Weiner discusses realignment with Rays
Union chief addresses possible competition changes
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- A radical realignment of baseball's divisions would help few teams more than the Rays, who share a division with the Yankees and Red Sox -- annually two of the game's largest revenue-generating clubs.
Not surprisingly, the players are asking about it.
Realignment was one of several topics union chief Michael Weiner discussed with the Rays prior to their game against the Blue Jays at Charlotte Sports Park on Wednesday. It is likely to become a hot topic as the league and union discuss a new collective bargaining agreement over the next two years.
The current Basic Agreement is set to expire on Dec. 11, 2011.
"A realignment that would completely change the identities of the leagues is something that has to be given a lot of thought," Weiner said. "A realignment that retains the identity of the leagues but tries to address ... competitive balance is something the players would have to consider."
Last month, Sports Illustrated reported that a special committee formed by Commissioner Bud Selig was discussing a "floating" realignment plan, in which teams could annually change divisions based upon geography, payroll and their plans to contend.
When asked about realignment during a Cactus League visit on Saturday, Selig said: "I do believe in some realignment because I do believe it can work, just as I believed in the Wild Card, Interleague Play, revenue sharing. It's something that I want to keep thinking about. When I'm on long airplane rides and travels, which are a lot lately, I'll fiddle around with divisions and things. But one thing about it, you can come up with a hundred different [scenarios]. So we'll just see how it works out."
Such a plan would seem to directly benefit teams such as the Rays, whose roughly $68 million payroll falls well short of the standards in New York ($208 million) and Boston ($122 million). Facing those two teams a combined 38 times each year -- and competing against both of them for a postseason berth -- is an uphill battle.
Yet divisional rivalries are important to the league and the union, and Weiner said his group will attempt to do what it can to preserve them. Whether that means ditching the idea of realignment in favor of an altered schedule, for example, will be discussed at length in the coming months.
The NFL uses a system in which a portion of each team's schedule is based upon how that team finished in the standings the previous year. MLB may similarly tinker with its own schedule.
"The schedule is one way to deal with that," Weiner said, though he indicated that it may not be the best way. "The NFL, for example, has a history of using their schedule very aggressively to try to create competitive balance. Baseball has a different tradition. It's just different. There's a certain integrity to the schedule. And we've tampered with that, obviously, with Interleague Play and some other things. Baseball also has a tradition where the leagues in baseball have more meaning than the conferences in football or the conferences in the other team sports."
Aiding the Rays recently has been the league's revenue-sharing process, in which the wealthiest clubs are required to help finance the poorer ones. With television deals and local revenues varying widely from city to city, that has only helped teams such as Tampa Bay so much. But it has helped.
Still, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg told WDAE radio last month that the team would likely reduce payroll for 2011. Though the league and the union carefully watch how revenue-sharing dollars are spent, they also take pride in being flexible. If teams prefer to spend their cash on the Draft or international scouting instead of free agency, the union will not interfere.
Only in extreme cases will the union intervene, as it did last month in Miami. Unsatisfied with how the Marlins were allocating their revenue-sharing money, Baseball and the union negotiated with the team. Shortly thereafter, the Marlins announced that they would begin increasing their player payroll.
Though Weiner would not say whether or not the union may take such a step with other clubs, he did note that he continually monitors every team's budget.
"Every team that receives revenue-sharing dollars is monitored," he said. "I wouldn't say there are any teams that are targeted, but we're monitoring every single team and figuring out how best to give force to the provisions in the [Basic] Agreement."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.