Manifest Destiny of MLB Expansion

“Our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” – John L. O’Sullivan

On April 5, 1993, the expansion Florida Marlins defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in their very first game behind a strong pitching effort by 45-year old knuckleballer Charlie Hough. Bryan Harvey notched his first of 45 saves while Jeff Conine, Bret Barberie, Benito Santiago, and Walt Weiss carried the offense to a 6-run output. I watched most of this game and was excited to see the team that Dave Dombrowski and company had created through the expansion draft, free agent signings, and trades. Dave Magadan, Orestes Destrade, and Trevor Hoffman were also part of this team. Hoffman was drafted from the Reds in the expansion draft and, later, was sent to San Diego in a deal that brought Gary Sheffield to South Florida.

Meanwhile, the other expansion team, the Colorado Rockies, was shut out by Dwight Gooden and the New York Mets, but showed some offensive promise in 1993 with a roster that included Dante Bichette, Andres Galarraga, Eric Young, Jerald Clark, Charlie Hayes, Joe Girardi, Alex Cole, and Vinny Castilla.

Unfortunately for Colorado, the pitching staff couldn’t approach the mediocrity of the Florida pitching staff, but the offense compensated for much of that deficiency to help the team avoid a 100-loss season and a last place finish, as they bested the last place San Diego Padres by 6 wins.  The Marlins also avoided 100 losses and a last place finish as the Mets, who defeated the Rockies on opening day, stumbled to a league worst 103 losses. Five years later, the league introduced the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks to complete the current 30-team configuration we know today (including the conversion of the Montreal Expos into the Washington Nationals following the 2004 season).

I don’t know if Major League Baseball needs to expand again, but Rob Manfred has made it known that he favors Montreal and Mexico City if it does happen.  However, he wants to see a conclusion to the stadium issues in Oakland and Tampa before expansion is seriously considered.  Another issue to ponder is that the current format of 30 teams with six 5-team divisions works well. Disrupting the current layout could include a variety of changes.  The current format could be maintained by simply adding one team to two of the six divisions and keep the playoff format as is.  Alternatively, the divisions could be reconfigured completely.  For example, a shift to four 4-team divisions in each league, as it is employed in the NFL with a similar playoff format, could make expansion a smooth process.

In addition to formatting the divisions and playoffs, the league would face the matter of increasing the travel schedule, which would not be well received by the MLBPA.  Perhaps a shift toward more 4-game series and a reduction/elimination of part/all of the inter-league schedule would cut down on travel.  Commissioner Manfred has also stated that a return to the 154-game schedule isn’t impossible, but he didn’t exactly endorse the idea either.  With those thoughts in mind, what are some potential locations for expansion?

Autozone Park in Memphis, TN

The easiest way to identify an expansion location is to focus on cities with franchises in the other major sports.  However, the number one factor to consider is the viability of a metropolitan area.  Current population, population growth, economic stability, and proximity to other MLB cities are essential to narrowing the field of candidates.  These are the cities that can be eliminated on first glance:  Buffalo, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, and Sacramento (82 miles from Oakland).  San Jose is also on this list since the A’s will either move there (or another city nearby) or remain in Oakland, which is just 40 miles from the South Bay.  Orlando is to Tampa as San Jose is to Oakland, so it can also be removed.  Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Ottawa can also be passed over as Montreal would take the lead for Canadian cities.  If you analyze the top 30 metro-area populations as of the 2010 census, you can eliminate another set of cities, including Columbus, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Nashville, Memphis, and Oklahoma City.

After paring down the field, here are the cities that remain (in alphabetical order) with their 2010 Metro-area populations and % growth since 2000:

Las Vegas: 1,865,746 and 35.6% growth.  The NHL has just granted an expansion franchise to the city and the NFL could soon join if the Raiders decide to move their nomadic franchise once again.  With a significant population growth and plenty of room for more, the future looks bright for Las Vegas to move up the US-ranking for population as they could pass Cleveland, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh if trends hold for these cities.  Let’s call the new team the Las Vegas Gamblers and reinstate Pete Rose so he can manage the team from his adopted hometown.

Mexico City: 21,200,000 and 4.4% growth.  Like all corporations, MLB has been thinking globally for many years.  Playing in Japan, Puerto Rico, and Mexico has already happened and future events in Europe and on other continents could arise in the future.  A full fledged member of the MLB corporation playing in the largest Metropolitan area in the western hemisphere is intriguing.  If Mexico City is too far out of the way or too polluted, Monterrey could step up as it is well populated and much closer to the US border, but they will still have to build their own outfield wall.

Montreal: 4,060,000 and 5% growth.  The departure of the Expos in 2004 may suggest that this city just isn’t viable.  A new ownership group, a new stadium, and a renewed interest in baseball would make Montreal a welcomed member of Major League Baseball and there is a campaign pushing for baseball to give Toronto a Canadian rival once again.

