The Case for a New Round of Expansion in Major League Baseball, to 36 Teams
From 1901 to 1960, 16 teams called Major League Baseball home. Between 1961 and 1977, a period covering 17 seasons, 10 franchises were added. It would be 16 more seasons until the Rockies and Marlins joined in 1993, followed by the Diamondbacks and what were then known as the Devil Rays five years later in 1998. While the Devil may be out of the Rays, there is no doubt that the devil is always in the details, or in this instance, those details that are not yet known as to baseball’s future expansion potential. But whereas it seemed possible in 2002 that contraction would occur, there are clearly no arguments in my view that support future contraction and yet several arguments that support future expansion.
Every time expansion takes place, there are those who say that the talent is watered down further in the Major Leagues, but can anyone genuinely say that our baseball of 2013 is more watered down than it was during the golden age? During the golden age, blacks were just beginning to be allowed to play in our highest level of pro ball and the concept of international players, much less international scouting and the draft were ideas that only the brightest outside the box thinking types could have conceived. Now look at where our game is today, the Great American Pastime has become the great global game and all signs are that it will only continue to grow all over the world. Sure there have always been the baseball hot beds like Venezuela and the Dominican, but look at what developments have taken place in nations like the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Mexico, South Korea, all who have contributed a great deal of talent to our top level of baseball. I have not even mentioned Japan, which had 0 MLB players in 1994, now you are likely to find a player from Japan on every single organizational roster and more than just one in some cases. Then there are the many Cuban players who have defected and come to the US to play. If and when relations are ever more open between the two bitter rival governments, there will be a flood of talented players coming across the Florida straits seeking big league money and big league exposure.
Then there is Europe, which many baseball experts who follow the international game believe is the future growth spurt of an even deeper international talent pool. It would not be surprising at all to see nations like Italy, Germany, France, and Spain get to where the Dutch are today and that can only mean one thing, even more big league capable players seeking work.
What does this mean for the future of MLB? It simply means that the game which is expanding globally will eventually have to expand to meet fan and player demands if our professional baseball circuit is to maintain its clear status as the world premier league of top notch professional competition. Now, I present my big and bold expansion proposal.
The expansion would be a record for MLB, six teams at one time. Some of you are now taking a big gulp and catching your breath, really, six teams? But let’s put this in some perspective. IN 1969 when four teams joined, they increased the size of the league from 20 to 24 teams, or an increase of 20% in size. Each team took 30 players in the expansion draft, meaning each of the 20 existing organizations lost six players to the new kids on the block. IN the 1977 expansion that added just two teams in the AL, they too took 30 players each. Since they only drafted from AL rosters, the impact was similar for those 12 existing AL teams, losing five players each. The impact on existing teams was much less in the 1993 and 1998 expansions because for one thing, more existing teams were available to be picked from. So in 1992, the Rockies and Marlins each added 36 players, six more than in prior expansions, but the impact was just three players from each NL organization, three players from eight AL organizations, and 2 players from the remaining six AL members. The 1997 expansion saw the Rays and Diamondbacks each take 35 players, this time as before, some organizations lost three players and others lost just two. Given the fact that we now have 30 teams plus all of the affiliated minor league clubs that are part of the farm systems, expanding by six teams and letting each team take 25 players would not be asking all that much. If each new team took 25 players, that would mean a loss of 5 players from each existing organization, which would be no more impactful than what we saw in the 1969 expansion. Furthermore, increasing from 30 to 36 teams is mathematically exactly the same as increasing from 20 to 24 teams, in that you expand the size of MLB by 20%.
Where to put these six teams? Now there are several approaches that one can take when thinking of where and how to expand. Fans and critics will take note and offer their own ideas and responses, but when reading this. in my view, what follows is a sound judgment in terms of my philosophy of expansion.
