- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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PHOENIX -- "Massive realignment" isn't "on the horizon," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday, in his annual midseason meeting with the Baseball Writers Association of America.
But later Tuesday, in a separate session with the baseball writers, union chief Michael Weiner said that realignment to two 15-team leagues, and a potentially extensive overhaul of the regular-season and postseason schedules, are ideas that have "a lot of appeal to players."
Selig spoke first Tuesday and said stories suggesting realignment is "imminent" have "amazed me."
"Is there anything imminent? I don't know where those stories are coming from," the commissioner said.
But Selig also admitted there are "things I'd like to accomplish" that only realignment can provide -- such as evening out the number of teams in all six divisions and making the schedule for competing teams more fair.
The commissioner reiterated his longstanding reservations over having interleague play throughout the season, an inevitable consequence of going to 15 teams in each league, saying, "I like it the way it is." But he conceded that he might be willing to soften that opposition if he could achieve larger objectives.
"Would I go to 15 and 15? I don't know," Selig said. "It would depend on how everything else broke out and what we were trying to do."
Later Tuesday, Weiner said the two sides "haven't come to any agreement on any aspect" of realignment or changes to the schedule, regular-season or postseason. But he said all of those issues are being openly discussed and portrayed those conversations as being far more positive than they were a decade ago, when the players first proposed realignment to two 15-team leagues.
"To me," Weiner said, "the most productive change in the dialogue about 15-15, from where it was 10 or 11 years ago when it was being discussed, is that people are focusing on the positives of it, the undeniable positives of it, frankly, in terms of fair competition -- as opposed to back then, when people were focusing on, 'Well, you have to have interleague play all year round.' ...
"Like a lot of things in life," Weiner went on, "maybe 15-15 ain't perfect. But the fact that we're focusing on, again, those undeniable positives, I view as a real plus."
Weiner said he didn't want to give anyone the impression that the two sides are "far along" in working toward an agreement on any of these issues, because "we aren't." However, he gave as clear a picture of where baseball might be headed on this front as any baseball figure has previously outlined.
When asked, for instance, whether year-round interleague play might provide the impetus for baseball either to eliminate the DH in both leagues or adopt it in both leagues, Weiner said that the schedule itself wouldn't be changing radically enough to make that necessary.
"You have to have a discussion of the DH if we were going to greatly increase the number of interleague-play games," he said. "But again, (while) we're at the discussion stage ... the ideas that are being discussed now, if we were to reach agreement on an interleague schedule, would not greatly change the number of interleague-play games. So there haven't been serious talks about modification to the DH rule."
Weiner emphasized repeatedly that the players see realignment as part of an extensive redesign of the regular-season schedule, the postseason schedule, an expanded postseason and even, potentially, spring training.
Weiner said those things are "all connected," and said "there is a lot of interest, on the part of the players, in revising the postseason structure, and potentially expanding the playoffs. But that has an impact on the regular-season schedule in a number of different ways. So to say that there seems to be agreement that we should reform the playoff structure is one thing. To say that that means we're going to do it is another."
The players continue to favor two 15-team leagues, in the interest of making the schedule virtually even for all teams in a division, and to allow all clubs to battle the same number of teams for first place within their division. And the union's stance on expanding the postseason is connected to how those concerns are addressed.
So because the players believe all those issues are tied together, Weiner said it's "unlikely" an agreement on realignment, schedule changes and adding two wild cards could happen in time to implement those changes for next season.
"I won't say it's impossible to have a revised schedule for 2012," he said. "We have, at various times, changed our schedule later (in the calendar year) than we are now. But I think it's unlikely that, if we're going to have a major change in the schedule, it could be effective before 2013."
That didn't necessarily mean, however, that the two sides couldn't make a separate deal only to expand the playoffs, Weiner said, because "that deal could be made much later than a deal that affected the regular-season schedule as well.
"But the discussions at this point are not focused on a postseason-only deal or a realignment-only deal, or a more-sensible-travel-schedule deal, or a spring-training deal," he said. "They're focused on a comprehensive deal. The practical deadline for making changes to the regular-season schedule is clearly earlier than the deadline for making changes to the regular-season schedule. So clearly, if bargaining moved in a way that we decided to make a postseason-only deal, that could be done later and still be effective for 2012."
Jayson Stark is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com.