Peter Gammons tweeted this afternoon that the Houston Astros sale to Jim Crane is expected to go through in mid-November, and with it the club will be moving to the American League. When Bud Selig began kicking around realignment ideas a couple of years ago, the big impetus behind it was baseball's ridiculous league structure that sees a 16-team league and a 14-team league and within those leagues, four five-team divisions, a six-team division, and a four-team division. It's dumb to pretend that it's fair that NL Central teams have to fight through six teams to make the playoffs while the AL West only has four.
It's not clear if the move would happen in 2012. The schedules, which have already been released, would have to be completely re-written and there will have to be a huge change in how interleague play is handled with the two leagues home to an odd-number of teams. I'm all for this: the uneven divisions are dumb and treating interleague play like it's some kind of "event" when 90% of the games are Pirate/Royals crapfests.
In the long term, I bet this ramps up some serious contraction speculation with the Rays and a second team, plus some much larger realignment plans to go back to even-numbered leagues. That's probably a ways off, though, and for now I'll be plenty happy with a five-team NL Central and no one pretending that I'm supposed to be excited about interleague play.
I imagine that move would have to be a condition of the sale? Every non-west-coast owner wants his team to play as few pacific time zone games as possible. You could make an argument that moving to the west division actually devalues the franchise. Unless they'd move Kansas City to the west; but I can't see them standing for that either.
Either way, Houston is a geographic outlier in the division, and balancing the divisions out is also a good thing. I hope it happens.
Assuming all the divisions go to 5 teams, are there any other things that absolutely have to be sorted out besides spreading out interleague over the entire season?
I also don't see much chance of contraction, I think MLB goes to 32 before it goes to 28. Who do you contract anyway? The Rays are a tough sell to the general public due to their success in a tough division. They obviously have a real fan problem down there, I think they move though instead of getting contracted. I'm not sure who team #2 would be. Seattle? Florida? KC? The newly purchased Astros? I don't see it happening.
I would loooove to see a 5 team NL Central though
@geoffrey.j.brown Given how readily other owners have "volunteered" to be contracted in the past, I wouldn't necessarily assume that general public outcry (if it even existed) would sway baseball one way or the other. And frankly, I would be suspicious of some sort of general revolt if two teams would be contracted.
Where do the Rays move? What market could support an MLB franchise, has a stadium and infrastructure ready and doesn't have territorial issues? Hmmmm...aside from Portland, OR, I don't see any off-hand. Charlotte might have the population base, but I don't see that being a viable opportunity immediately.
Expansion would be a tough sell in terms of quality of the product and finding two worthwhile markets, which is why you don't hear much talk of it in any sport (aside from MLS). I think the NYC metro area could support another team and SoCal as well, but I don't those teams agreeing to such moves (relocation or expansion).
Hence, all the talk about shifting the Astros - a team up for sale, controlled, essentially, by MLB. It's a pretty exclusive club, being an MLB owner, so if part of the deal is shifting leagues, so be it. Then again, putting Milwaukee back in the AL actually makes the most sense, but that'll never happen. Losing the Astros from the NL Central makes the division harder - a current door stop leaves and so do some of those guaranteed wins (until the Astros rebound).
Portland seems like it would be a good location and always seems to be the first one anyone mentions. Raleigh would also be a good place to put a team, a little bit bigger metro area than Charlotte. If they moved the Rays there, they'd even have their AAA team 30 minutes away in Durham. I'm not sure if that would be a conflict or not. The Hurricanes have done quite well since moving there (especially for it being Hockey in the south), so I think its at least plausible.
I think there would be a little bit of an outcry over the Rays contracting, if only due to people not liking the Yankees and Red Sox and blaming them in part. Any of the other teams I mentioned probably could go a little bit easier, I'd be a little sad to see the Mariners go being a big Griffey fan though.
Also, I don't mean to say expansion is a good idea, I just think its more likely than contraction, but also not very likely.
And yes, I'd much rather see Milwaukee go to the AL than the Astros, but this seems like the only immediate way to get to 15/15.