One group features the last team to win back to back pennants, as well as another two teams who made the playoffs last year. It should translate into quite a competitive group, perhaps among the best in all of baseball.
The other group, however, has had only one of its clubs reach the postseason in the last four years, including three who have not won a pennant in a combined eighty six years. A reasonable assumption would be that this quintet of teams would rank among the worst in Major League Baseball, probably with an embarrassing overall winning percentage.
The two groups, the American League Central Division and its counterpart in the National League, do indeed present extremes. If you based it on the previous paragraphs, however, you would be way off in your assumption.
With a combined record of 99-143 so far in 2018, the A.L. Central scarcely resembles the group that boasted has boasted two of the last three pennant winners as well as two playoff clubs as recently as last season. In fact, it is in danger of being represented in the postseason by a team that has lost more than it has won, since the 24-25 Cleveland Indians currently sit on top of the division.
Directly across the page, the situation in the N.L. Central is almost the opposite. The five clubs there boast a combined record of 127 wins and 120 losses, the best overall record among baseball’s six divisions. Take out bottom feeder Cincinnati, and that mark becomes 109-87.
Front office personnel, especially those of losing teams, are always quick to blame their market size for their lack of success. They claim their small fan base prevents them from pursuing big name free agents, but that excuse is clearly cannot be validated.
If a Midwest city such as Milwaukee can contend, as the Brewers have done the past two seasons, then a much larger city like Detroit has little excuse for finishing near the bottom for the last three years. The same thing can be said for the two Ohio teams, the Reds and Indians. Cleveland won a pennant in 2016, and it has been among the favorites to capture another each of the last two seasons. Cincinnati, on the other hand, have posted the worst overall record in baseball since 2015.
Again, you cannot blame the failure on market size, as the two cities are comparable in size and they share the same state. Two other clubs at opposite ends share not only the same state, but also the same city.
The Cubs have reached the N.L. Championship Series for each of the last three seasons, and they currently are near the top of the Central Division again in 2018. Conversely, their neighbors to the South Side of Chicago have not even smelled the postseason for a decade, and the White Sox so far this season have the worst record in baseball.
Commissioner Rob Manfred and other MLB officials need to address the drastic discrepancy in the game, for this situation between the Central Divisions is a symptom of a lack of competitive balance that will only worsen if it continues to be ignored. Allowing owners to gut their teams in what is euphemistically called a rebuild is alienating fans of America’s pastime, as is the tired excuse of market size.
When clubs fail to compete in successive seasons, the Commissioner’s office needs to punish the owners. For each season a team finishes under .500, the owner should be fined by MLB. Underachieving owners, then, would either have to improve their teams or sell them.
For example, Cincinnati owner Bob Castellini would be more likely to pursue a top pitcher if he knew another losing season would result in yet another fine from MLB officials. The same could be said for new Miami owner Derek Jeter, whose first move was to trade reigning National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton and two other All-Stars less than one month in the front office.
Most fans have been bemoaning two concepts in baseball during the past few seasons, namely home runs and strikeouts. The two concepts hurting the future of baseball even more, however, are the terms “Market Size” and “Rebuilding.”