According to Jon Morosi, Rob Manfred has expansion on the brain, and Major League Baseball could have two new franchises relatively soon. While there wouldn’t be any major progress in the next season or two, Morosi writes that “we’re five or six years — at the very earliest — from seeing the inauguration of new MLB franchises.”
There are many factors to consider in adding two new teams, one of which would be the dramatic reshaping of Major League Baseball. Seemingly every year, Yahoo, ESPN, and a host of other baseball centric websites propose their own way to realign the various divisions. While they’re mainly fun pieces designed to get readers talking, expanding MLB from 30 to 32 teams would make realignment inevitable.
“The sport’s growing revenues support the concept [of expansion], and Manfred cited the favorable schedule of 16-team leagues split into four divisions of four. (Tighter divisional footprints would make owners happy, because fewer road games would start at unfavorable times for local television.)”
Baseball currently has three divisions in each league, with five teams apiece. But if MLB were to expand to 32 teams, they’d have to reshape the structure of each league, and make some difficult choices in remolding the divisional layout of baseball. Manfred, and others (including the owners), would undoubtedly insist on keeping the major rivals in the same division, which means we could essentially guarantee that the Dodgers and Giants would remain together; as would the Yankees and Red Sox; and finally the Cubs and Cardinals. The rest would be up for grabs, although MLB would still have to take geographical proximity into account.
However before all of that becomes an issue, Manfred and his team would need to decide which cities would make the most sense for expansion. For Morosi’s article, he consulted with “people in the baseball industry, and three eminent sports business experts” and came up with his own list of four possible locations.
His first suggestion is likely the one that everyone can agree upon: Montreal. They had a team as recently as 2004, and the city has been begging for a second chance ever since the Expos packed up and left town.
“No city in North America is more prepared to welcome a Major League Baseball franchise, right now, than Montreal. If you’re surprised that I would make such a statement, then you must’ve missed the half-dozen hosannas I’ve written in support of Montreal as a baseball city…The city has drawn an average of more than 48,000 fans per game to Toronto Blue Jays exhibitions in 2014 and 2015; advance ticket sales are even more robust for this year’s series between Toronto and Boston.”
If Manfred is serious about expanding the league, Montreal deserves to get one of the new franchises. It makes too much sense for it not to happen. They’d already have a strong and committed fanbase, and would probably be able to use the Expos name and logo.
“The circumstances surrounding the Montreal Expos relocation to Washington D.C. are complex and controversial…The upshot is an entity formed by Major League Baseball took control of the Expos franchise, including its trademarks, and has maintained those marks ever since.”
Because of these factors, Montreal would likely be the first choice of MLB to get one of their two new franchises (although this would technically be the resurrection of a former franchise). As for the rest of Morosi’s list, he has Austin, Texas; Vancouver, Canada; and Mexico City, or another Latin American location. Each has its merits, although it’s nearly impossible to imagine that Vancouver would have a shot unless Montreal couldn’t be worked out. Morosi also notes that Charlotte and Nashville could be interesting destinations given their “strong population growth and favorable business climates” but that each would be “hampered by the fact that they recently opened new Triple-A stadiums.”
Expansion, while seemingly a pipe dream just a few years ago, appears to be a real goal for Manfred, and Major League Baseball. As of now, we’re at the infancy of this idea, and we likely won’t see any significant process for a couple years. However once the wheels get moving, and specific cities are being talked about, we’ll have a clearer idea of how this would change MLB, and what the timeline for expansion would be.