Angst turned me on to Tom Verducci's article about a radical realignment plan allegedly being considered by Major League Baseball to address some of the financial imbalances between the richest and poorest clubs.
"Floating realignment," as Verducci dubbed it, is a ridiculous idea. I am glad that MLB is thinking outside the box to address the current set-up, in part because it means that the commissioner's office isn't hellbent on instituting a salary cap. That said, floating realignment strikes me as a half-assed way of instituting a promotion/relegation system similar to professional soccer leagues around the world.
Promotion and relegation is simple in that it rewards the best teams and punishes the worst ones. In the current economic climate, where the richest clubs dwarf the earning power of nearly everyone else, it serves to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
The top league generally houses the richest clubs and a few plucky underdogs who work their way up from a lower division to take on the big boys. Sometimes, those underdogs find sustained success against the big boys and turn into a giant themselves. (Pittsburgh Pirates fans, pick up a copy of Soccernomics and dream of the day where your club becomes the next Olympique Lyon or Nottingham Forest.)
Of course, you simply cannot faithfully replicate the soccer system in MLB, because minor league teams are feeder clubs and not aspiring top-level baseball organizations. However, if you can create a plan to shuffle the 30 clubs in a way that separates the most successful teams from the minnows - while still giving the poorest clubs a chance to make the playoffs every season - you can address the current imbalance without overly compromising traditional structures.
My basic plan: three 10-team leagues, separated into two divisions each, initially stocked based on regular-season records from the previous season. Both the American League and the National League would still exist and would consist of 10 "traditional" clubs, split into two five-team divisions with geographical considerations. (I am somewhat arbitrarily defining "traditional" as any team created before 1977 or any team that hasn't re-located since 1969.) The 10 highest finishers from the previous season get to start the subsequent season in the same league.
The third league (I like calling it the Federal League in honor of the short-lived circuit from approximately 100 years ago), would initially be populated by the worst 10 records in the league from the previous season. They, too, what be split into two five-team geographical divisions, without regard to their previous league affiliations.
If this plan were to be implemented in time for the 2010 season, this is what the leagues would look like:
American League East
American League West
National League East
National League West
Federal League East
Federal League West
That's right, fellow Mets fans - our team would be competing for the Federal League East title in 2010!
I expect that, after 5 to 10 years, the lower-revenue teams and the perennial losers would find themselves spending most of their time in the Federal League. They would be joined by a few big clubs stumbling on hard times or with incompetent ownership groups (read: the Mets).
The difference between this structure and a traditional promotion/relegation set-up is that two Federal League teams would make the playoffs every season and have a puncher's chance at winning the World Series. I don't know of any other system out there that gives the likes of the Pirates and the Royals a legitimate playoff shot every season.