Ah, a new meme: "floating" realignment. Let's enjoy it while we can, because it probably won't last long. Tom Verducci has the juicy details:
When baseball commissioner Bud Selig named a 14-person "special committee for on-field matters" four months ago, he promised that all topics would be in play and "there are no sacred cows." The committee already has made good on Selig's promise by discussing a radical form of "floating" realignment in which teams would not be fixed to a division, but free to change divisions from year-to-year based on geography, payroll and their plans to contend or not.
One example of floating realignment, according to one insider, would work this way: Cleveland, which is rebuilding with a reduced payroll, could opt to leave the AL Central to play in the AL East. The Indians would benefit from an unbalanced schedule that would give them a total of 18 lucrative home dates against the Yankees and Red Sox instead of their current eight. A small or mid-market contender, such as Tampa Bay or Baltimore, could move to the AL Central to get a better crack at postseason play instead of continually fighting against the mega-payrolls of New York and Boston.
Divisions still would loosely follow geographic lines; no team would join a division more than two time zones outside its own, largely to protect local television rights (i.e., start times of games) and travel costs.
Floating realignment also could mean changing the number of teams in a division, teams changing leagues and interleague games throughout the season, according to several sources familiar with the committee's discussions. It is important to remember that the committee's talks are very preliminary and non-binding.
A radical idea isn't wrong simply because it's radical.
That said, it's not easy to imagine this working.
It's one thing to suggest that the Indians will volunteer to join the American League East and lose more games, and that the Orioles will volunteer to join the American League Central and lose the boffo box office that comes with playing all those games against the Yankees and Red Sox.
It's another thing entirely to suggest that those teams will volunteer to do those things at the same time. And that they'll volunteer to do those things well before the season in question (because Major League Baseball can't wait, for example, until after the 2010 season to draw up the divisions and the schedules for 2011).
Theoretically speaking, it's easy to come up with a system that would temporary facilitate the rebuilding efforts of some clubs and the contending efforts of others. Practically speaking, there are time and space considerations that would make implementation a full-time (and thankless) job for a few dozen well-paid Ivy Leaguers. At best.
And as Maury Brown notes, there's yet yet another to be heard from:
Finally, the plan is missing one very large piece to its puzzle: the players. When Selig hatched this committee that he handpicked (see who is on the committee), one of the first questions asked of him was whether the MLBPA would be at the table. At the time of the announcement, Selig said he would be getting back to the Players Association about having them on the panel, and that the current makeup of the committee was in its “genesis”.
If there’s solace for those thinking this plan may actually get put into action, consider this: The committee is in an advisory capacity, and while Selig will weigh what is being said, the panel has no authority to make decisions.
“All I can tell you is I will be guided by what this committee comes up with,” Selig said.
In that sense, the chances for this type of radical idea occurring seems remote. Selig fancies himself as a historian of the game, and certainly lands smack dab in the “purist” category. The idea, while well meaning, should remain just that: an idea.
We might quibble with that characterization of Selig as a "purist," considering the radical changes he's wrought. I believe that if someone came up with a practical plan for realignment that would guarantee higher revenues for Selig's employers, he might support it. I just don't believe that practical plan is going to be found.