Skipper doubts Astros move is imminent

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Brad Mills has spent time in both leagues and definitely would prefer to stay put. That could change, though, under a realignment plan Major League Baseball is exploring.

MLB is considering a proposal that would have 15 teams in the American League and 15 clubs in the National League, as opposed to the present format of 16 teams in the NL and 14 in the AL. Under the possible plan, the leagues would not be split into divisions. The top three teams would make the playoffs. The fourth- and fifth-place clubs would be wild cards and play for one spot.

Commissioner Bud Selig's committee for on-field matters, a panel that includes executives, managers and others, has discussed the change that would take effect in 2012. News of the possible realignment was first reported by Buster Olney, a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.

The Astros would be among the teams considered for switching leagues. The last major league team to change leagues was Milwaukee, which moved from the AL to the NL for the 1998 season.

The Brewers' shift came when Tampa Bay and Arizona were added as expansion teams -- at the time, baseball didn't consider it practical to have an odd number of clubs in each league.

The Diamondbacks moving to the American League West from the National League West is another plan being discussed by MLB and the players' association

"We would do whatever's best for baseball," Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall told USA Today. "Most would say us or the Astros would be best candidates (to shift leagues)."

Mills, in his second year as manager of the Astros, says no one has discussed such a possibility with him. He also says he doesn't believe such a move is imminent.

A former bench coach for the Red Sox, Mills prefers the National League and would like the Astros to remain there.

"I like having the pitcher hit and having more guys involved in ball games as pinch runners, pinch hitters, pitchers, your bullpen," he said. "I think you're able to get more players in the ball games because of that and it changes the makeup of your ball club."

Star right fielder Hunter Pence has seen the reports, but he isn't worried because any decisions on realignment would be out of his control.

"I like the National League," he said. "I like where we're at. I don't focus on those things at all and I really don't want to."

Owners and players would have to agree to the plan as part of their talks on a new labor contract, with the current deal expiring this December.

Under the potential scenario, five teams from each league would make the playoffs. Selig recently said he expected the postseason field would expand next year, and it seemed likely that a pair of wild-card teams would make it from both leagues.

A drawback to the realignment plan could be a schedule that necessitates at least one interleague game on a mostly daily basis. Interleague play started in 1997 and over the years some teams have said they thought the NL vs. AL matchups created schedule imbalances.

Houston center fielder Michael Bourn isn't excited about the potential for a move.

"It would be different because you don't know (any) of those teams over there in the American League," he said. "It's a whole different brand of baseball and it would be a totally different atmosphere. You'd have to get used to new pitching and new elements of the game. I know you play interleague, but you don't play it every day. It's a totally different game."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.