MLB's owners unanimously approved the sale of the Houston Astros from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane today, and included a $65 million price cut in the deal. The Astros will leave the NL Central and join the AL West for the 2013 season, and, to the relief of symmetricists everywhere, each league will have 15 teams.
In the deal, McLane agreed to cut the price from $680 million to $615 million. The AP reports that MLB will cover part of his losses by paying him $35 million over three years (last season's 106 losses are not recoverable).
The move is, at least in theory, exciting for the American League's mediocre teams that might benefit from playing the Astros more frequently. From the Los Angeles Times:
The realignment will create three five-team divisions in each league and a more balanced schedule. Teams are expected to play 72 games - 18 each - against division opponents, 60 against teams in their league's other two divisions and 30 interleague games.
It will also require interleague play throughout the season.
The move would seem to benefit the Angels and other AL West teams to play 18 games a year against the Astros. Houston had a record of 56-106 last season, traded its best player, outfielder Hunter Pence, to Philadelphia and appears several years away from playoff contention.
Still, Angels president John Carpino doesn't see it as an upgrade: Traveling to different time zones will be a burden on the team, and that's to say nothing of the added interleague play that everyone loves to bitch about as is. Geographically, he says, it doesn't make sense:
The Rangers and Astros, Carpino said, could share a division with Arizona, Colorado and Seattle. In the Northeast, Carpino would put the New York Yankees and New York Mets, Boston, Baltimore and Washington in a division.
"If you're going to look at realignment, then why don't we really look at it?" Carpino said. "Let's look at natural rivalries and what makes geographical sense. Does throwing the Astros in the AL West solve the real issues except making two 15-team leagues?"
It's called symmetry, Carpino! Get with the program.
The other news out of today's meeting is that the league will add two more wild-card teams to the playoffs beginning in 2013, expanding the postseason field to include 10 of the 30 teams. Each will enter a one-game playoff with the other wild-card; the winner will advance to the League Division Series and the loser will call it a season.
We've known this was coming for a while, but it's worth emphasizing if only because it's so rare that baseball does something clever. The purists will complain about playoff creep, but in a single stroke, the league ensured that a larger share of teams have an incentive to compete until the end of the season (whether it's the division leaders who don't want to slip into the uncertainty of the one-game wild card playoff, or the middling teams for whom a handful of additional wins might mean a playoff run). That's good for fans, and that's good for baseball's revenue streams. It's rare that those two things line up.