Major League Baseball has struggled to get evenly divided divisions since the West-Central-East system was implemented in 1994. Before 1998 brought the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the two western divisions were the only ones with just four teams. Expansion and the reshuffling of the Milwaukee Brewers (A.L. Central to N.L. Central) and Detroit Tigers (A.L. East to A.L. Central) didn't quite solve the problem, with the A.L. West still short at four teams and the N.L. Central ballooning to six teams. In 2013, MLB will finally achieve even distribution thanks to Jim Crane agreeing to move the Houston Astros to the A.L. West as a prerequisite to purchasing the team.
The Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners welcome a new team and with eyes wide given baseball's new even-more-unbalanced scheduling, the Astros finishing as baseball's worst team in back-to-back seasons, and 2012's introduction of the second wild card spot.
To help get to know the new neighbor I sent a few questions over to James at Astros County.
Jon: How is the Astros fan base reacting to the league change? Are they excited, upset, ambivalent or something else entirely?
James: Equal parts flat-out angry and resigned. I think "resigned" is a good way to describe Astros fans right now. Can't do anything about the move to the AL, can't do anything about the current roster. So I think we all know that the Astros are going to be bad, maybe until 2015, but it's a long-overdue rebuilding process.
Jon: Traditionalist symbol and former-GM Ed Wade left the Astros in disrepair from top to bottom, leaving his successor with a 56-win big league team and a farm system consistently ranked as the worst in baseball. The more progressive-minded Jeff Luhnow wasn't able to add to the win column in 2012, but has he given fans reason for hope?
James: There's definitely hope. Luhnow wasn't on the job a month before trading Mark Melancon for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland. We weren't used to the Astros being involved in a trade and thinking, "Wow. The Astros really screwed that other team over." (Pence trade aside). There's trust in the front office, and that's new for us.
Jon: Most baseball fans would have had trouble naming more than five members of the Astros active roster last season. Give us a rundown of the players you expect to be the biggest contributors in 2013.
James: Jose Altuve established himself as an everyday 2B (and a cult hero), and can hopefully build on last year and a strong Winter Ball performance so far. I'm looking forward to seeing what Justin Maxwell can do over a full-season, but I'm more excited about the development of Jarred Cosart, Jon Singleton, Delino DeShields, Jr and the rest of the system for another season.
Jon: What are the Astros doing this offseason to try and escape the MLB cellar?
James: Carlos Pena is a start, I think. There could be more low-risk, high-reward signings. But they were never going to sacrifice long-term success to make a run at Josh Hamilton. 2012 wasn't about 2012, and I think we'll see more of the same in 2013.
Related: Angels offseason Q&A with Garrett Wilson