Baseball

Radical Realignment: MLB’s Four New Leagues

|
Image for Radical Realignment: MLB’s Four New Leagues

With relocation and expansion probable following the expiration of the Rays’ lease agreement in 2027, baseball fans should expect radical realignment in the near future. With that in mind, let us look at a possible 2028 configuration of Major League Baseball.

MLB’s Tradition Fading

Baseball is built on tradition. Generations of parents teaching their children the national pastime, from playing catch to team fandom. For more than a century, the National and American Leagues formed the two halves of Major League Baseball.

For much of that time, the leagues were legally separate entities that cooperated. The leagues coordinated on some matters but maintained different rules, restricted the ability of players to cross leagues, employed their own umpires, had distinct leadership, and their clubs competed within their league with the sole exception (outside of exhibitions) of the World Series.

Yet, all these old distinctions have gradually washed away. Operationally, the leagues have been one entity for decades (and legally since 2000). Free agency and other developments have led to stars regularly crossing league lines, and interleague play has been an ever-expanding staple for nearly 30 years.

Death of the AL and NL

The powers-that-be in baseball have long been pushing for a geographic realignment. Teams have changed leagues, and 2020 experimented with geographic-based pools.

Grouping teams based on proximity achieves three MLB goals: (1) cutting down travel costs; (2) reinforcing and creating local rivalries; (3) ensuring a World Series with far-apart cities, thereby increasing the likelihood of higher ratings.

Birth of the Four Leagues

With 32 teams, MLB will create four eight-teams leagues, perhaps along these lines:

Eastern LeagueSouthern LeagueCentral LeagueWestern League
Boston Red SoxAtlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Cincinnati RedsBaltimore OriolesChicago White SoxLas Vegas Wranglers
Cleveland GuardiansDominicana LionsColorado RockiesLos Angeles Angels
New York MetsHouston AstrosDetroit TigersLos Angeles Dodgers
New York YankeesMiami MarlinsKansas City RoyalsMexico City Red Devils
Philadelphia PhilliesNashville StarsMilwaukee BrewersSan Diego Padres
Pittsburgh PiratesTexas RangersMinnesota TwinsSan Francisco Giants
Toronto Blue JaysWashington NationalsSaint Louis CardinalsSeattle Mariners

Each team will play a schedule that allows all clubs to face each other each year. The four-league schedule also allows teams to disproportionately emphasize intraleague play. April, July, and September will be dedicated to intraleague play, while May, June, and August will feature interleague competition.

OpponentGames per Team per SeasonTotal
Intraleague1284
Interleague372
All156

Tradition Could Survive

Alternatively, MLB could keep the National and American Leagues with a four-division structure:

American LeagueNational League
Eastern LeagueSouthern LeagueCentral LeagueWestern League
Boston Red SoxAtlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Cincinnati RedsBaltimore OriolesChicago White SoxLas Vegas Wranglers
Cleveland GuardiansDominicana LionsColorado RockiesLos Angeles Angels
New York MetsHouston AstrosDetroit TigersLos Angeles Dodgers
New York YankeesMiami MarlinsKansas City RoyalsMexico City Red Devils
Philadelphia PhilliesNashville StarsMilwaukee BrewersSan Diego Padres
Pittsburgh PiratesTexas RangersMinnesota TwinsSan Francisco Giants
Toronto Blue JaysWashington NationalsSaint Louis CardinalsSeattle Mariners

And the schedule might be a little something like this:

OpponentGames/Team/SeasonTotal
Interleague232
Interdivision648
Intradivision1070
All150

Interleague competition would be held in July, interdivision in May and August, and intradivision in April, June, and September.

Postseason

This author has long disfavored expanded playoffs, particularly for baseball. The regular season is substantially undermined when half the teams make the postseason, especially given MLB’s 162-game schedule and the inherent flukiness of baseball that allows a bad team to occasionally win four out of seven against a great team.

Yet, like the NBA and NHL, 50 percent of teams will likely qualify for the MLB postseason come 2028. This approach is not wholly outside of baseball tradition, as the Cuban National Series has long promoted approximately half its teams to the postseason.

To maintain the significance of the regular season, certain playoff perks must be provided to league winners.

The Wild Card stage will be significantly expanded. The four league (or division) winners skip this portion, while the 12 teams with the best non-league winning records compete in pools of three for the opportunity to advance. The team that wins two games in each pool advances.

The four winners join the league leaders (enjoying home field advantage) in the best-of-seven League Series. The victors of the LS advance to the best-of-seven Championship Series, while these winners go on to the World Series.

So this is the future that the winds of baseball change portend. Are you, dear reader, on board or will you flail against the inevitability of change?

Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

Share this article

1 comment

  • Thomas Hroncich says:

    I like the 2nd proposal keeping the American & National leagues and 150 game schedule; with the added teams and 50% making the play offs it adds enough extra games to the overall season

Comments are closed.