MLB expansion on the horizon?

Maybe it’s the recent expansion of the Verniere family or possibly Admiral Ackbar’s recent remarks about playoff expansion that’s got me thinking about MLB  expansion again. But the more I think about it, the more I think it could be a reality sometime soon.

Each of the last four expansion teams has already made it to the World Series in their brief existence (wow, just typing that was a kick in the nuts for this Cubs fan) so there’s plenty of precedent to suggest future expansion teams can be successful quickly.  Revenues have grown exponentially over the last ten years so the demand is certainly there.  It’s also clear that MLB is always looking to penetrate new markets and give it’s television partners more product to sell advertising for (hence, recent rumblings about expanding the playoffs).

So why not take the next logical step and add two more teams to the American League?  The uneven number of teams in each league and varying division sizes absolutely scream for the reorganization and realignment that could come with 32 teams. Both leagues could then be made up of 4 four-team divisions just like the NFL.  Similarly, the playoffs could consist of the four division winners plus two Wild Card teams in each league. The top two division winners would get first-round byes while the lower two play 3-game series against the Wild Cards.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Selig had that in the back of his mind when he planted the idea of playoff expansion—that could easily be a stepping stone to this much larger plan.

Let’s just suppose for a moment that I’m right.  Then what cities would be granted the privilege of landing these new Major League franchises and how would realignment look? I’m glad you asked…

Possible Expansion Cities
There are several viable candidates across the U.S. worthy of consideration for expansion teams based on metropolitan population, proximity to existing franchises (close enough to create natural rivalries, but not too close to cannibalize an existing fan base), and proof they can support a major pro franchise in other sports.  Here are my top four choices:

#1. Portland, ORPossible team name: Portland Loggers (a.ka. Lagers)
I have to admit I’m a bit biased on this one because Portland is a damn cool town.  I’ve visited there a couple times and loved the weather (contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t rain there every day), the beautiful terrain and the impressive number of fantastic micro breweries.  Portland boasts the 23rd largest metropolitan population in the U.S.—just behind Pittsburgh and ahead of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Kansas City and Milwaukee.  Tired of living in the shadow of Seattle, Portland was a finalist to land the relocating Montreal Expos back in 2004 and would be a clear front-runner to land an expansion franchise.

#2. San Antonio, TX – Possible team name: San Antonio Alamos
I’m ranking San Antonio #2 only because it’s probably the next most viable candidate since it ranks second in population of my four candidates and has proven it can support a major pro franchise in the NBA’s Spurs.  Never been there and never plan to go there even if they land a franchise.  Texas has too many teams as it is, plus they really only care about football down there anyway.  Fuck Texas.

#3. Charlotte, NC – Possible team name: Carolina Blues
Baseball in the land of NASCAR and college basketball might sound like an odd fit, but North Carolina already hosts nine different minor league baseball clubs which trails only Florida, California, and New York and is tied with neighboring Tennessee.  Plus, Charlotte has attracted the NFL’s Panthers, NBA’s Bobcats and nearby Raleigh landed the NHL’s Hurricanes in the last 20 years so the region has a lot more diverse sports interests than it’s perceived to have.  Ranking just behind Kansas City but ahead of Milwaukee, Charlottes metropolitan area is in the top five fastest-growing in the U.S.

#4. Las Vegas, NV – Possible team name: Las Vegas Blackjax
Vegas, baby!  Vegas!  Though a Sin City franchise seems less likely than others due to baseball’s natural aversion to anything associated with gambling, the concerns about a professional sports team located in Vegas are ludicrous.  Gambling improprieties could happen anywhere and, in fact, it would be far less likely for any nefarious activity to occur with a Las Vegas franchise due to the increased scrutiny it would be subject to.  Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has been campaigning for an MLB franchise for over a decade now, stating “We’ll never be a major league city unless we have a major league team.”  Vegas has the nation’s fastest growing metro population which already ranks 30th largest.  Add to that the massive number of visitors each year and you have a stacked deck for success for baseball in the desert.

