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A Look At Possible Future Major-League Baseball Expansion

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... in an organized, logical way, not just throwing city names out there.

If you don't recognize the skyline, it's Montreal. What would it look like with a new baseball park?
If you don't recognize the skyline, it's Montreal. What would it look like with a new baseball park?
Tom Shaw/Getty Images

Let me stipulate one thing before I get into this discussion in detail. I don't think Major League Baseball is ready for expansion any time soon. Nevertheless, at some point in the future it probably will be, and so I wanted to look at the possible locations for expansion in a systematic way, not just throw city names out there willy-nilly.

Further, I don't believe MLB has room for more than two more teams, at least not for the foreseeable future. I do think that adding two more teams for a total of 32 would make for easier scheduling, by having an even number of teams in both leagues. It could also make the playoff structure somewhat different; if the leagues were then divided into four divisions of four each, you could keep the current structure by having just one wild-card club and having that team play the division winner with the worst record in the one-and-done game. There are, of course, other possible playoff ideas and you're free to leave yours in the comments.

I'm going to further specify for the purpose of this exercise that neither of the teams with stadium issues right now (the Athletics and Rays) are going to move. Let's assume those stadium problems are fixed and MLB is choosing from the 10 cities/regions I've got listed below for two future expansion locations. In this table, I have the cities ranked by population and then by population rank (if the populations are essentially equal). TV market rankings are somewhat different from population area rankings due to the way TV markets are mapped. The rankings for Montreal, listed in parentheses, are where Montreal would rank if it were a U.S. city or TV market.

City/Region Population (2013 est) Population rank TV market rank
New Jersey 19.9 million 1 1
Montreal 4.0 million (15) (13)
Charlotte 2.3 million 23 24
Portland 2.3 million 24 23
San Antonio 2.3 million 25 33
Sacramento 2.2 million 27 20
Las Vegas 2.0 million 31 41
Columbus 1.9 million 32 32
Indianapolis 1.9 million 33 27
Nashville 1.7 million 36 29

Created with the HTML Table Generator

Here are, in my view, the pros and cons for each of these 10 candidates.

New Jersey

PRO: Largest population base and TV market in North America. The area supported three teams for decades until the Dodgers and Giants left. Many New Jersey baseball fans would love to have a team in their state and not have to travel into NYC for games.

CON: The massive indemnity payment -- likely in the billions -- that a New Jersey team would have to pay to the Yankees and Mets in order to share their territory.

Montreal

PRO: Supported a major-league franchise for almost 40 years with passionate and knowledgeable fans. About the same metro population as Phoenix or Seattle. Would provide a good divisional rival for the Blue Jays.

CON: Don't have a suitable stadium nor a current plan to build one, although they have a decent temporary home in Olympic Stadium. Canadian dollar exchange rate could be an issue. TV ratings aren't included in U.S. national numbers.

Charlotte

PRO: Outside of New Jersey, it's the largest U.S. city without a major-league team.

CON: That area of the South is usually football country. Not sure if there are enough baseball fans there to make for a viable big-league market.

Portland, Oregon

PRO: Supported a strong Triple-A franchise for many years. Though somewhat close to Seattle, it's far enough away to have its own market and fanbase.

CON: Didn't care enough about the Triple-A franchise to renovate a stadium to keep it, and don't seem inclined to build a stadium for a big-league team.

San Antonio

PRO: Large population could support a team.

CON: Much smaller TV market rank (33) than population rank (25). Has never had professional baseball above the Double-A level. Might be too close to Houston and Dallas to have a big enough fanbase.

Sacramento

PRO: Largest TV market (20) without a major-league team.

CON: As a state capital, government is the biggest business there and it might not have the corporate base that a major-league team needs. Probably too close to the Bay Area to have a separate fanbase.

Las Vegas

PRO: Money. Lots and lots of money.

CON: Smallest TV market size (41) of this group. Casino gambling could be an issue. The population there is quite transient, not conducive to building a strong fanbase.

Columbus, Ohio

PRO: Has proven it can support a major-league team (Blue Jackets). Larger than some existing baseball markets, including one in its own state (Cincinnati).

CON: Ohio is already pretty well split between the Indians and Reds and might not have enough room or population for a third team. Columbus' biggest businesses are state government and Ohio State; neither would likely provide the corporate support a team needs.

Indianapolis

PRO: Has two major-league teams (Colts and Pacers) who get good support.

CON: The support those teams have likely sucks away a lot of the corporate dollars a major-league baseball team would need. It's also split between fanbases of the Chicago teams and the Reds already; might be too close to both to succeed.

Nashville

PRO: Top-30 TV market that has supported minor-league baseball well. Considered the "home" of country music by many, has a strong media presence.

CON: Smallest of these cities by population, like Charlotte, Nashville seems more football country than a baseball town.

All right, you're asking, which two am I picking in this hypothetical exercise?

To me, Montreal is a no-brainer. It was always a good baseball town before the franchise was destroyed by Jeffrey Loria and the aftereffects of the 1994 strike. So there's one.

The other one is tougher. I'd love to say New Jersey, but I don't think there's anyone out there who would want to make the territorial-infringement payments a team in N.J. would require. So I'm going to go with Portland, because of its population base and TV market size. It would likely require private financing of a new stadium, but there are people out there who could afford to do that.

Then I'd realign the divisions this way:

AL East: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Montreal
AL North: Tigers, Indians, Orioles, Rays
AL South: White Sox, Twins, Astros, Royals
AL West: Athletics, Angels, Mariners, Rangers

NL East: Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Marlins
NL North: Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates
NL South: Braves, Reds, Rockies, Diamondbacks  
NL West: Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Portland

I realize that's a bit of a mess and the Rangers, Braves and Reds would be somewhat screwed in this alignment because they'd be playing a lot of their road games in time zones two and three hours away from home. It's about the only way to do it and keep some sense of geographic reality, though -- and also, the number of divisional games in my scheme shown below is only one-third of the total. And I'm well aware that the Rockies, White Sox and Twins aren't really "South," and the Rays and Orioles aren't really "North," but it was the only way to keep the division names the same between leagues.

To keep the 162-game schedule, I'd split the games up this way:

18 games against everyone in your own division = 54 games
7 games against everyone else in your league = 84 games
6 games against one division in the other league = 24 games

The interleague divisions would rotate so you'd play every division home-and-home once every four years. Or you could play three games against two divisions in the other league each year. That way you'd play 23 of the other 31 teams every year.

Again, this is just an exercise and not likely to happen any time soon. But I'd like your thoughts. Since our polling structure here allows votes for only one item in a poll, please vote for the one city/region you think is most deserving of a MLB expansion team -- whenever that happens.