Astros to the American League: Now what?
USA Today reported that the Houston Astros have agreed to move to the American League in 2013 and will conceivably join the AL West with their Arlington neighbors and winners of the last two American League pennants, the Texas Rangers. For the last year, it has been generally speculated that Major League Baseball would be realigning divisions and leagues sooner rather than later. The obvious choice, with minimal realignment, was Houston, as it would leave the six-team NL Central and join the four-team AL West, leaving each division with five teams and 15 teams in each league.
Personally, I would rather see a team actually from the west, but the move was a predictable one. Baseball sentimentalists may also have pushed for the Nationals to make the move and reclaim their Senators roots in the American League.
More importantly, this is the first step to a drastic overhaul in the anatomy of the MLB season as commissioner Bud Selig has already supported the eventual creation of a second wild card team in the postseason.
Moreover, the unbalanced 15-team system will necessitate regular interleague play, similar to what is scheduled in any other professional American sport. This means one major concession must be made: the designated hitter must be uniformly accepted. Although I have always found some nostalgia in the American League and National League being so unique from one another, the DH is necessary for this move to be successful and ensure competitive parity. Take for instance the nine-game road trip the Red Sox experienced in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Houston. Out of priority, David Ortiz averaged only one at-bat per game on this trip, pinch hitting in six of these games and sitting out entirely in another. Robbed of offensive potential, Terry Francona sacrificed defense by putting Adrian Gonzalez in right field and Papi at first.
In the absence of a uniform rule on the designated hitter, this is unfair to the athletes who are trying to remain constant and the American League teams trying to balance competitive rosters. Furthermore, there is no certainty that every team will suffer the same, inevitable, scheduling pitfalls. Though blasphemous to National League fans, the NL must accept the DH rather than abolishing it for one simple reason: it is optional. A team need only declare that it will elect to use a DH prior to the start of the game, otherwise, it is perfectly allowable to bat a pitcher at any time. If National League teams still see their pitchers as offensive assets, so be it. But, should this change be enacted, I foresee fewer bunting drills for pitchers in spring training.