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Trying to come up with lineup

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 14, 2011

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Even the casual baseball fan wondered why one league had 14 teams and the other 16.

It had to do with expansion, scheduling, and playoff formats at the time, but now realignment discussion is taking place as part of the new collective bargaining agreement talks (the current CBA expires in December). Major League Baseball and the players’ union are said to be batting around the concept of 15 teams in each league, with three five-team divisions in each.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, who first reported the talks, a source told him the change has less than a 50-50 chance of happening.

Under the scenario, a National League team must become an American League team. That might be traumatic for the NL team, particularly an established one that has natural rivals as division opponents.

Established teams have all sorts of marketing and publicity issues tied in to who they are and what league they play in. The fans look forward to series with certain teams and to seeing certain players coming to their home park.

But there are plenty of teams that easily could move and probably benefit from it.

Here are some ideas:

1. Pirates: They haven’t had a winning season since 1992. Great time to change leagues and start anew. Take them out of the six-team NL Central and place them in the AL Central. Then take Kansas City and move it to the AL West.

2. Brewers: This is an easy one because the Brewers have AL roots, moving to the NL in 1998 when the Rays and Diamondbacks entered the league. Stick them back in the AL Central, get those Brewers-Twins and Brewers-White Sox rivalries going again, and boot the Royals to the AL West. Milwaukee has great fans and they are adaptable.

3. Astros: Stick them in the AL West, and create the Astros-Rangers rivalry. This is a franchise in transition anyway, with new ownership, and the team is having a bad season. This may be the most logical move.

4. Rockies: Haven’t you always thought of them as an AL team because of their offense and ballpark? Put them in the AL West, although this would require transferring Houston to the NL West.

5. Padres: Shift them to the AL West, and the Brewers to the NL West.

6. Diamondbacks: President Derrick Hall said he was open to a move to the American League.

Any NL team heading to the AL likely will have to spend more on payroll because it would need the extra hitter. It would be interesting to see whether the team chosen to move would receive some financial compensation or whether it would be on its own in having to fill the DH role.

Another idea about would eliminate divisions all together and have five teams making the playoffs in each league.

This certainly would create more late interest in races in September and keep baseball alive in a few more cities that normally would turn to football. It also would create an even more exciting trading deadline, with more teams trying to make deals to capture one of the 10 spots.

There are endless ways MLB could realign. It could consider geography, for instance putting Boston, the Yankees, the Mets, the Phillies, and the Blue Jays in the same division.

Taking into account geography seems to make sense as travel costs rise and high-priced players are getting worn down by excessive travel. We know what Red Sox-Yankees does for TV ratings and revenues, but that would be the case as well with Cubs/White Sox, Reds/Indians, Marlins/Rays, A’s/Giants, Royals/Cardinals, Angels/Dodgers, Rangers/Astros, Orioles/Nationals, Yankees/Mets, Phillies/Yankees, Padres/Angels, and Padres/Dodgers.

Realignment also could be done small market/big market, so teams such as the Rays wouldn’t have to compete against the Yankees and Red Sox, who have payrolls four to five times greater (though the Rays hang in there pretty well, considering). This one is highly unlikely, though, because payrolls vary from year to year and it would be difficult to keep track. The Twins, for instance, used to be a middle-market team, and now could be considered a big-market team because of their new ballpark.

There have been suggestions about breaking up the Red Sox and the Yankees to balance the divisional powers more, but because the rivalry has taken on a life of its own, that might be impossible.

Forget any thought of going strictly by salary caps to balance teams; the union would never go for it. Anyway, even though there’s a great disparity between the payrolls of, say, the Red Sox and the Rays, how much of a difference is there in the quality of play between the teams? Not as much as the dollars would indicate. In fact, there may be more parity in major league baseball than there ever has been. Currently there are many teams within four or five games of first place.

There previously had been discussion about expanded playoffs as early as next season. That would add one more wild-card team to each league and create another tier of playoffs, with either one game deciding that round, or a best-of-three series.

The basic agreement talks are going fairly well, according to one ownership source. There don’t appear to be any really sticky issues such as in the NFL or NBA labor talks.

There are no major pressing issues — such as instant replay, draft slotting, an international draft — that can’t be resolved or put on hold for the time being.

Realignment also could end up being tabled. In fact, the discussion may end up being more fascinating than the action.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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