Andrew Stetka: Realignment could factor into how quickly O’s can compete

Following a weekend sweep at the hands of the second-worst team in baseball, the Orioles remain the worst team in the game at 40-97. They are barreling toward one of the worst campaigns in team history and are starting a rebuilding process that is expected to be measured in trips around the sun rather than mere months.

I’m going to bet many Orioles fans chose not to watch much of this weekend’s series against the Royals in Kansas City. College football got underway, the U.S. Open tennis tournament is taking place in New York and plenty of folks are busy drafting fantasy football teams or just generally enjoying their last bit of summer. The O’s aren’t at the front of mind for many. But while catching some of the action at Kauffman Stadium over the last few days, I found myself thinking more about the future of baseball than the future of the Orioles. I am continually wondering what the game will look like when the O’s are good again (and yes, they will be good again).

There’s been a lot of chatter in recent years about potential realignment in Major League Baseball that is likely to go along with expansion. Charlotte, Portland, Nashville and Montreal are among the North American cities rumored to be in the mix to get a major league team in the near future. Any expansion to 32 teams would have to come with a form of realignment. That would drastically change the competitive balance of the game.

Right now, the top three teams in baseball are in the American League, and the junior circuit has five of the top six by record. In a few years, leagues may be a thing of the past, and it could come with rule changes. The designated hitter could be gone and so to could rivalries within current divisions as we know them. There are a few options for MLB if it expands to 32 teams. There could be eight divisions of four teams, similar to what we see in the NFL. Or we may see four eight-team divisions, grouped by geographic region.

Part of the incentive that baseball would have to present to the MLB Players’ Association in making such changes would be a cut down on travel. The current road trip that the O’s are on sees them play in three different time zones. Looking ahead to next season’s schedule, I was struck by one particular road trip the Orioles will make. They play a home game on Thursday, May 23 against the Yankees, then are in Colorado the next night to start a three-game series with the Rockies. They then return home Monday afternoon for a game against the Tigers. The O’s will also make two different swings into the Pacific time zone during 2019. Much of this travel can be cut down if teams are more properly grouped into divisions and forced to play more games in their region.

The Orioles could very well find themselves in a division without the Red Sox and Yankees, which would obviously improve their chances of competing. They may instead be bunched with some current National League teams like the Nationals, Phillies, Pirates and Braves. It’s not that this kind of realignment would drastically speed up the Orioles’ timeline to competitiveness, but it also can’t hurt. Realignment is also going to likely lead to expanded playoffs, which makes it just that much easier to be competitive.

The next few years are going to mean a lot of changes for the Orioles, but also for baseball at large. I’m interested in what direction things start to head, despite the fact that the O’s are likely to experience more losing than winning over the next few years. Changes in the game could go a long way toward deciding the shape of the Orioles’ competition at large and how they end up aiming to get back to October.

Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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