NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 08: Carl Crawford #13 of the Tampa Bay Rays is caught in a first-inning rundown between Jorge Posada #20 and Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees on September 8, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The return of the Yankees to the top of the baseball mountain has spurred a spirited round of discussion about realigning baseball's divisions to keep the little children out of the way of the behemoths in Boston and the Bronx. It's hard to argue with the underlying argument that the decks may be stacked against the Rays, Jays and Orioles, but there hasn't been a proposal that's actually come up with a workable, lasting solution to the issue.
Some have come up with plans that separate the Red Sox and Yankees and those plans are dead on arrival. There was the idea of floating realignment, in which teams could opt out of their current division because of interests financial, geographical or otherwise. The two big problems with this idea: someone would have to opt into the AL East and, for any complaints about competitive issues, the Orioles, Jays and Rays all enjoy the box office when the two big boys roll into town.
Buster Olney of ESPN takes up the issue on Monday with a plea to get the Rays out from under Boston and New York so that they can flourish into a winner, get themselves a new stadium and build their brand. We've already discussed their financial reasons for wanting to stay where they are, but should baseball really radically alter the way they do business to help one team -- a team that's been pretty good the last couple of years -- do better than their competitors? Why don't the Jays deserve such love? And what about the team that takes the Rays' place?
All of this assumes that reshuffling the divisional decks is really the only way to approach the issue. Times change, fortunes shift and baseball has a habit of defying expectations as the years pass by so it might be best to just leave things as they are and see what happens. If there must be a change, though, it needs to go beyond just shifting Tampa or whoever to a different zip code.
Get rid of divisions altogether and just have the four best teams in each league make the playoffs when everything is said and done. Schedules will flatten out so that the teams in the AL East will get fewer beatings from the Red Sox and Yankees while those teams will have to play good teams from the Central and West more often. That would certainly solve the perceived notion that the weak sisters of the East will have their chance at the playoff pie.
There are problems with this approach as well. You'd theoretically lose pennant races in a given season, postseason runs like the one made by the 2006 Cardinals would be impossible and ESPN would have to find alternate programming with fewer Sox-Yanks games.
That there would be problems with every notion is the point. The only way to really lessen the financial advantages in Boston and New York would be the addition of a team to the Northeast Corridor and every other advantage they are assumed to have can be minimized with smart personnel decisions. The former isn't happening but we've seen how well the latter can work out for the other 28 teams in the big leagues.
In the end, the status quo works better than anything else and baseball shouldn't overreact to temporal changes in the way the game is being played.