The Mariners stand firmly behind the switch of the Astros into the AL West Division, team president Chuck Armstrong told me today.
“It’s better for everyone,” he said. “The Mariners fully support two 15-team leagues with three five-team divisions in each league. It’s better for the game, fairer, and makes scheduling easier.”
Armstrong, back in Seattle after attending the owners meeting in Milwaukee where the Astros’ sale was approved, said the M’s have long been a proponent of having an even number of teams in each division, dating back to the addition of the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays as expansion teams. Those two teams were accepted into MLB in 1995 and started play in 1998.
“Even back then, we were in favor of two 15-team leagues, with three five-team divisions,” he said. “We were told, because you’d have to have an interleague game every day, it just wouldn’t work. I think, in hindsight, it was true. Fans weren’t ready for interleague every day.”
Now, however, “Fans have accepted interleague play,” Armstrong said. “I think it’s time for 15-15. This is the easiest, simplest solution, and it doesn’t cause any further consternation. What it does, interleague has been compressed into a two- or three-week cycle. When you’re on the road, it puts your DH on the shelf for that period of time, and it’s hard for the DH to come back. I remember Edgar (Martinez) would have to sit on the shelf for two weeks, and he’s be rusty coming back. This way, it’s spread out over the course of the season.”
Armstrong is not fazed by the fact that their division, which has been the only one with four teams, is growing by one.
“Though much has been written about the change from four to five, we’re fine with that,” he said. “It’s better for the fans. They get to see another team come in. We play Anaheim, Texas and Oakalnd 19 times — fans can get tired of them. And in looking at several schedule drafts, it appears we’ll be traveling fewer miles, because it eliminates one trip back east. We’ll see how it actually comes out.”
They are adding another division rival in the central time zone, but he pointed out that if they combine the Rangers and Astros on the same road trip, it won’t be much of an added burden.
Armstrong has lived through years of realignment talks and knows how complicated it can get to find a proposal that works — and teams that are willing to move.
“Originally, we thought the American League would be the 16-team league, which would have worked out well, and the National League the 14-team league,” he recalled. “Mr. Colangelo (Jerry Colangelo, original owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks) insisted the Snakes go into the National League.”
Instead, the Brewers moved into the National League in 1998, setting up the format that will end in 2013, when the Astros join the AL West. Armstrong said he understands why the Astros are the team that is moving.
“After giving it thought, this is the easiest,” he said. “It only causes one team to move. If I were czar for a day, and knew I was doing something permanent, I might do something with another team. At one point (in the late 1990s), I even offered the Mariners up to the National League, where we could have revisited some of the old PCL rivalries. That’s not going to work. We like being in the American League.
“If drawing it up, I might do something different, but it would cause other teams to move, and that’s too wrenching. Here there was an ownership change, and it made it neater and simpler. I think it will work. Whether it works for an eternity, who knows.”
Armstrong said he also favors the expected addition of a second wild-card team in each league.
“I have come around on that,” he said. “I started off not. I don’t to get like the NBA or hockey, but I think it’s good.”