At some point today, the 29 current owners of MLB franchises will vote to approve Jim Crane to become the new owner of the Houston Astros with the caveat that he will pack up the Astros and move him all the way over to the far away land of the American League.
It is a change that almost nobody likes, not even Jim Crane (or so he claims), nobody that is but Bud Selig who is going to see to it that this realignment scheme that he has hatched comes to fruition in spite of all the people shouting it down from every corner of the baseball world.
Why is it exactly that nobody seems to be in favor of Houston switching leagues? I believe the top list of complaints goes something like this:
- Ahhh!!! Change, I'm scared.
- Ewww, it's different. I feel icky.
- But, but, but... that isn't how it was when I grew up.
- I need something to complain about.
- It means that there will be constant interleague play throughout the regular season which is morally and ethically wrong to the point that it might trigger the apocalypse.
In my estimation, only one of those objections is actually valid. I'll let you figure out which one.
If there is one good way to shut up a bunch of whiners, the best way to do it is to ask them to actually offer a solution for the problem that is causing them so much angst. Most of the time no viable alternative exists. So, I have to ask, is this one of those times? Is there a better option for baseball than moving the Houston Astros to American League?
Option #1 - Don't Move Anybody
On the surface, this seems like a great idea since folks are so pleased with the status quo. However, the status quo is going away when Bud Selig's other brainchild, the second Wild Card, goes into effect. There is no way MLB is reversing course on that decision, even if it is more unpopular than the one we are debating. With two Wild Cards in each league, having 14 teams in one league and 16 in the other while all teams play unbalanced schedules just doesn't make sense, not that it ever did, but it makes even less sense now. Someone has to move from the National League to the American League so that we can have nice, symmetrical leagues each with 15 teams and three five-team divisions. Sorry, folks, but this one is a non-starter.
Option #2 - The Milwaukee Brewers
This is the team almost everyone thinks should be switching leagues. After all, they have only been in the National League since 1998. Send them back to where they came from, right?
Wrong. You see, one of the things the incumbent some of the AL West members dislike about Houston joining their ranks is that they don't really meet the whole "west" criteria of the AL West. Houston is in the Central time zone, which makes for a big increase in late afternoon start times for Angels, Mariners and Athletics fans and a plethora of late evening start times for Astros fans. Which brings us to Milwaukee. They are even less west than the Astros are, especially when you take into account their more northern latitude. Clearly the Brewers couldn't join the AL West, meaning they would have to go to the AL Central and someone in the AL Central would be evicted in turn.
But who would that be? Kansas City? Probably not since it would create similar problems, just a little bit more north. Cleveland? Yeah, right. Detroit? Not a chance? Chicago? Don't even think about it? Minnesota? Don't make me laugh.
Like it or not, from a geographic standpoint, Houston is the lesser of six evils.
Option #3 - The Arizona Diamondbacks
Another popular suggestion since the D'Backs only came into existence just before the turn of the century. What's more, they supposedly were founded with a handshake agreement that the commissioner could move them to the AL should he ever see fit. Seems like a perfect time to exercise that option, no?
In many ways it does, especially since Arizona is such a natural fit geographically. What doesn't fit about them though is both their past and present. Even though they haven't existed for very long, the Diamondbacks already have a won a World Series and now they have rebuilt themselves back into legit contenders. To flip them over to the American League now would be an insult to the memory of that 2001 team and, even worse, potentially short circuit the development of a young, competitive team that would have to make substantial roster changes in order to fit in to the American League. As unhappy as Houston fans are about their move, Arizona fans would be justifiably apoplectic if they got screwed over so badly right in the middle of a great opportunity for them to win.
For Houston, none of that is a problem. Despite just finishing their 50th season in the league, Houston has only made the post-season eight times, winning just three playoff series, one pennant and zero championships. It is a history, but it isn't much of one. More importantly, the Astros are coming off a season in which they were the worst team in the baseball and their third losing season in a row. Since they suck already, Houston can easily absorb the tough transition that comes with switching leagues and adjusting the roster. And since their farm system isn't very highly regarded either, Houston doesn't even have much of an excuse should they try and claim that realignment will stunt their prospect development pipeline.
In other words, Astro fans, your team picked a bad time to suck.
Option #4 - The Colorado Rockies
On paper, the Rockies are a nice compromise for everyone in regards to all of the above arguments. They are already "west" enough to play in the NL West. They've only been around since 1993 and have no championships and just three playoff appearances. They also are coming off a losing season at 73-89, which isn't awful, but the Rockies don't have the look of a team heading in the right direction in the immediate future. But the long-term future, that is another story.
The Rox have it hard enough playing all their home games at such a high altitude. It has taken them until the last few years to come up with a formula where they can actually develop pitchers that can have some kind of sustained success despite their surroundings. The last thing they need is to move to a league that is proven to be much tougher on pitchers. Switching leagues would set the Rockies back by years, potentially several, potentially permanently. Even with a $50 million payday (the amount Crane is rumored to be getting as a discount on his purchase of the Astros) being dangled in front of them, Colorado management can't possibly take that kind of risk. No amount of one-time payment will convince them to take the chance that a move the American League will damn them to an existence of perennial losing.
For the Astros, no such risk exists. It could take them a few years longer to get back to being respectable, but once they make the necessary adjustments, this move will be just an unpleasant memory. So, suck it up Houston fans. Besides, one can never rule out the possibility that some day after Bud Selig rides his used car off into the sunset of retirement, the new commissioner will institute a more radical realignment that makes a lot more sense than this relatively minor tweak. By then, the Astros should be just getting themselves back into contending shape and have to start the process all over again. Fun!
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