|Realignment Could Hurt Small-Market Teams||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on June 28, 2011
Baseball has operated rather smoothly since the restructuring of the AL and NL in 1998 with the birth of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks. A team from each division and a Wild Card earned the chance of duking it out for a World Series title.
Talks of again realigning the leagues have caused small market teams to grow weary, however.
MLB's collective bargaining agreement expires in December, and Commissioner Bud Selig has been adamant about wanting to shake up the leagues. Part of these changes may include more interleague play, but the bulk deals with a new playoff structure.
So the proposed change of moving one of the NL teams to the AL would make sense. Early rumors suggest the Houston Astros would move to the AL West, thus creating a rivalry with the Rangers and evening out the divisions.
This seems like a good plan, right?
However, Selig has also proposed changes to the playoff structure if this realignment is accepted. The 15 teams in the league would compete for five playoff spots each year. There would be no divisions -- just one league lumped together.
Selig believes that 10 playoff teams seem like a fair number, since some fans have clamored for an expansion of the playoffs. But picture a team like the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals have arguably the best farm system in the game today, and one-by-one these prospects are starting to contribute at the next level. In another two or three years, this team will be full of young talented players ready to compete for a divisional crown.
However, when that time comes, will the Royals only have to fend off four teams or 10 teams?
Even a significantly improved Royals team would have trouble taking away a playoff spot from the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Rangers, Angels, Tigers and Twins (except this year).
The large market teams would be even more persistent in signing the most talented free agents every offseason, thus leaving the smaller market teams in the dust.
In all this division and playoff shifting, there's one X-factor that would level out the playing field: a salary cap.
Each team would be given a certain budget to field a team and would have to strictly adhere to that budget. The problem is a team like the Yankees with their $200 million payroll could not immediately adjust to these changes.
A plan could be worked out that by a certain year every team needs to be within $1 million of a specific number established by the league. But even so, where will the small-market teams get the money to increase their payroll without going bankrupt.
Maybe more revenue sharing would be involved, but the large market teams, already having to deal with a decreased payroll, would not stand for financially supporting small-market teams in that way.
Overall, while the plans are still preliminary, the questions and concerns have been raised. Lingering conversations will likely ensue, but the likelihood of pleasing all parties involved is slim.
So the Royals, Marlins, Astros, Orioles, Padres, Dodgers, Pirates and Athletics will all be patiently awaiting the future of the sport in hopes that the realignment will not alter their playoff chances.