A move to the American League would spike interest, but would it make the Astros winners or losers?
The NFL is comprised of two conferences. Each conference has four divisions. Each division has four teams. The NBA is comprised of two conferences. Each conference has three divisions. Each division has five teams. The NHL is comprised two conferences. Each conference has three divisions. Each division has five teams. The NFL, NBA, and NHL all play by the same set of rules, regardless of their conference.
Notice the balance and symmetry?
Then there's baseball.
The MLB was last realigned in 1994 and has been rather disproportional since then. The MLB is currently comprised of two leagues, each encompassing three divisions. However, the American League is home to 14 teams while the National League is home to 16 teams.
Such an inconsistency has created an imbalance in the divisions. The American League, by division, has four teams, five teams, and five teams. The National League, by division, has five teams, six teams, and five teams. Playoff seeds are currently given to the division winners and the best record outside of those teams.
Such a discrepancy has long called for another realignment. However, rumors have come and gone with little materialization, so it's hard to take Buster Olney's latest report without a grain of salt.
But his latest report suggests the league is seriously considering a new outline for the league. This realignment would completely get rid of divisions. The free-for-all system would give playoff spots to the top five teams in each league.
Sounds simple, right?
But such a change would require the leagues to be equal, and that means one team would have to switch leagues.
The Astros are current frontrunners for the switch. Some executives believe a rivalry with the Rangers would help foster some attention. And yes, it would be "interesting" to host more series against the Yankees and Red Sox. And sure, maybe ticket sales would increase. But a change in leagues may not be best for the Astros, at least if you're worried about winning.
The American League and National League are two very different animals. The biggest difference is the presence of a designated hitter, which erases the "easy out" currently present in the National League. I'm not going to argue that one league's style is better than the other, but the Astros are in no condition to face teams with designated hitters on a daily basis.
Going to a hitter-friendly league would be best for teams with pitchers parks. The Padres may like this move. The Astros, however, do not have a pitchers park. Minute Maid Porch Park and the Crawford Boxes are a popup away from a home run trot for the average right-handed hitter. Need proof? Even Matt Downs is pulling home runs this season.
Going to a hitter friendly league is good for strong offensive teams. But the Astros are pretty far from that. Yes, the Astros farm system is being rebuilt. Yes, the Astros offense should be on the rise with prospects like George Springer and Ariel Ovando. But the Astros will need more than them to remain relevant in the American League.
Another issue is the presence of big spenders in the American League. Four of the top five spenders are clubs from the American League. The Yankees take the top spot at 201 M, the Red Sox are third at 161 M, and the Angels and White Sox follow at 138 M and 129 M.
Money does not decide who goes to the playoffs. It's not the ultimate determinant of who wins the World Series. But it's a sure does help bring in better players. And unless the Astros are being run like the Rays, or unless Crane is ready to open his wallet, then playoff hopes may just become dimmer and dimmer.
But this is a move for the long-term, so no, it's not fair to judge the possible realignment on the 2011 Astros roster. Yes, the Astros are going to need solid pitching regardless of what league they're in. And yes, they're going to need a solid offense no matter if they're playing meaningful games against the Cardinals or Yankees.
But the Astros are, and always have been, a National League team.