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Sides playing well together

New CBA talks seem to have been cordial

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 13, 2011

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PHOENIX - It’s just a matter of time before baseball will have 15 teams in one league and 15 teams in another.

Commissioner Bud Selig and players union head Michael Weiner have been open to it during basic agreement negotiations, which started in spring training and have been held at least once a week since April.

Though Selig indicated at his meeting with the Baseball Writers of America at the All-Star Game yesterday that he never would be in favor of “massive realignment,’’ and that nothing is imminent, Weiner said the players have been all for realignment for more than a decade.

The playoff format issue is somewhat tied in, though it appears the timetable is for a new playoff level in 2012 and for realigning the divisions in 2013, so that all six divisions have five teams apiece.

While the basic agreement talks seem to have been cordial, especially when taking into account the NFL and NBA labor problems, Weiner warned that until there’s an actual deal nothing has really happened. But the fact that there have been no outbursts after almost five months of negotiations indicates that baseball may skate by with no real unrest.

Re-setting playoff schedules and realigning divisions takes an enormous amount of work, and Weiner said that until he sees a sample schedule it would be difficult to discuss specifics.

Exactly which team would move to create six five-team divisions likely would become the most heated issue.

Selig joked that some of the stories he has seen have been quoting “four sources’’ about realignment; he claimed four people total don’t know the specifics. But the consensus among owners appears to be that the Astros would need to move from the NL Central to the AL West. The Astros are opposed to this, believing moving into a different time zone would wreak havoc with their TV broadcasts, and also not fully buying into the notion that they have a natural rivalry with the Rangers.

“We have no more of a rivalry with the Rangers than we do with the Cardinals or the Reds or the Cubs,’’ said one Astros official.

Of course, that’s the way the old regime feels.

The new regime - the Jim Crane ownership that is getting set to take over the team from Drayton McLane - likely would not want to rock the boat in its inaugural season and may go along with the proposal simply to keep the peace.

The other possibility is the Diamondbacks moving out of the NL West and going to the AL West. The Diamondbacks, who have volunteered to move, don’t seem to have too many ties or rivalries and it would be an easy move. But that still would require the Astros to move to the NL West.

There is no likely time to get all this done before a new agreement must be reached (the current agreement ends in late December), but the hope is to have it done shortly thereafter.

Weiner said the changes are inevitable because of the issue of fairness. Why should teams in the NL Central have to compete with five other teams, while the AL West competes with three other teams?

“Fundamentally, it’s arithmetic,’’ said Weiner. “The players take competition very seriously. They want the competition fair. I know why 16-14 came about, but it’s like the US Open if you had a different number of players on the two sides of the draw.’’

There are other offshoots that must be dealt with as well.

Interleague play - a big hit, with attendance up 18.3 percent from last season - would have to be played by two teams almost every day during the season instead of in a block in May and June. Teams would have as many as 30 interleague games.

If that’s the case, serious consideration would have to be given about what to do with the designated hitter. It’s already tough enough for AL teams to give it up when they visit an NL city. Selig still seems to like the difference the DH provides each league.

Weiner would like to see a uniform DH in both leagues.

“You would have to have a discussion of the DH if we were going to greatly increase the number of interleague games,’’ he said. “But the ideas that are being discussed now would not greatly change the number of interleague games. So there haven’t been serious talks about modification to the DH rule.’’

A uniform DH would create more jobs for players, and that’s always the goal of the union.

Selig said he liked the idea of a reverse DH in interleague, with the AL cities not using the DH while the NL cities would, so fans can see how the other side operates.

About possible changes to the DH rule, Selig said, “It would take some type of a catalytic event to deal with that issue.’’ He did mention realignment being such an event.

And then there are the playoffs.

One playoff team would be added to each league, and an extra round would be added.

Would that round be sudden death or a three-game series? The TV networks are shooting for the excitement of sudden death.

If that’s the case, how would the regular season be reconfigured? Nobody will approve a reduction in the 162-game schedule, surely not the players, who would earn less money. And it would wreak havoc with the record books.

So a schedule would have to be arrived at that would appease all of the players’ concerns, which would include a suitable number of days off.

Weiner said players wouldn’t be opposed to a shorter spring training, so the season can begin in late March instead of April.

“There’s a lot of interest on the part of the players in revising the postseason structure and potentially expanding the playoffs,’’ Weiner said. “But that has an impact on the regular-season schedule in a number of different ways. So to say there seems to be an agreement that we should reform the playoff structure is one thing. To say that means we’re going to do it means another.’’

But based on the cooperation between the sides, and the goodwill shown so far, it’s just a matter of time.

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

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