Houston, we have a problem
After a lengthy delay and a lot of questions, Jim Crane may be on his way to becoming the next owner of the Houston Astros. Word out of Houston tonight is that Crane met with his board after another meeting with MLB. It’s hard to think that any information about Crane’s bid isn’t already out there for Selig and the higher-ups to review, so this looks like a matter of prepping the transition (which McLane desperately wants). The change would have to be approved at the upcoming owners meetings, along with the CBA and perhaps the A’s territorial rights matter.
A key item in that blog link is that Crane is willing to accept compensation in exchange for moving the team to the American League, where it would be part of the West division. My wild guess at this point is that the compensation would be a franchise sale price guarantee as long as Crane’s group owned the team for a significant enough tenure – say five years or so. That would provide some protection for the heavily leveraged Crane group as they “endured” the transition. I’m sure the hardship of trading the Cubs and Cards (25k per game x 15 games) for the Red Sox and Yankees (35k per game x 12 games) will make the other owners highly sympathetic.
The preliminary 2012 schedule was released a couple weeks ago (more on that later this week), and it appears that MLB wants to bake it in ASAP, which would render a 2012 realignment impractical. In theory, it should be easier to make changes to the schedule since starting next year, there will be only one team who has to share a multipurpose facility with another franchise (I’ll give you one guess as to who that is). Another thing to consider is the schedule format, which could continue in the unbalanced method MLB now employs (15-19 games in division, 6-9 outside), or move more towards a balanced format. Some examples are listed in the table below.
Option A mostly retains the spirit of the existing schedule. Option B sacrifices interleague series for more interdivision games. Option C nearly achieves a balanced format, whereas Option D again reduces interleague matchups. Key to this is the question of how many interleague games are truly necessary, especially now that the games will be played throughout the entire season. Another thing to consider is that by starting the season with an interleague series, it gives MLB an excuse to always have an opening series in Japan, Korea, etc.
Astros fans aren’t taking this threat lying down, though one has to wonder how strong the opposition truly is. As of tonight, a petition at SaveOurStros.org has 633 signees. The Keep the Astros in the National League Facebook group has only 50 members. Not that MLB cares about what a few fans think. I’d feel bad for them, but they’re going to have a very strong rivalry with the Rangers in short order, which should be great for both franchises. As for the effect on the A’s, there isn’t much of one. They’d just be trading two opponents in the AL Central/East for one in the Central time zone. No big deal.
There’s also talk of adding another wildcard team for a one-game playoff prior to the divisional series. I didn’t have strong feelings one way or another on the subject until the final day of the 2011 season, in which the action was so riveting that it would be highly anticlimactic to eliminate it by creating game 163.
What are your thoughts on this? Personally, I’m glad MLB is creating an equal amount of interleague games for every team, which IMHO is far more important from a competition standpoint than confining interleague play to May and June. It’s something that has been impossible to address because of the 16-team National League. Now it can be fixed, and baseball will be better off for it.