I’m not really a fan of debating about the relative strengths or weaknesses of a league, as I believe long-term those are fairly cyclical, so I’m not going to follow Astros County’s lead and say that the American League is generally stronger. Take the Astros and Pirates out of the equation last year and the NL would have won more interleague games than the AL. The AL has less hopeless teams than the National League, but the Astros aren’t in a position to take advantage of that right now because they can’t play themselves.
Anyway, here are one Houstonian's thoughts on this possible move:
1) It’s a solid move for Major League Baseball as a whole. The Astros and Rangers aren’t in the Pacific or Mountain time zones, but they’re the closest thing to it geographically as far as filling those last two slots of ten. It makes more sense to put the Astros in the AL then it does to put two other NL West teams in the AL and move the Rangers to the NL. Logistically speaking, considering that the 14/16 format has been outdated ever since the advent of interleague play, it might be the best move that MLB could hope to make.
2) In theory, it would make it easier for the Astros to get to the playoffs. Despite the fact that the Pirates have been doormats for the entirety of the divisional era, moving from a division with six teams to one with five teams does make it easier to actually reach the playoffs, as you have one less team to compete with.
1) The Astros uh, “rivalry” with the Rangers, isn’t much of one. Houston is a National League town, and the Rangers were seen as more of a curiosity here than an actual rival when the Astros were winning. It may have helped if the teams were good at the same time, but even traditionally, Dallas and Houston haven’t been terrific sports rivals over the years in any real way. The hottest rivalry the two cities have is on the MLS pitch, which tells you everything you need to know.
2) Lets talk about the thing that a lot of national columnists are pitching: the guaranteed series with the Yankees and Red Sox. Let me be the first to say: who cares? They’re in the AL East, and the Astros would be in the AL West. That’s 6 guaranteed games of boosted attendance a year. The Astros would be moving to a division where they have no actual teams that draw fans, and they already have 6 games with the Cubs that traditionally do that. So while it sounds good in theory, there really isn’t much benefit to Houston. Side note: why on Earth is having 20,000 bandwagon Yankees or Red Sox fans pack your stadium’s stands a good thing for anyone?
3) The Astros may find it easier sledding to make the playoffs, but because they are almost guaranteed to face the Yankees or Red Sox in the event that they get there, their overall chances of actually winning a World Series probably go down in this situation. Yes, anyone can beat anyone in a seven game series, but the Red Sox and Yankees up the level of competition in the AL for those last few spots and outspend any team in their path. A hypothetical good Astros team would have a better shot in the NL playoffs, where they’d only have to face the Sox or Yankees in the playoffs once.
4) If MLB kept the unbalanced schedule, the Astros would have to play more road games on the West Coast. Houston barely qualifies as West to begin with, and the eyes are going to glaze over for mediocre Astros squads when they play west coast games for all but the most diehard fans. It’s a sure way to lose television viewers.
5) Due to the higher costs of competing with the Yankees and the cost of actually employing a ninth full-time member of the starting lineup, the Astros would likely have to drop a few extra million every year to fill out their squad. Jon Paul Morosi talked about Carlos Lee being on the squad as if that was a reason to have the DH, but for Lee to be a good DH we’d have to wind the clock back to 2008.
That’s not even getting into the loss of traditional rivalries and such that the Astros have developed with their main opponents over the years. No Cardinals, no Mets, no Cubs, no Braves. I think the best thing I could say for the proposal to move the Astros to the American League is that it makes a lot of sense for baseball as a whole: it evens up the leagues, is the easiest solution for travel, and if a balanced schedule is instituted, it will make things more “fair” for teams.
But I really can’t see any reason that it makes sense for the Astros. Maybe Bud Selig will make it clear that it’s in the best interest of Jim Crane to accept it, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a benefit beyond getting one less team in their division. Even then, considering how poor the Pirates have traditionally been, that doesn’t mean much.