Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes: Welcoming the Houston Astros to the American League?

Word on the street is that our most recent World Series foe, the Houston Astros, are on the verge of getting a new owner. This would be some rather dull offseason filler news though. "Oh, a National League team is getting a new owner? Nifty. What channel is football on again?". I'd be inclined to agree with you, except that apparently Bud Selig is attempting to force Jim Crane into agreeing to move the Astros over into the American League as a condition of the sale. Wait...what?

This isn't like the Seattle Seahawks switching over from the AFC to the NFC after the 2001 season when the NFL added the Houston Texans. No other major professional sport in the country has different rules depending on which arbitrary league your team is in. The last time Major League Baseball experienced such a restructuring was when the Milwaukee Brewers jumped over to the National League central in 1997, creating the current 16-14 team imbalance between the two organizations. So now everything is going to be evened out by moving the Astros into the four team AL West? If this seems strange and unwieldy to you, you're not alone.

This new realignment raises a lot of questions, at least in my sleep-deprived, energy drink-fueled brain. The western divisions in almost every pro sport are easily the most spread out and ill-fitting of all. Don't believe me?  Here are some maps. It's not easy placing teams in Colorado, Seattle, and Texas in with others. They just stick out strangely. Moving Houston to the AL West does significantly reduce travel time for the other teams in the NL Central, but you have to imagine that Astros players can't be too thrilled about the prospect of more West Coast road trips. Also, I always liked the idea of if a state had multiple teams that they should play in different leagues. I always wanted the Phillies or the Pirates to be the team to jump over to the Junior Circuit, though I know my pipe dream will never happen.

So we will now have nice, pretty divisions with five teams each. Hooray! Except that the math makes no sense. You can't have an odd number of teams in each league without one team having the day off every day or instituting season long interleague play. Are the higher-ups willing to do that? Is a world where we play every team in baseball in the same season on the horizon? If the answer to these questions is yes, then something will need to be done about the designated hitter. If teams are going to play a more significant part of their season than nine games against the other league, wouldn't we need to establish the same rules for both leagues? If not, American League teams become disadvantaged by having to play even more games without a player making on average more money than their bench player equivalent in the National League.

I'm not trying to give an Andy Rooneyian "Change is frightening!" tirade, but change is frightening. Suddenly there might be ten playoff teams a year. The leagues will each have fifteen teams. The Cubs will have a more competent GM (if his recent free agent signings don't continue to be a trend). Strange days are coming down the pipe.


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