Realignment talk is swirling around MLB again as part of the negotiations for a new labor agreement, and that can only be good for the Rays.
Not that they are going to get freed from the rugged American League East — they should be so lucky — but the plan being discussed could be a huge help if it includes a switch to a balanced, or at least more balanced, schedule.
The leading idea appears to be shifting a National League team (Arizona, Houston and Pittsburgh are considered the top candidates) to the AL so there are 15 teams in each, with three five-team divisions (as opposed to the current six in the NL Central and four in the AL West) as MLB expands its playoff field by adding two more wild cards.
A more balanced schedule has been part of the discussion. There is also talk of eliminating the divisional structure, and more extensive realignment (by geography or financial bases), but those seem less likely.
"Any idea that has been contemplated would be helpful to the Rays," team president Matt Silverman said. "It can't get worse."
The benefit of the balanced schedule would be obvious: More games against teams with similar financial foundations and construction, such as the Royals and Indians, and fewer against their tougher and richer AL East rivals, specifically the Red Sox and Yankees, whom they currently play 36 times in a 162-game schedule (22.2 percent).
"As much as I relish and cherish the competition," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "tell me what other team would say I wish we played these guys 18 times each?"
There are some drawbacks to balancing the schedule, specifically at the gate as the Rays would have fewer home games with their top draws. Playing more games in the Midwest and West Coast time zones can hurt TV ratings and increase travel costs. While the wild-card races would be more equitable, there would be questions about diminishing the division races.
Plus, the switch to two 15-team leagues requires interleague games to be played throughout the season and brings into further question the inequity of having the DH in only one league.
But for the Rays, any change would be good. Maddon, who prefers a fully balanced schedule and no interleague play, said: "Whatever optimizes our chance of making the playoffs, I like."