MLB Expansion and Realignment

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It’s a new year, and the offseason is long. So while we eagerly await a new season of baseball, please join me in imagining a bright future for our national pastime.

Major League Baseball has a long history of expansion, contraction, relocation, and realignment.  The most recent expansion was 1998 with the (nee Devil) Rays and Diamondbacks.  Depending on how you count, the last contraction was either 1903 (goodbye Orioles and hello Highlanders) or 1900 (rest in peace Orioles, Spiders, Colonels, and Senators).  The reigning World Series champion Nationals are the last team to relocate, leaving Montreal behind in 2005.  The last realignment took place in 2013, with the Astros switching leagues and both circuits adopting five-team divisions with constant interleague play.

With recent news that MLB is a ten-billion dollar business and the need to grow a potentially dwindling fan base, it is time to explore a new round of structural change.  In addition to the profit and popularity incentives, MLB should consider expansion to accommodate the growing global talent pool.  With baseball thriving in North America, the Caribbean, and Asia, there are more competitive players than ever looking for a limited number of roster spots.

Expansion

For now, let’s focus on expansion and set aside relocation and contraction in the hopes that teams like Tampa Bay and Oakland can make their homes permanent.

The most profitable and popular sports league, the NFL, offers a template for MLB:  32 teams.  This even number allows for more creative divisional alignments and schedule opportunities.  A modest expansion of just two teams allows for a greater likelihood for those clubs to be competitive as well.

Several cities could host an expansion franchise.  Given recent failures at the major and minor league levels, Montreal and Portland will not make the cut.  Besides, the Rays and Athletics have expressed interest in relocating to these towns.  No offense intended toward any Dreamers out there, but Florida is too saturated to absorb a new team in Orlando.  Las Vegas is an obvious candidate, but given baseball’s gambling problem and the imminent arrival of the Raiders, it is best to wait for now.

The two most exciting opportunities can be found in Mexico City and Nashville.  Both have robust minor league teams and solid baseball histories.  A few major points in favor of each:

Mexico City

Diablos Rojos del México 1
  • Largest metropolitan area population in North America:  21.6 million.
  • Home to the Diablos Rojos del Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City Red Devils).  The 80-year old club has won 16 Mexican League titles.
  • The team just moved into a new stadium.  While a little small for a major league club, the new digs have resulted in a doubling of attendance.
  • An MLB team in the Mexican capital could cement the sport in the national landscape and foster generations of players.

Nashville

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Schedule

In this system, teams would play an unbalanced schedule.  Each team would play each team in its division 12 times, each team in the other division in its league eight times, and eight interleague games per year.  An astute reader will note that this adds up to 156 games – six fewer than the current season.  This change would meet player demands for a slightly shorter schedule while acknowledging the increased length of the playoffs.

Each league would maintain its own separate playoff series.  Six teams from each league would qualify for the playoffs.  The four division winners would earn automatic placement in the Division Series.  The four non-division winning teams with the best records in each league would qualify for one-game wild-card playoffs.  Winners would advance to an expanded best-of-seven division series.  The league championship series and World Series would remain best-of-seven affairs.

Realignment

So with 32 teams, realignment is necessary.  Like the NFL, MLB should continue to maintain its continental-wide, two-league structure instead of two geographically oriented conferences like in the NBA and NHL.

In a departure from the NFL model, MLB ought to adopt eight-team divisions instead of four.  For the vast majority of major league seasons, teams competed in eight-team leagues.  For a quarter of a century, the leagues allowed for some geographic considerations and bifurcated into two divisions, East and West.  This proven model would be a nice nod to baseball’s history while encouraging regional rivalries.

The Model

Here is how realignment could look:

National League
East Division West Division
Atlanta Braves Arizona Diamondbacks
Cincinnati Reds Chicago Cubs
Miami Marlins Colorado Rockies
Nashville Stars Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets Milwaukee Brewers
Philadelphia Phillies St. Louis Cardinals
Pittsburgh Pirates San Diego Padres
Washington Nationals San Francisco Giants
American League
East Division West Division
Baltimore Orioles Houston Astros
Boston Red Sox Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox Los Angeles Angels
Cleveland Indians Mexico City Red Devils
Detroit Tigers Minnesota Twins
New York Yankees Oakland Athletics
Tampa Bay Rays Seattle Mariners
Toronto Blue Jays Texas Rangers

Here you have one fan’s modest proposal.  Let this serve as a starting point for your own conversations on finding the right organizational structures for the national pastime.


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4 COMMENTS

  1. LOL – Why would you believe a Team in Mexico City would be in the American League? You think Seattle, which already has the most miles traveled of any team would accept adding increased International travel down to Mexico on a regular basis? If ANYTHING a team in Mexico would be be put into a division with the Dodgers and Padres which have large followings themselves south of the border. Also, you are more likely to see an eight-division format of four teams each like the NFL has to balance out and allow for Four division winners and Four wild-cards to make the playoffs in each league. Professional sports Leagues are looking at ways to decrease travel costs not explode them.

  2. No way for Nashville. They already have an NFL team and a NHL team and a major soccer league plus they are in the middle of the SEC. Fan dollars can go only so far. I think Montreal would be a better fit and they could go in the American League and Mexico City in the national League. Other sites I think would be good would be Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Charlotte.

  3. Mexico City is deep down in Mexico and too far away for regular travel. If the MLB expands into Mexico (which I doubt) it will be in Monterrey where the Padres played the Dodgers in a three game series back in 2018.

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