MLB Wants To Expand; Candidate Cities Identified
The 2023 baseball season will see pitch clocks, larger bases, a restriction on infield shifts, and let’s not forget, a new schedule format in which every team will play every other team for the first time in history. That’s a lot, but why stop there? Commissioner Rob Manfred wants to expand to 32 teams, but questions remain on when this will happen, and which cities would be awarded expansion franchises.
The “when” part is simultaneously clear and undefined. Manfred has stated that though he wants to expand in the near future, he will not green-light the idea until the situations are determined in Tampa Bay and Oakland. Both of these teams want new ballparks, and both are in the middle of negotiations with their current cities, having threatened to relocate if their demands are not met. It’s understandable that the fates of the As and Rays have to be scored out first, as they may move to potential expansion cities. However, Manfred is growing impatient waiting for decisions, as are Major League Baseball owners.
It is estimated that MLB will net over $2 billion per expansion franchise (from CBS Sports). Rough math would show that $4 billion divided among 30 teams would result in a payday of $133 million per team. That’s more than the 2022 payroll of 12 teams, according to SportTrac. It would be interesting to see if team payrolls went up after expansion, but that’s an entirely different story. There would be inter-league play every day. Expansion would also create 52 more MLB roster positions, something the Major League Baseball Players’ Association would welcome (from the CBS Sports article cited). They finally agree on something!
If MLB were to expand, which cities are being considered? In an article by Chris Branch recently published in The Athleticthe author reviewed a couple of the top candidates for an expansion franchise.
A group called the Portland Diamond Project is actively campaigning for a team. They have picked out a spot by the Willamette River for a 32,000-seat stadium. The area would be built into a bustling area with restaurants and bars. Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, and his wife, singer Ciara, are providing their celebrity statuses to the cause of bringing baseball to Portland. How would the fans respond? From the athletic article:
If those behind PDP had harbored any initial concerns about fan interest — they swear they didn’t — those abated when the project went public, and vanished once Wilson and Ciara were on board. “It wasn’t mission accomplished,” Barrett (Mike Barrett, former Portland Trailblazers’ broadcaster) said, “but, to a certain degree, getting on the map was. Everybody knew us by then.” Barrett and Cheek got emails from strangers asking if they could put down season ticket deposits.
Portland would be geographic rivals with the Seattle Mariners and the San Francisco Giants. A team there would likely have to pull fans from those two franchises, but another team on the west coast would make for a few more games in the Pacific time zone for fans in the area.
The Braves would have a geographic rival if MLB were to expand to the country music capital of Nashville, Tenn. A group led by former MLB pitcher Dave Stewart is championing the cause for a new team in Music City. Stewart is trying to encourage investors to get behind what would be the Nashville Stars. From The Athletic article:
The Stars derives its name from the Negro Leagues franchise. The group partnered with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and invited the museum’s president, Bob Kendrick, to join its board. The group aims to market the brand across the city while forging relationships in the community. The Stars already sell merchandise. There is a social media arm and a regular newsletter. Music City Baseball introduced Don Mattingly as a member of the group’s advisory board that already includes Tony La Russa.
For some reason, it feels like MLB will go to Nashville, either as a relocation or expansion. It would be a great tribute to the Negro Leagues, and visiting that city would give fans so much to do outside of attending games.
Does it make sense to go back to a city where MLB did not succeed in the fairly recent past (the Expos left after the 2004 season)? The residents of Montreal (and the province of Quebec) seem to think so. In an article in The Athletic by Stephen Nesbitt, the author cites the following:
A study determined The Project was plausible; Montreal could be a baseball city again. 69 percent of Quebecers and 81 percent of business owners surveyed supported MLB’s return. To do so, the study concluded, would require $1.025 billion in government and private funding, a strong ownership group, a 36,000-seat ballpark constructed within two kilometers of downtown, and a spot in the American League East for regional rivalries and a better media rights deal.
Interestingly, Stephen Bronfman is heavily involved in the push to bring baseball back to Montreal. Stephen Bronfman is the son of Charles Bronfman, who owned the Expos. MLB floated the (silly) idea of the Rays splitting their schedule between Tampa and Montreal. While Montreal was in favor, the idea ultimately failed.
“The people really love baseball,” former Expos pitcher Dennis Martínez told The Athletic in 2019. “Montreal knew baseball, and baseball knew Montreal.” This quote is from Nesbitt’s article. Perhaps there’s a bit of romanticizing in retrospect going here. The Expos did not draw very well, with the exceptions of their 1981 and 1994 seasons. Their last game in Montreal drew over 31,000 fans, but the night before drew just over 5,000.
There is a rich history of talented players in Montreal, with players such as Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andrew Dawson, Rusty Stauband Warren Cromartie having donned the red, white, and blue. Jackie Robinson also played there when Montreal was a minor league city. There would be a natural rivalry with the Toronto Blue Jays, and fans from New York and Boston could easily make the trip north to see their clubs on the road. While it may be nice to give it another go in Montreal, it remains to be seen if MLB would want to go back there with other options available.
Las Vegas & Charlotte
Other cities are also in play for teams. One would be Las Vegas, which has been long-rumored to be the next home of the Athletics if the city of Oakland does not agree to help fund a new stadium. Las Vegas has the Aviators, a minor league team, and will host major league spring training games in March. The city has NHL and NFL teams, and will host the 2024 Super Bowl. The sports world has become comfortable with teams being located in the gambling capital of the country.
Charlotte is another city with aspirations for a big league team. Its proximity to Atlanta would set up a natural rivalry, and North Carolina has many minor league teams that have done well over the years. The closeness to Atlanta, and the Braves’ nearby minor league affiliates, may create a san allegiance issue, which may impact initial uptake of the franchise.
Baseball will expand. There is too much money available for it not to happen. The new schedule format was probably implemented to prepare for a new world where all teams play each other every season. After expansion, what’s next? Geographic divisions? Imagine the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies in one of four divisions in a league (what would that league be called?).
Baseball, after being fairly stagnant for 50 years, is going to be evolving much more rapidly. Buckle up, the times have changed.