Division Realignment
Realignment is always a dicey proposition.  Introducing new teams and moving existing ones from traditional grouping while trying not to ruin long-held rivalries and satisfying geographical requirements is never easy.  Someone will undoubtedly be unhappy, but it’s been done before and no one died.  Hell, Milwaukee even changed leagues in 1995 and I’m not suggesting anything nearly that radical.  You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet and I think the following plan does a pretty good job of balancing all concerns.

AL WEST
Portland or Las Vegas
Seattle
Oakland
Los Angeles

Losing Texas to the AL South would easily be offset by the creation of a new rivalry between Portland and Seattle.  If not Portland, who would complain about a road trip to Vegas?

AL SOUTH
San Antonio or Charlotte
Texas
Kansas City
Tampa Bay

I’ll admit, kind of strange looking at first, but we’ll get over it and you know Tampa will be ecstatic to escape from the AL East—they never really made much sense geographically anyway.

AL NORTH
Minnesota
Chicago
Detroit
Cleveland

Will anyone even notice KC is gone? Nope.

AL EAST
Toronto
Boston
New York
Baltimore

The oldest rivalry in sports will remain intact so advertisers will be happy.

NL WEST
San Francisco
Los Angeles
San Diego
Arizona

I’m confident no one in the division will shed a tear seeing Colorado go.

NL SOUTH
Colorado
Houston
Florida
Atlanta

This is the only truly geographically unsatisfying division, but Colorado is so isolated that there just isn’t a perfect solution.

NL NORTH
Milwaukee
Chicago
St. Louis
Cincinnati

Ancient rivalries will be maintained at the minimal cost of losing Houston an Pittsburgh.

NL EAST
Pittsburgh
Philadelphia
New York
Washington

Losing Atlanta will be jarring at first, but rekindling the Key Stone State rivalry is well worth it and long overdue.

7 thoughts on “MLB expansion on the horizon?

  1. Interesting article, but I do not think this is the right economic climate for expansion. There were barely 12,000 fans in Oakland today, TB Rays have had a winning ball club for two years and barely draw 20,000.
    To me it would make more sense to just realign and add a team to the AL West from the NL. I would personally move KC to the AL West and bring back the Brewers into the AL Central.
    I really hope expansion does not happen.

    • 15 teams in each league doesn’t work because you’d either have tto play an inter-league game every day or give a team in each league a day off every day which is logistically impossible.

      Attendance in the two cities you mentioned is adversely affected because those happen to be the two worst stadiums in the majors, not because the game is economically unhealthy in general. I’ve been to Oakland several times – it’s a dump in the middle of an industrial wasteland. If they would just pass the new stadium bill they’ve been working on for over a decade, they’d be fine. Tampa’s stadium situation is even worse – horrible location, impossible to get to and, it’s agh king dome! It’s a miracle anyone shows up to games there. Imagine if they had a real stadium.

      Additionally, attendance in those markets is irrelevant to the untapped markets I mentioned. And it would be at least two years before any new team made it’s first pitch even if expansion plans were announced today. The economic downturn of 2008 & 2009 will hopefully be a distant memory by then so new teams will be in place just in time to reap the rewards of the upswing.

      The time is now, my friend. Empires aren’t built by the timid.

  2. I think the idea of expansion is a question of when, not if, for Mr. Selig. I think Portland would be an excellent choice for the reasons you listed above, but I would add the possibility of Memphis or New Orleans. Charlotte has yet to prove it can sustain an actual NBA franchise, and the number of minor league teams in the Carolinas might work against a major league team.

