I originally posted this back in May, but I think it’s even more relevant now that Houston is going to the AL to make two 15-team leagues. The experiment with interleague play every single day of the season will prove to be unsatisfactory for teams, the league, and fans alike. We’ve already heard this will halve the number of games between the Cubs and Sox to be replaced by a riveting Cubs/Mariners or Sox/Nationals series. That hurts the bottom line which was the whole reason interleague play was created in the first place.
Besides reduced revenues, the DH is another major issue. I don’t see the Senior Circuit adopting the DH anytime soon and there’s no way in hell the Players Association is going to sacrifice any jobs by eliminating the DH in the AL, so it is here to stay. The only solution will be to add a team to each league to restore an even number of teams in each.
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).
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 one or even 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 first planted the idea of playoff expansion which is now a reality—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…
Plausible 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, OR – Possible 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.
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.
Portland or Las Vegas
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?
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.
Will anyone even notice KC is gone? Nope.
The oldest rivalry in sports will remain intact so advertisers will be happy.
I’m confident no one in the division will shed a tear seeing Colorado go.
San Antonio or Charlotte
This is the only truly geographically unsatisfying division, but Colorado is so isolated that there just isn’t a perfect solution.
Ancient rivalries will be maintained at the minimal cost of losing Houston an Pittsburgh.
Losing Atlanta will be jarring at first, but rekindling the Key Stone State rivalry is well worth it and long overdue.