Monday, August 10, 2015

MLB Expansion?

In his first year in office, Commissioner Rob Manfred has already caused quite a stir with proposed and implemented changes to baseball.  Perhaps the most obvious for anyone who has been to a game this year are the "pace of play" initiatives - the between innings pitch speed clock and batters being required to keep one foot in the batters box at all times to name a couple.  These tweaks have shaved an average of 8 minutes off of games this year in a rather non-invasive way.  There have been talks of reducing the schedule back to 154 games, various discussions of how to inject more offense into the game, rebuilding relations with Cuba, even recently Manfred being open to moving back the trade deadline due to larger number of teams vying for playoff spots now.  The most intriguing to me is something that has not even been on baseball's radar for 20 years: expansion.

When you hear the word "expansion" as a ballpark enthusiast, first you immediately get excited about a future ball trip.  It's at least two more cities and ballparks I get to go to!  And adding a team in baseball means not only just that one major league team, but also at least 5 other minor league affiliates.  So expanding MLB to 32 means at least 12 more teams in reality.  After that, you start speculating where those teams could be, no matter how infeasible.  Yes, Erik and I would love to go watch a series in Havana, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.  Charlotte has been in talks for many years as the next viable market, but they just spent a lot of money on a new AAA stadium.  Portland also has been a city mentioned in the same breath as expansion, due in large part to its proximity to Seattle and having almost no market competition.  But it was only a few years ago that the Beavers left town, and I find it hard to believe if a city can't even support (and finance a new stadium for) AAA baseball, that a major league team would be likely. The most exciting and probable in my mind is baseball returning to Montreal.  Montreal is the largest remaining North American market without a pro ball team at any level, and it is a very wealthy city that is relatively close to other large east coast markets, not to mention natural competition with Toronto.  The obvious hurdle in Montreal is the stadium issue.  One of many, many reasons the Expos moved was because of the albatross known as Olympic Stadium, and its repair and funding bills that have moved well into 10 figures.  The stadium was never proper for baseball and only got worse as the years went on, but on the heels of a couple of very successful Blue Jays exhibition series the last couple of years, and possibly even a regular season series in 2016, it is clear the people of French Canada are very excited for the return of baseball, and more importantly that it is a more stable financial situation than it was 10 years ago, which is what MLB really cares about.  Granted, it is a large assumption that Montreal would build another stadium, but I see that as the only thing stopping the city from getting another team, whether that be by expansion or the Rays or Athletics moving (who knows what the future holds for those teams).  Build it, and they will come.

Other cities I think are very good candidates for expansion are San Antonio, Mexico City, Oklahoma City, or if the stadium situation was right, Las Vegas.  Vegas would almost assuredly have to be away from downtown and a covered stadium for it to work, and it is always a gamble (pun intended) to put any sort of sports team in a city where tourism is the major industry.  MLB would love to grab a city outside of the US to expand is reach, and Mexico City is the most likely non-Canadian candidate for that.  San Antonio is one of the top 10 largest cities in the country and could definitely support a team, and they also have the Alamodome to serve as a decent temporary structure until a suitable facility is built.  Much like Le Stade Olympique, the Alamodome has hosted some preseason exhibition series and has drawn very well despite its shortcomings as a baseball venue.  The geographical locations of OKC and San Antonio give them both a huge advantage in this game.  Having a bunch of teams close enough to be rivals but not so close as to infringe on territorial rights is definitely something MLB wants, particularly in a baseball hotbed like Texas.  As with any city, it is going to come down to market size, stadium, and most importantly money/wealthy ownership group.  There are not a lot of cities that have that combination, so it will be interesting to see how this shakes out.  I will say with relative certainty though that I expect MLB to be expanded to 32 teams within 15 years, and I would be very surprised if both the Rays and the A's stay in their respective cities.  Major League Baseball will most certainly capitalize on its popularity and financial prowess sooner rather than later, before the NFL completely swallows the entire world.

Brewers 48-65, -24.0, -15.5 WC (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Phillies)
Reds 49-60, -21.0, -12.5 WC (3 @ Padres, 4 @ Dodgers)

Twins 55-56, -11.5, -4.5 WC (3 v. Rangers, 3 v. Indians)

Erik - 16 (+15 worked)

Peter - 34

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