I’ve read a couple articles recently that said if baseball expands, Brooklyn should be considered and I agree, given the history of baseball in that location. But the one thing I would say that would counter this view, is the fact that baseball is in more dual markets than any other sport. The NBA has two teams each in Los Angeles and New York, assuming the Kings stay in Sacramento, they are not too far from Oakland which is home of the Warriors, though Sacramento is not considered part of the Bay Area market like San Jose and thus the reason San Jose is much favored over Sacramento to land the Athletics assuming they do eventually move from Oakland. The NFL has three dual markets, Oakland/San Francisco, Washington/Baltimore, and New York. The NHL has a dual market with Los Angeles/Anaheim and a tri market with New jersey and the two New York teams. Baseball has five dual markets, Los Angeles/Anaheim, San Francisco/Oakland, New York, Washington/Baltimore, and Chicago. Add to that fact that Philadelphia is right between DC and New York, San Diego is not that far from Anaheim, and Milwaukee is not far from Chicago, and you quickly see that 15 teams or one half of all of MLB is concentrated in five geographic regions, more than any other sports league. Those facts which are very strait forward doom the Brooklyn idea.
So where does MLB go? Go west was a phrase heard during the mass expansion of the United States and North America in general, I apply that in part to baseball, which has cities in Portland and Vancouver that both seem ready to support the great game. Vancouver was a candidate for the 1998 teams but was quickly passed over for the Florida Sun Coast and Desert southwest. Portland has also been mentioned for years as a future expansion or relocation site and it is time that baseball put steaks down in a city that has proven it will support a team that tries to put a good product out there for the fans, see the Portland Trail Blazers for that example from pro hoops.
City number three, San Antonio. The Rangers and Padres series at the end of spring training drew 35 thousand on the same night the Spurs were playing at home, then 40 thousand for a 1PM start the next day, at a place that can only be described as the most temporary baseball setting imaginable, the Alamodome, which was never built or intended for baseball of any kind, period! This would provide a third team in Texas and it is crazy that the Lone Star State, home to a population only smaller than California does not have a third team. The Dallas Fort Worth metro is after all much larger in population than Washington/Baltimore and one could genuinely argue that a second team could also go to DFW, though I don’t propose such a move.
My other three teams go in the eastern region of the continent, one back to Montreal which MLB never gave a fair chance and as we now see in Miami, the marlins owner cares nothing about the fans and he was the nail in the coffin for the Expos in 2001 when his ownership forced the clock to strike midnight in Montreal. Remember that there were several times back in the period of the 1970’s and early 1980’s that the Expos were on par with or outdrew their counterparts in new York, both the Mets and Yankees, so history tells us with no doubt that Montreal was and is a baseball town. They should revisit the plans for Labatt Park, because the Big Owe will only serve as a temporary home.
Finally, the fifth and sixth franchises go to the southeast US, no not to Florida which has sadly been baseball’s worst experiment for the simple fact that unlike Phoenix, Denver, and other cities mentioned here, Florida cities are full of transplants who could give a damn about a local team because they root for their team from back home. While one of these two slots could instead go to Brooklyn, I have instead chosen Charlotte and Nashville. Both have had success with new franchises and only ownership issues caused concern for Nashville’s NHL franchise and ruined fan interest in Charlotte’s first NBA team. Both cities are solid distances from the nearest markets of St. Louis, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Washington, certainly further away than San Diego is from Orange County and further than Milwaukee is from Chicago.
So now to the question of alignment, how will this all work? My proposal calls for Charlotte to join the existing teams in the AL East and for Nashville to join the AL Central. Portland and San Antonio would both go to the AL West, while Houston would transfer back to the NL Central. Vancouver would join the NL West and Montreal the NL East, plus Pittsburgh and Atlanta would flip divisions, Atlanta to the NL Central and Pittsburgh to the NL East. Now that I’ve made everyone grab for their maps, here is the easy to digest version of alignment.
AL East, Toronto, Boston, NY Yankees, Baltimore, Charlotte, Tampa.
AL Central, Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago Sox, Nashville, Cleveland, Detroit.
AL West, San Antonio, Texas, LA Angels, Oakland, Portland, Seattle.
NL East, Miami, Washington, NY Mets, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Montreal.
NL Central, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Atlanta.
NL West, Colorado, Arizona, San Diego, LA Dodgers, San Francisco, Vancouver.
Time table for expansion, award franchises in 2015, franchises can begin participating in the amateur draft and international free agency process in 2016, new MLB teams take the field opening day, April 2, 2018.