The expansion of the AL West, which has been much discussed in the past year, is expected to be finalized this week. By all accounts, the Houston Astros will switch from the National League Central to join the Mariners’ division in 2013.
As I discussed last month, the Mariners will be losing a huge advantage that they rarely took advantage of — being a member of the only four-team division in baseball. If the switch goes through as expected when the owners meet this week in Milwaukee in conjunction with the General Mangers Meeting, the Mariners, Rangers, Angels and A’s will, in 2012, be enjoying their final season of having to beat out just three teams for the division title.
All other divisions in MLB have five teams, except for the NL Central, which has six. When this move is completed, each of six divisions will have five teams, leading to a much more equitable schedule. The departure of Astros to the American League will leave each league with 15 teams. One of the side effects of having an odd number of teams in each league, unavoidably, will be an interleague game virtually every night of the season. Obviously, that will have significant ramifications on the schedule.
Here’s how the events are expected to unfold this week, as reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today: Owners will begin their quarterly meetings Wednesday in Milwaukee, with the sale of the Astros from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane one of the items on the agenda. Commissioner Bud Selig is expected to recommend approval of the sale — but under the condition that Crane agree to switch leagues. Crane has balked because of fear of losing television revenue from having divisional road games start so late in Houston. SI.com’s Jon Heyman is reporting that MLB has agreed to assuage Crane by giving him an $80-million discount off the $680-million sale price.
This is all tied into the expected expansion of the postseason that figures to be a part of a new collective bargaining agreement. A new CBA is also said to be imminent, and it has been widely reported that it will include a second wild card team in each league, and an extra round of playoffs.