Most of us knew this was coming. Ever since Major League Baseball tinkered with the divisions – multiple times over the past 20 years since Tampa Bay and Arizona joined the league – we all knew that the dreaded “E” word would bear it’s head once more.
I’ve written about it several times, had grand plans for a 32-team league. Two leagues of 16 teams in four divisions of four. Yes, much like the NFL, but there’s a reason why it works for them. But can it work for MLB? The answer isn’t as easy as yes or no.
According to a recent story by Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi, commissioner Rob Manfred has his eye on the possibility of expansion five or six years down the road, and only after teams like the Rays and Athletics address current stadium issues.
That means we could theoretically see expansion in two cities as well as two teams moving to two new cities. So, let’s take a look at some of the options for relocation or expansion. Morosi lists a few, we’ll start with those.
Montreal could take a team tomorrow. The team could play at Olympic Stadium while a new ballpark is built. The Rays could move there and wouldn’t have to change divisions, though for the first time, the Expos would be an American League team. The fans were given the raw end of the deal when MLB bought the team and moved it to D.C. They are ready to have baseball back in town, the legislators are ready to have it back in town and I think MLB is ready to go back to Montreal.
2- Austin, TX
Austin is a fast-growing city. Is it ready for Major League Baseball? I don’t think so. Nothing against the city or its residents. I just don’t think MLB will consider expanding to a city that has the 39th largest television market – which would be the lowest of all MLB teams.
3- Vancouver, BC
If Vancouver gets a team, it could be a huge deal for fans in the Pacific NW who aren’t necessarily aligned with the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners draw large numbers from the Vancouver area when the Blue Jays come to town. Giving that area their own team to pull for AND have them be a rival of the Mariners would benefit the whole region. Well, it would make a lot of people happy, except for those in…..
4- Portland, OR
The one site that Morosi doesn’t mention. Portland’s name has come up on more than one occasion in the expansion/relocation debate. However, the fact that the city lost their long-time Triple-A franchise several years ago to make room for a….wait for it……MLS franchise (GASP) makes Portland a tough sell. The city has done a lot over the last decade to address the lack of accommodation problem it faced earlier. But the main problem is now and always will be, the funding battle for a stadium. Unless the city had a plan approved and in place, I doubt MLB even looks at the Rose City this time.
5- Mexico City
As much as MLB would like to expand into a third country, the high cost of attending baseball games may be out of the question for a large part of the general population. I would love to see the game continue to grow globally. It’s just going to be a struggle, financially speaking.
So, now it’s time to play the guessing game. Let’s assume that MLB ends up moving one team (we’ll say the Rays) and Oakland finds a stadium option to stay in the Bay. Now, let’s assume that MLB will add two teams (one NL, one AL). Here’s what that could look like.
|NL West||NL Central||NL South||NL East|
|Los Ang.||Chicago||Atlanta||New York|
|San Fran||Milwaukee||St. Louis||Washington|
|AL West||AL North||AL Central||AL East|
|Los Ang.||Toronto||Texas||New York|
Now keep in mind, this is just one possibility. But think about what this model presents us. Vancouver getting a franchise gives Canada three teams, but also adds in a new team to the Northwest and gives the Mariners a true, geographical rival.
Moving Pittsburgh into the same division as the Phillies once again gives an in-division rivalry the Keystone state can get excited about. Separating the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates into separate divisions spreads the wealth, potentially. Plus, when you look at these divisions, the teams are all relatively close to one another, which will make travel easier. Currently, Seattle has to play nine or ten games a year at the Ballpark at Arlington (2,060 miles one way). With this model, the furthest, most frequent trip would be down to Anaheim (1,163 miles).
It’s yet to be seen whether MLB would continue with Wild Card berths or whether or not they would just have the Division winners advance to the postseason. If MLB truly wanted to adopt the NFL model, the top two teams (who didn’t win their division) in each league would make the playoffs with the two teams with the best records in each league getting a BYE in the first round. A best-of-three series here followed by the usual best-of-five and best-of-seven models would mean additional revenues for the league.
This probably isn’t the way things will shake out over the next decade. It’s just one vision of a possible future. Personally, I am not of the opinion that MLB should expand. Diluting the talent pool is a topic for another post, but it’s certainly one argument that can be made against expansion.
For now, we can only sit back and speculate. Would you like to see MLB expand? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.