    However, I think you’re missing the obvious next move: the obliteration of the American and National League. Once the question of the DH is settled, there is no reason to continue working with a century-old division of baseball leagues. Baseball needs to resemble the NBA more than the NFL. Where cross-country trips aren’t much of a factor for weekly games, for an everyday sport like baseball, it can make a difference for a team from the west coast that might have to fly thousands of more miles a season than a team on the east coast. The obvious solution is to realign our (future) 32 teams into geographic divisions:

    West:
    Seattle
    San Francisco
    Oakland
    Dodgers
    Angels
    San Diego
    Arizona
    (Portland, Vegas, or Colorado if neither expansion team makes sense here)

    East:
    Boston
    Yankees
    Mets
    Philadelphia
    Baltimore
    Washington
    Tampa
    Miami

    North:
    Toronto
    Detroit
    Milwaukee
    Minnesota
    Cubs
    White Sox
    Cleveland
    Pittsburgh

    South:
    Atlanta
    Texas
    Houston
    Cincinnati
    St Louis
    Kansas City
    (Colorado and/or one or two expansion teams like Charlotte, New Orleans, Memphis, San Antonio)

    Given this new alignment, there’s many things you can do with scheduling. for the most unbalanced schedule possible, you can do 9 games each against your 7 division teams and 4 games each against the other 24 teams, for a total of 159 games. Problem with this is the uneven number of games, which means half the teams get once more home game than the other half.

    If you wanted to divide the divisions into two conferences, you could play 8 games against your 7 division foes, 7 against the 8 non-division conference teams, and 4 each against the other conference for a total of 160 games. There are still inequalities between home and away games with non-division conference games, but this plan does an excellent job of eliminating the horrible inbalance that exists with the current farce of interleague games.

    Somewhere in between, you could do 8 division games, 6 non-division conference games, and 5 non-conference games for 164 games. This might be the most likely situation, since it requires fewer two-game series than the others, and gives every team one additional home game a year.

    Ok. That’s enough for now. The back of my envelope is full.

  3. Now that’s some seriously revolutionary thinking, Dan-O! Might be a little too radical for the old guard and nay-sayers like Verniere, but I like it. I think your last scenario is the most plausible mainly because it adds a couple game instead of subtracting, as you said. I also like how it takes the positive aspects of inter-league play and minimizes the negative.

    To DH or not to DH? That is the question. Hmm…that might be a good subject for a blog…

  4. Your wrong about attendance not being down. 15 teams averaged 30,000 or more in 2010 and only 12 in 2011. Only four teams averaged less than 20,000 in 2010 compared to seven this season.
    Even the big dogs are drawing less, Yankees average attendance is down over 4,000 and the Cubs average is over 2,000 less, but that does not account for all the revenue lost on concession with actual attendance at these games closer to 10,000 less fans.
    Gecko said, “Greed is good” but GREED will destroy baseball as the mediocrity level will rise unless they expand and truly cap. Too late for that, so expansion is just a dumb idea right now.

  5. Who’s arguing attendance isn’t down? Of course it is—I pointed that out on Opening Day. But attendance and revenues are still light years ahead of what they were the last time MLB expanded so it’s not the issue you’re making it out to be. The sky isn’t falling, Chicken Little.

  6. I’d consider Vancouver, BC, as another expansion possibility. It has a larger metro area than each of the four cities you mentioned and is worth a look.

    But until every team is averaging a bare minimum of 20,000 fans per game (preferably 25,000), I don’t see how expansion is viable right now. Baseball needs a salary cap, but it won’t get that, so it needs a luxury tax with serious teeth, which might be possible.

    Other scattered thoughts …

    Don’t eliminate the AL & NL (long-time rivalries are good … no need to destroy tradition for the sake of destroying tradition) …
    Don’t add games to the regular season (they’re adding more playoffs next year already, adding more regular season games wouldn’t work well) …
    Don’t try to have each team play every other team each year – the season is measured in series (about 51) not games (82 for NBA & NHL) …

    In the meantime, balance the existing leagues. Having one division with 4 teams and another with 6 just isn’t right – move one NL team to the AL. (I’d suggest Houston, so that Texas has at least one team in its division not two time zones away.) Interleague play year-round is simple to do. There are about 51 series each year (2 per week except for all-star week). Six 3-game series per team makes for 90 series per year. Have one IL series all the time, and have two “interleague weeks” (one in the 1st season half, one in the 2nd) with an additional 19 or 20 IL games. Each team plays 72 division games, 70 non-division league games, and 18 interleague games (total 160). Balanced, simple, & fair.

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