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Let’s talk about MLB expansion, again

... because it was a topic Rob Manfred and Tony Clark brought up at the All-Star Game.

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Las Vegas is a potential MLB expansion destination. But when?
Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Major League Baseball last expanded in 1998 with the addition of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks. Since MLB began expanding in 1961 from its original 16 teams, that 24-year span is the longest gap between adding teams to the league — previously, 16 years elapsed between the 1977 expansion (Mariners and Blue Jays) and the 1993 addition of the Marlins and Rockies.

I’ve been writing here on this topic for some time — as early as June 2013 and again in February 2015, June 2018, April 2019, January 2020, December 2020, January 2021, February 2021 and December 2021. That’s so many articles that I have created this handy StoryStream for you to keep track.

It’s time to do so again because Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark addressed the issue during a news conference prior to the All-Star Game.

Here’s what they said, per Evan Drellich at The Athletic.

First, Manfred stated, as we have heard many times before, that nothing’s going to happen until the A’s and Rays get their stadium situations resolved:

“I can’t do better on timeline than I need to get Oakland and Tampa results before we can realistically have a conversation about expansion,” Manfred said. “Those situations in my view are serious enough and timely enough that they have to be our No. 1 focus.”

The situation in Oakland has been a mess for two decades. About three weeks ago, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission voted to take a step in the A’s direction for constructing a new stadium in Oakland:

After hours of discourse between the commissioners, as well as a large public comment portion that included an opening statement from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, 23 of 25 SFBCDC members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the A’s request to remove priority port use designation from Howard Terminal. The removal, described by team president Dave Kaval as a “huge win,” allows the A’s to move forward with their waterfront ballpark project and planned development in the surrounding area.

“Getting a 23-2 vote is just massive,” said Kaval. “It exceeded our expectation. We thought we were sitting at 18 or 19 [yes votes], and to get to 23 is just a credit to everybody involved in the process. The city, Mayor Schaaf, the port, ourselves and our union partners. Everyone just articulating the vision and the benefits of this project and doing it in a very thoughtful and methodical way.”

This is just step one; the linked article notes several other things that have to happen before they break ground on an A’s stadium in that Howard Terminal location.

So... maybe 2030 for a new stadium in Oakland? Regarding the Rays, their lease at Tropicana Field expires in 2027 and that used to seem far away but... it really isn’t, not anymore, and here’s an article from last month that lays out a recent timeline of things that have happened regarding getting the Rays a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area. Manfred said, from that article:

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred reinforced the need to resolve the Rays’ ballpark situation. “There is urgency with respect to Tampa,” he said, adding that he was focusing on keeping the team in the area, not a specific city and emphasizing the phrase “right now.”

If that doesn’t happen, it’s entirely possible that the Rays bail from the Tampa Bay area after 2027 and move... somewhere. Nashville? Montreal? Both of those have been mentioned as landing spots for the Rays as well as possible MLB expansion sites. (Fortunately, the ridiculous proposal for the Rays to split their season between Montreal and Tampa appears to be dead.) There’s a group called Music City Baseball, fronted by former MLB pitcher Dave Stewart, dedicated to bringing a MLB team to Nashville. Similarly, the Montreal Baseball Project wants to bring MLB back to the city where the Expos played from 1969-2004.

At this juncture, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Montreal and Nashville will get MLB franchises somehow, whether via expansion or relocation. So that leaves several other North American cities who would seem the most likely locations for expansion franchises:

Las Vegas

I covered that in my article here last December, and the pros and cons of putting a MLB franchise in those markets hasn’t changed in the few months since then. I will say that Las Vegas seems to have bolted to the front of the line, largely because the A’s are using that city in part as leverage to get their new stadium built in Oakland, and if they don’t get that, they might bolt for Vegas.

It would appear logical to me that MLB would add one Eastern city and one Western city in order to keep some sort of geographical balance. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the Rays and A’s figure out their stadium dilemmas and stay put in their current markets.

That, in my view, would make the most likely markets for expansion Las Vegas and Nashville.

If that happens, I would realign the leagues this way. Note that I’m trying to keep the existing league rivalries and divisions mostly the same for historical reasons, while still acknowledging the need for geographical proximity.

AL East: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles
AL South: Rays, Astros, Rangers, Royals
AL Central: White Sox, Tigers, Guardians, Twins
AL West: Mariners, A’s, Angels, Las Vegas

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

(NOTE: If Montreal were the choice instead of Nashville, they’d go into the NL East and the Pirates into the NL South.)

None of these divisions would stretch across more than two time zones. Four of them (the East and West divisions) encompass a single time zone. This alignment would help reduce travel, as there wouldn’t be more than about a two-hour flight between almost any of the divisional combinations (Las Vegas to Seattle and Kansas City to Tampa are a bit longer).

This alignment would also put an old rivalry (Pirates and Phillies) back together and creates a couple of potential new ones (Reds/Nashville and Braves/Nashville; both those combinations are only four hours driving time from each other).

It would also make scheduling MUCH easier, because teams could be scheduled to play only within their division in April, when there’s a higher risk of postponement for bad weather. (MLB’s 2023 schedule plan, which has every team meeting every other team, carries extreme risk of either postponements that are difficult to make up or playing through horrible weather, as I laid out in this article last April.)

This is largely an abstract exercise, as Manfred has made it clear that the A’s and Rays stadium situations must be resolved before expansion, and it looks like we could still be five to seven years away from that.

All together now: As always, we await developments.