PHOENIX -- More and more, it's clear that realignment will come to baseball within the next two years, almost certainly resulting in a format that would see 15 teams in each league, with some interleague play on every day of the season.
In separate Tuesday sessions with the Baseball Writers Association of America, both commissioner Bud Selig and players union head Michael Weiner expressed an openness to a 15-15 plan, with Weiner saying that players have favored it for a decade or more. The players and owners have been discussing realignment, along with schedule and playoff reform, as part of negotiations for the new basic agreement.
Both Selig and Weiner ruled out what Selig called "massive realignment," which would involve multiple teams changing leagues, or a system that basically does away with the traditional leagues.
The 15-15 plan would require at least one team (almost certainly either the Astros or Diamondbacks) to change leagues.
It seems now that realignment won't come in time for the 2012 season, although Weiner said even that isn't totally impossible. But people in the game believe that realignment for 2013 is almost a given.
How would it look? Probably a lot like the plan I detailed in a column last month.
Why will it happen? Many reasons, but fairness is at the top of the list.
"Fundamentally, it's arithmetic," Weiner said. "[The players] take the competition very seriously. They want the competition to be fair. I know why 16-14 came about, but it's like the U.S. Open, if you had a different number of players on the two sides of the draw."
Under the current format, the National League Central has six teams, while the American League West has four (and the other four divisions have five teams apiece). By moving the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West, or by moving the Diamondbacks from the NL West to the AL West and then shifting the Astros to the NL West, you would have six five-team divisions, and you'd have a schedule that makes much more sense than the one in use now.
Both Selig and Weiner indicated that the details of realignment have not yet been decided, and Selig insisted that a resolution and an announcement are not "imminent." But with both sides so open to it, it's hard to believe now that it won't happen.
What won't happen, it seems, is a move to unify the designated hitter rule. Both Selig and Weiner suggested that with limited realignment and no significant increase in interleague play (most likely, each team would play no more than 30 interleague games in a 162-game schedule), the current system of a DH in one league and not in the other would not be changed.
"It would take some type of catalytic event to deal with that issue," Selig said.
While using the DH in both leagues (or in neither league), would make more sense, there's far too much resistance to that change.
"Good luck doing that," one baseball official said.
One change that could be made: A reverse use of the DH rule in interleague games, with the DH used in National League parks, and with National League (no DH) rules used in American League parks.
Another change that is coming, without a doubt: Adding one playoff team per league, with a either a play-in game or play-in series involving the two wild-card teams. The momentum seems now to be heading towards going with the one-game play-in -- and that's a good thing.
The playoff change could well happen in 2012. Realignment may wait for 2013.
But all the momentum now is in favor of it happening.