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MLB expansion isn’t going to happen for a while

... even though it could bring a lot of money to current owners.

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The skyline of Nashville, Tennessee, a possible MLB expansion city
Photo by: John Greim/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Major League Baseball hasn’t expanded for more than 20 years. The last teams added to MLB’s mix, the Tampa Bay (then Devil) Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks, were first created in 1995 and given three years to put together a farm system before their first games in 1998.

It’s been speculated that MLB might want to expand again soon. Beyond potential $1 billion entry fees, which would be split among current owners, expanding to 32 teams in two 16-team leagues would make scheduling a lot easier.

But in The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal recently wrote this long and detailed article explaining why expansion is likely to be put on the back burner.

I recommend that article to all of you, but Rosenthal’s writing is put into several general categories, and here I’ll use his own section headings:

  • The owners’ reluctance to divide the pie

Rosenthal says that, among other things, that (for example) network TV contracts would now have to be divided 32 ways instead of 30, reducing the payout to each team.

  • The continuing questions about the A’s and Rays

Commissioner Rob Manfred has often said that he would like to see those teams’ stadium situations resolved before any expansion happens. Could the Rays wind up in Montreal? There was, as you might recall, a proposal floated a couple of years ago to have the Rays split time between Tampa Bay in Montreal, a ludicrous idea in my view. Further regarding that idea, Rosenthal writes:

Getting one park built will be difficult enough. Opening two would appear to be as improbable as, well, Brett Phillips becoming a World Series hero. Sternberg said the team recently has made “tremendous progress” on the Montreal front, but less in Tampa Bay.

As far as the A’s are concerned, there’s a proposal to build them a new stadium in Oakland, but:

The team remains focused on a site on the Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland, but acknowledges the pandemic likely will delay the planned opening of a 35,000-seat facility in 2023. The team’s lease at the Oakland Coliseum expires in ’24.

The pandemic is but one obstacle for the A’s. The team plans to use money from the planned redevelopment of the Oakland Coliseum to help pay for its privately financed park, but both projects are subject to a potent Bay Area brew – legal questions, pending negotiations and community opposition.

Could the A’s wind up moving to Sacramento or Portland, Oregon? The latter would take one of the prime expansion slots out of the mix.

  • The reluctance of teams to lose young talent

Rosenthal cites the cancelled 2020 minor-league season and the loss of a year’s worth of player development as a reason teams don’t want to lose that talent. Further:

Teams almost certainly would oppose holding an expansion draft under such circumstances, preferring at a time of lower revenues to keep prospects who could develop into inexpensive major leaguers. The clubs’ thinking might change as revenues and development cycles return to normal, but such a turnaround is not likely in 2021, and maybe not even in ’22.

If not for the pandemic, we might be in the process of looking at MLB expansion within the next three or four years. And even with the possibility of expansion franchises being charged around $1 billion to join MLB’s club, other financial considerations, as noted above, might mitigate against MLB expanding now.

It’s one of the reasons Dave Dombrowski is now President of Baseball Operations for the Phillies. Dombrowski had been one of the principals in a group hoping to bring a MLB franchise to Nashville — he’d even moved his family there. But he had been told by MLB higher-ups that expansion was probably on hold for a while, which prompted him to re-examine Philadelphia’s offer and ultimately accept it.

So Major League Baseball in places like Portland, Nashville, Charlotte, Montreal or even Mexico City will have to wait. I’d still expect MLB expansion to come by the end of this decade, by which time we’ll have experienced more than 30 years with 30 teams, the longest stretch that MLB would have stayed at a constant number of teams since it had 16 teams from 1901 through 1960.


Which two cities should get MLB expansion teams when the league does eventually expans?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Montreal and Portland
    (112 votes)
  • 6%
    Charlotte and Portland
    (39 votes)
  • 22%
    Nashville and Portland
    (132 votes)
  • 6%
    Montreal and Charlotte
    (39 votes)
  • 23%
    Montreal and Nashville
    (138 votes)
  • 6%
    Montreal and Mexico City
    (41 votes)
  • 2%
    Portland and Mexico City
    (12 votes)
  • 1%
    Charlotte and Mexico City
    (8 votes)
  • 4%
    Nashville and Mexico City
    (28 votes)
  • 8%
    Some other combination of cities (leave in comments)
    (48 votes)
597 votes total Vote Now