Portland: 2,207,462 and 14.5% growth.  Baseball fans in the Rose City must travel 173 miles to Seattle if the Portland Pickles don’t tickle their fancy.  It is also the largest Metro area without an MLB team as it ranks 23rd based on the 2010 census.  The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area actually ranks much higher, but is less than an hour from Los Angeles of Anaheim and Los Angeles of Los Angeles.

San Antonio: 2,031,445 and 18.7% growth.  San Antonio might overtake Portland for the title of largest Metro area without an MLB team with the next census in 2020.  Just like most of Texas, their is plenty of distance from Major League neighbors in Houston (197 miles) and Dallas/Arlington (273 miles).  Many of the fastest growing cities are located all over Texas, so it is quite sensible for San Antonio to be considered a destination for the next wave of expansion.

Rob Manfred may be justified in identifying Montreal and Mexico City as the top destinations for expansion, but both cities would have issues to resolve.  Montreal had a franchise for more than 3 decades, but failed to grow out of small market status.  The current plight of the Rays and A’s would give MLB a sense of trepidation when considering Montreal again without significant changes.  Most important is the construction of a new stadium.  Aside from the air pollution problem, any move to Mexico would require trust in a nation that is plagued by corruption and crime.  Portland may be the most viable now, but San Antonio and Las Vegas are likely to grow beyond Portland over the next 10-20 years.  Other cities, such as Charlotte, Oklahoma City, and Nashville have steady growth and are worthy of consideration as well.  If it is baseball’s manifest destiny to expand globally, then Montreal and Mexico City provide the greatest opportunity.  If you have a favorite city for expansion, please leave a comment.

Author: Jake White

I am a child of the 1980's who became engrossed in baseball after attending my first Angel game in 1982. As we headed to the Big A, I was told great tales of a man named Reggie. Sitting down the first base line, I watched the lineup announcement with great anticipation, but discovered that Reggie wasn't in the lineup. It didn't matter, the experience was magical, my grandma bought me my first Angel cap, and I fell asleep in the car on the way home. As the next decade emerged, I started a 25-year run in fantasy baseball, which ended with the 2014 season. I have been working in education since 2002 and also spent 2 seasons working for the LA Dodgers. Now, I am having fun observing baseball rather than obsessing over every box score that included one of my fantasy players.

25 thoughts on “Manifest Destiny of MLB Expansion”

  1. Overall I agree with your analysis of potential expansion cities. But, I don’t agree that the six, five-team divisions works well. As it is now, with the odd 15-team leagues, it’s necessary to have an inter-league game every week of the season. If they’re going to have inter-league games, I much preferred the two separate inter-league schedule segments like it was with the 16/14, even numbered leagues. The other drawback is the odd number of teams in a division. At the end of the season when teams should be playing division rivals, one team is playing outside the division. You may be a fan of the one game wild-card series’. but I am not. Baseball is based on a series format for the entire regular season. The one game playoff is an anomaly. I would eliminate the wild-card, and have only the division winners playing in seven-game series’. The current format works, but is less than ideal, and would be improved with expansion.

    1. I like the wild card format as it gives an opportunity to a strong 2nd place (sometimes 3rd place) team to win that one game and join the 3 division winners. I do agree with you about the constant interleague play and the end of season matchups not working out completely. Expansion and 4-team divisions would eliminate the one game wild card playoff, allow all teams to play within their division at season’s end, and make interleague play a more deliberate thing as it was with the 16/14 format. I would love to see another expansion draft too, it’s like the last few rounds of a fantasy draft.

  2. For personal reasons I pick San Antonio and Oklahoma City. I favor totally revamping the leagues into 4 groups of 4.

  3. Instead of looking at population, you need to look at the Nielsen DMA rankings of TV markets. This is much more critical to the success of a MLB team. With that criteria in mind Las Vegas is out. They are the 40th largest TV market. Charlotte is the 22nd largest TV market and should be added to the list of possible expansion teams. Portland is 25th and Indianapolis is 27th. Both are great possible expansion markets. San Antonio and Columbus have nearly identical TV markets and rank 31st and 32nd respectively. Both are better than Las Vegas.

    1. The real money is in the TV contract, so your suggestion is valid for sure. According to the current Nielsen DMA rankings, the 2 highest ranked cities without an MLB franchise are Orlando and Sacramento. If you believe those 2 cities are too close to Tampa and the Bay Area respectively, Charlotte and Raleigh are next on the list. Assuming only 1 of those cities would get a franchise, the next city is Portland. If we focus on US cities only, Charlotte (or Raleigh) and Portland would be the next expansion cities. It would be interesting to see the growth trends for these cities too. If the population is growing, so is the DMA, so while Vegas ranks low, it won’t be long before they pass up major leagues cities Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Kansas City. Also, I left Columbus out due to its proximity to other major league cities. I appreciate your comment, you brought a great point to discuss.

