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interleague play

Astros to the AL update

I remain puzzled by this.

Major League Baseball is discussing with prospective Astros owner Jim Crane possible compensation for agreeing to move the team to the American League.

Three people familiar with the negotiations said on Thursday that MLB has broached the subject with Crane, who in May reached an agreement to purchase the team from Drayton McLane for $680 million. One industry insider said MLB representatives floated $50 million as a possible compensation package for Crane and his group of investors to move the team from the National League. It is not known if MLB has formally offered the $50 million, or if such compensation would come from a reduction in the sale price or by other means.

The discussions would suggest that MLB commissioner Bud Selig has moved past vetting the Crane group and will attempt to finalize the sale.

“Baseball seems very interested to cause this to happen,” an industry insider familiar with the negotiations said on Thursday.

That would constitute a significant shift from August, when MLB removed a scheduled vote to approve the sale from the owners’ meetings agenda. A person familiar with top MLB officials’ thinking said concerns about past business practices of Crane’s companies remain a point in contention in approving the deal.

Another industry insider contends MLB has been using past EEOC complaints and settlements involving war profiteering as “a bargaining chip” to leverage Crane into accepting a move to the AL as a pre-condition to taking over the team. Selig and the MLB Players Association have stated a desire for two 15-team leagues that will allow for the addition to two wild-card playoff teams. One of the 16 NL teams would have to change leagues for that to happen, and there have been no volunteers. With a pending sale, coming off the worst season in franchise history (56-106), the Astros would appear to be susceptible to persuasion to sever ties with the NL that go back to 1962.

Let’s put the question about the extra playoffs aside for the moment. It’s ironic that this is being discussed at the end of the season that featured the two most dramatic playoff races of the wild card era, but the shift in emphasis from the regular season to the postseason is a ship that sailed so long ago it’s on its third round trip by now. What I don’t understand is why 15 teams per league, which will necessarily mean interleague play year round, is considered desirable. If you want balanced divisions, I’d rather make like the NFL and expand to 32 teams with four four-team divisions per league and no wild card, or two eight-team divisions with the top two from each making the playoffs. Failing that, if interleague all the time is where we’re heading, then let’s drop the pretense of having separate leagues, essentially a fiction these days given that there are no more league presidents, and adopt saner schedules as folks like David Pinto have advocated. That would mean coming to a decision one way or the other on the DH – as a lifelong American League fan, I’m for it as I’m sure the MLBPA would be too – but that’s a debate I’m willing to have and to lose if it comes down to it. The current proposals are to me the worst of all possible worlds, which means I’d better start getting used to it. At least having the Astros in the AL would mean I’d get to see the Yankees every year. Even for me that’s not worth the ridiculousness of it all, but you take your silver linings where you can find them.

MLB realignment?

Well, this is interesting.

A simple form of realignment being seriously considered has been raised in the labor talks between Major League Baseball and the players’ association, according to four sources: two leagues of 15 teams, rather than the current structure of 16 teams in the National League and 14 in the American League.

According to a highly ranked executive, one consideration that has been raised in ownership committee meetings is eliminating the divisions altogether, so that 15 AL and 15 NL teams would vie for five playoff spots within each league. Currently, Major League Baseball has six divisions.

A source who has been briefed on the specifics of the labor discussions says that the players’ union has indicated that it is open to the idea of two 15-team leagues, but that the whole plan still hasn’t been talked through or presented to the owners.

“I’d still say the odds of it happening are less than 50-50,” one source said.

Apparently, the Astros have been identified as the NL team that could change leagues, from the six-team NL Central to the four-team AL West, where they’d be joined with the Rangers. I’m not a big fan of this idea, mostly because I don’t think more interleague play would be advisable, but if we’re going to think about changing alignments and schedules, I’d prefer an approach that’s both more radical and more simplistic. David Pinto wrote a series of three articles for the Baseball Prospectus back in 2007 that proposed abolishing the leagues and going to five six-team divisions that made a lot of sense on many levels, and allowed for easy expansion to boot. I’d love to see the discussion be broadened to include such ideas. What do you think?