The Astros’ eventual move to the AL West was something we all knew was in the works. Now it’s set for 2013, the latest move in Bud Selig’s long, successful and reliably Machiavellian stewardship of the game. You can wonder if it would have happened had the move not held up the sale of the team, but another 30-0 vote in favor provides history with Selig’s latest consensus-building triumph.
It’s appropriate that this went down in Milwaukee. If any city demonstrates baseball’s impermanence, it's Beertown. Milwaukee has been home to three different major league teams: The original Brewers of 1901 (who became the Browns in St. Louis a season later); the transient Braves, drifting from Boston on their way to Atlanta; and finally the former Seattle Pilots, who became Bud Selig’s Brewers in 1970.
The Brewers’ history since then has been as baseball’s geographic flywheel. They skipped from their initial placement in the old AL West to the AL East, trading places with the newly minted Texas Rangers after team owner Bob Short abandoned Washington, D.C., in 1972, before landing in the AL Central in 1994. Next they moved over to the National League Central as part of the 1998 expansion. That’s four divisions inside of three decades. So yes, of course Bud Selig was game for realignment, because when he was an owner, there wasn’t a realignment he wasn’t ready to accept.
What this means for scheduling remains to be seen. Maybe Jim Crane can plead for home-and-home matchups with as many of the Astros’ old NL Central rivals as possible. But as is, interleague play across the regular season’s six months should mean 30 games -- a fifth of every team’s schedule -- being played against the other league. The scheduling inequities of the present, with teams playing different interleague schedules against different interleague opponents of varying quality and playing an unbalanced intradivision schedule, seem likely to persist in some form after the Astros move to the AL West. That’s been a problem for determining the wild card all along.
Now, think on that, and keep in mind Bud Selig’s commitment to expanding the playoffs with a one-game wild-card play-in. On the one hand, you can see where his argument that this would be “more exciting” comes from. I suppose one benefit would be that the AL East division title would suddenly mean something for a change, because do you think for a moment that the Red Sox, Yankees or Rays want their seasons reduced to a one-game play-in? There’s also the chance that the presence of a weak Astros club in the AL West, playing an unbalanced schedule, could propel the Rangers and Angels towards 100-win seasons, at least in the short term.
For my two cents, it’s far more problematic than just that. Counting spring training, the expansion of the postseason slate would mean that two teams will spend eight months navigating an unfair schedule (thanks to year-round interleague play) and have it all reduced to little more than a coin toss, metaphorically. That makes for another big advantage to winning your division, certainly, since the two wild-card teams will probably have to use their best starter in that play-in game.
This is not to take too much away from getting to the new 15/15 league split. Achieving baseball’s new alignment is the latest feat of Bud Selig’s diplomacy, something for which he deserves to be congratulated. It’s an imperfect solution, although you could argue that it wouldn’t be baseball if some party wasn't left frustrated. The number of mandates the lords of the game had to reconcile -- interleague play, playoff expansion, realignment -- was guaranteed to leave more than a few unhappy. New Astros owner Jim Crane may be first in line after grudgingly accepting the move to the AL West, but once the 2013 schedule gets set, you can bet that he won’t be standing alone.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.