southwest” division of the Western Conference alongside the Astros, Royals, and Rangers.
Should we tell him that none of those teams are actually in the southwest? (Ok, maybe Dallas, but I think that’s debatable. Dallas is just Texas, which is just large and arrogant enough to demand a cultural/geographic designation of its own. Houston is more of a gulf coast city than a southwest city.)
Feel free to have at Bowden’s efforts in the other conferences. They are… something. Honestly, they feel a little like clickbait, but that’s not new for Bowden
I think I can do a lot better without breaking much of a sweat. And will below.
Bowden does note that this conversation is not remotely fictional. He reports that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has maintained a continued interest in expansion. That process would likely already be underway except that MLB wants to bring a resolution to the ongoing stadium issues in Tampa Bay and Oakland before bringing in two new cities. It’s possible, even likely in the case of Oakland, that those teams will have to relocate to cities that would be under consideration for expansion.
Las Vegas, for example, is probably more likely to build a stadium and adopt the A’s than they are to start from scratch. After all, they just did the same thing with the Raiders in the NFL.
When expansion does happen, it will almost certainly require a realignment of the game. The league can’t squeeze two new teams into its current divisional format. That would create unbalanced divisions again, which is something MLB tolerated for awhile, but actively worked to fix.
They won’t go back now. They’ll use realignment to create tweak historical rivalries, build new regional rivalries, expand fanbases into new markets, and probably expand the playoffs even more.
Make no bones about it. Expansion and realignment are 100% about money.
There is money, though, in aspects of the game that we currently love. Particularly maintaining the core of the regional and divisional rivalries that already exist. While also re-organizing the league to create new rivalries.
At the same time, if you’ve ever been to a Cards v. Royals game in KC, you’ll know that there are tickets to be sold, interest to be generated, and money to be gained from tweaking divisional alignments to better emphasize regional rivalries.
After thinking about all of this for a few days, the best approach to expansion and realignment is to retain as many historical rivalries as possible while creating and emphasizing as many regional rivalries as possible.
So, I completely ignored Bowden’s image above and set out to create two leagues with four four-team divisions each. I tried to make those divisions fit at least somewhat geographically and with regional rivalries while maintaining as many historical rivalries as I could.
I left the American and National League monickers alone and tried to keep the more historical teams in the right league. The Yankees and Red Sox, for example, needed to stay in the AL and in the same division. But the Royals? The Brewers, who have switched a few times anyway? I didn’t let that sway me.
Speaking of the Brewers, this exercise did force me to get rid of some divisional matchups that teams currently enjoy. Take the NL Central and start with the central rivalry: Cards vs. Cubs. If you want a four-team division that retains a traditional rivalry while expanding regional rivalries, this one writes itself. It has to be Cards, Cubs, White Sox, and Royals.
Yes, that means the Cardinals would have to sacrifice their longstanding competition with the Reds and Pittsburgh. The Brewers would need to go elsewhere, too. But those teams are largely from different parts of the country anyway and have their own set of rivalries and potential rivalries.
What’s going to mean more to Cincinnati long-term – playing the Cardinals? Or playing Cleveland? Or, perhaps, against the new expansion team in Nashville? And Pittsburgh. More games in St. Louis? Or more games against Philly?
Apply that same logic around the league. The league, with 162 games to fill, could probably even have “Historical Rivalry” matchups or something built into the schedule where the Cardinals play a few extra games against the Reds than they do against Toronto or Seattle.
In all, I think I was able to create a divisional alignment that does all of those things. It organizes an expanded MLB by regions. It emphasizes current and potential rivalries. It keeps some aspects of the AL and NL intact. It doesn’t ignore parts of the country that matter less than others.
Here’s the result:
East: Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Blue Jays
South: Orioles, Nationals, Nashville, Reds
Central: Twins, Brewers, Guardians, Tigers
West: Diamondbacks, Rockies, Mariners, A’s (Vegas)
East: Braves, Charlotte, Phillies, Pirates
South: Marlins, Rays, Rangers, Astros
Central: Cardinals, Cubs, Royals, White Sox
West: Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Angels
Pick it apart! The rest is up to you. Post like a champion today, Viva El Birdos.