Expansion? A Few Thoughts


Commissioner Rob Manfred stated during the All-Star Game festivities that he is open to expansion in “the near future.” Manfred says he’s bullish on the game, while acknowledging re-location is possible in cities with stadium issues. He also specifically mentioned Montreal, while saying the city needs a new stadium to be considered.

First, let us remember that any true expansion would be two new teams at once. I don’t think Major League Baseball would feel confined to the U.S. to do that though. Let’s also remember there are stadium issues in Tampa and Oakland that are starting to get uncomfortable with the municipal leaders. It’s also worth noting that when baseball did expansion in 1993, it did so again five years later in 1998, so it stands to reason they could go that route again. So baseball could have several moves coming in the years ahead. But where?

The Obvious Domestic Cities

Let’s start by looking at the obvious cities in the U.S. If the Rays Stadium deal were to fall through, or baseball just wanted expansion, Orlando, FL could be looked at to keep a team in the northern Florida market. New Orleans could be considered as well, staying on the Gulf. I would take a guess though that Charlotte would be the favorite, especially since the Rays have a relationship assumedly with the state officials there, since they play AAA ball there. Those cities could be considered as well for expansion, as could possibly a city like Nashville. In dealing with the A’s, Sacramento  could be a viable option, as could obviously Portland, OR and Las Vegas, NV. Oklahoma City would seem to be a darkhorse, but not one I’d rule out. Another city I’d definitely look at is San Antonio, which currently hosts AAA ball like many of the other cities, but is considerably bigger than most. The biggest roadblock to San Antonio though is the existence of the Astros and Rangers, and their likely unwillingness to let another Texas team in, especially if they’re in the American League. I’d not rule out Indianapolis as a contender either.

The International Options

So if the game wants to go global, and it does, where can it look? To me, the obvious international contenders aren’t really all that international. Montreal wants a team back, and frankly some expansion on the East Coast is fine, provided they build a new stadium and come up with a better marketing plan for the Expos. The other obvious option to me is San Juan, Puerto Rico, which hosted some Expos games in the later years. There certainly is plenty of market. After that, you get into the markets that I think Major League Baseball wants. First off, I think there is a dream of baseball in Havana, and I think that dream is very real now with the direction of U.S.-Cuba relations. Clearly MLB is also very interested in Mexico City, an absolutely huge market that could easily support a team with the right business model. The Dominican Republic may be a future spot for a team, but probably has some development pains to get through first. A team in Asia may be a long term goal, but it is unlikely to be something the game can support in the short-term. As for the rest of Canada, a team in the country’s western half is not likely to be something the Mariners will like.

With these cities now all in play, let’s game out how this will work. I suspect that Oakland and Tampa will need stadium resolutions by sometime in 2016, and MLB will be willing to let either of them walk away for a better deal if they don’t get one from their hosts. With that timeline in mind, a move to a new city by 2018 or 2019 is certainly possible, but probably keeps those teams on the North American continent. I personally doubt Oakland at least will end up leaving the Bay Area, and I’m not sure the league would be crazy about putting American League baseball north of the border in Montreal, though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out if Boston thinks they can handle that. Even so, i’m a skeptic about this happening right now.

I think the more likely outcome is expansion in both coastal divisions in the 2020s. I do think Montreal will be back in baseball within ten years thanks to the game’s rising economics. I just have a hard time seeing anything fast happening. I guess for a few predictions, I’ll throw some out there.

  • The A’s will get a stadium deal done to stay in the Bay Area.
  • The Rays may just not, and will move to either Charlotte or San Juan if not.
  • Havana will be home to the Marlins AAA affiliate within ten years.
  • Portland, San Antonio, Montreal, and Charlotte are my bets for expansion.

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