An Exercise In Major League Baseball Expansion

MLB isn't going to expand for some time, likely not until the economy improves. But someday, it would make sense to have two 16-team leagues. Here's how it could be done.

This post was inspired by this FanPost from Monday discussing a possible realignment of the leagues. I didn't think it was realistic to simply wipe out 130-plus years of big-league history and tradition simply for geography.

But that got me thinking: how could the leagues expand and realign on a somewhat-geographical basis while still preserving most of what comprises the current National and American Leagues. For now, my personal view on the DH is going to be left out of this discussion; this is purely speaking about expansion and realignment.

Where would the two additional teams go? Forget for the moment where stadiums are available; this is simply an exercise. I'd put the new National League team in Montreal; there's quite a bit of baseball history there, and since the new team (presumably) wouldn't be owned by Jeffrey Loria, fans would come back and support it. While there's no current proposal for a stadium in Montreal -- and Olympic Stadium is really not even a thought any more -- back in 2000, this proposal was floated for "Labatt Park" in Montreal. That stadium would likely still work. While Montreal's TV viewers wouldn't be counted in USA TV ratings, metro Montreal's population is about the size of Seattle.

For the American League team, I'll pick another city that doesn't currently have any professional baseball -- Portland, Oregon. Portland is the largest TV market that has no major-league baseball team; it's bigger than seven cities (St. Louis, Tampa, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Milwaukee) that already have teams. Portland had Triple-A baseball for many years and, also in 2000, this proposal was made for a big-league stadium there. (Would have had great views, too.)

In order to make my divisions work geographically, we're going to make a league swap for two existing teams, both expansion teams: the Rays head to the National League, where they become rivals with the Marlins, and the Rockies go to the American League in a geographically-sensible division. No division of four in my setup comprises more than one time zone difference, making travel and TV packages easy to create.

Here, then, are the two 16-team, four-divisions-of-four leagues I'd create. The geographical names don't totally fit (Colorado isn't really "south", and the AL South I'm creating is quite a bit farther west than the NL South), but I use them just to make the two leagues match.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Montreal
New York
Philadelphia
Washington

NATIONAL LEAGUE SOUTH
Atlanta
Cincinnati
Tampa Bay
Miami

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Chicago
Milwaukee
Pittsburgh
St. Louis

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Arizona
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Francisco

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Boston
Baltimore
New York
Toronto

AMERICAN LEAGUE SOUTH
Colorado
Houston
Kansas City
Texas

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Chicago
Cleveland
Detroit
Minnesota

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Los Angeles
Oakland
Portland
Seattle

To retain the current 162-game schedule -- and no owner is going to agree to a reduction in home dates -- we schedule this way:

16 games against teams in your own division: 48
Six games against the other teams in your league: 72
Six games against the matching division in the other league: 24
Six games against three "wild card" teams in the other league: 18

That also has the advantage of eliminating complaints about unbalanced schedules -- you'd play 22 of the other 31 teams every year. You'd also play home-and-home series against everyone, helping to reduce the issue of single series against teams where you have no way to make up a rainout.

I went back-and-forth about playoffs. Obviously, four divisions of four lends itself to easy playoff matchups; that would be my preference, just division winners, no wild cards. You could add a wild card and have that team play a one-game play-in game against the worst division winner, but that seems wrong somehow. Division winners only in my setup.

There you have it; geographical realignment that makes sense, expansion to two cities that could support a team, a schedule that's logical and playoffs that reward division winners. It makes too much sense, so it'll probably never happen this way.

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