      1. I agree that they are too close to get a team. Oakland and San Francisco would scream bloody murder if Sacramento was considered. Tampa could pull from Orlando if they just got out of that horrid stadium that is so hard to get to.

        Montreal would rank very highly on the TV Market DMA, possibly 5-6, if it was included. If they got a new stadium, I think they would be a very good addition.

        Las Vegas really has 2 strikes against it as far as baseball is concerned. One is the TV market. In the NHL and NFL all TV revenue is national and shared equally so the gate becomes a much bigger part of the equation for the teams. In baseball its local and the split is 70/30. The other is gambling. While football gambling is a huge part of the game, baseball has a history of being staunchly against gambling.

  4. Good stuff Jake, thank you. I only occasionally click a MLBTR blog link, and rarely experience the skill, thoroughness, and humor you possess. Really interesting take. BTW, congrats on kickin’ your fantasy/ocd bb habit 😉

  5. Las Vegas! It’s way more fun and exciting. If not expansion then move the A’s or Rays. The weather is way better, no state income taxes, the strip would be the best ballpark village, they didn’t even count the amount of visitors they get and a lot are from southern California the best baseball region. With the costs of living on the coast, Las Vegas will smash Montreal in population in 30 years especially if they have MLB.

  6. I don’t know about expansion, but I do favor a disruption of the current 2 x 3 x 5 division setup. The separate leagues are an anachronism, there’s no need to think of them as an integral part of alignment anymore. Picture this: One big league, 5 divisions of 6 teams each, geographically arranged. Each team plays 18 games apiece against each team in its own division, and 3 games apiece against teams in other divisions (alternating by year which teams play which at home vs away). That’s 162 games like we have now, every team gets to face every other team at least once per year, but overall records weighted a bit toward their own division. Playoffs would be the 5 division winners, plus the 3 best runners-up as wild cards.

    1. That would be an interesting change, but I bet it would be difficult to eliminate the National and American Leagues from our baseball vernacular. I guess that setup would put all 5 CA teams together with Seattle or Arizona. NYY, NYM, Bos, Phi, Was, Balt in another. Mia, TB, Atl, Hou, Tex, StL? in another. The geographic alignment works in some areas, but not in all. The CA teams would have such an easy travel schedule, while others would not. Thanks for the comment.

      1. I would align them like this:

        Atlantic – Boston, New York, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington
        Southeast – Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami
        Great Lakes – Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minnesota
        Midwest – St. Louis, Kansas City, Texas, Houston, Colorado, Arizona
        Pacific – Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Los Angeles of Anaheim, San Diego

        Each division is at least geographically contiguous, although it’s true that the SE and MW divisions would have longer travelling in-division than the other three.

    2. There’s a huge obstacle to your plan. It would require all the NL team owners to institute the DH, or conversely, for all the AL club owners to abandon it. I don’t see either group agreeing to that, Plus, I really don’t like the teams playing only 3 games against teams outside their division. That format introduces a huge element of luck. And it would wreak havoc on rain-out make-up games. There really is nothing sacred about the 162 game season; there is much more to the 2 separate leagues. Expanding to 32 teams in 2 leagues, limiting inter-league games, and rolling back the regular season to 154 games, for which there is precedent, to allow for an expanded play-off, sounds more appealing to me.

  7. Monterrey makes a lot more sense than Mexico City – it helps a great deal with travel (its much much closer) and its population base is significant. It is also the most affluent area of Mexico.

  8. For the record, I agree with you on the one-game wild-card play-in (not playoff) game. Every team begins every season with the goal of winning their division. If you don’t win your division, you should feel lucky to even have that one-game opportunity. The real playoffs start once those play-in games are decided.

    Re: expansion, it’s way overdue. First, the Rays and their AAA team should simply trade places. Tampa has never sufficiently supported its MLB team, even when they won. Let them have Spring Training and AAA ball and give the MLB team to Charlotte.

    Second, the A’s should move to either Portland or Mexico City (Atleticos de CDMX!) with the other city receiving an expansion team (Portland Roses is a perfect baseball team name). As much as I like Montreal as a city (as ballplayers also did when visiting the Expos), I think it makes more sense to put the 32nd team in San Antonio, given the number of ballplayers that come out of Texas and the large Hispanic population in SA. That would form a natural division of the 3 Texas teams with Mexico City (or Monterrey).

    Las Vegas will be fine selling out 8 NFL home games (and after all gambling and football were made for each other) but I have my doubts that they’ll fill up 40 NHL home games, much less 81 MLB home games in the middle of summer. Reminds me too much of Tampa.

    Thanks for the great thought food!

    1. I like the idea of Charlotte and Tampa trading teams, I hadn’t thought of that. I also like the name for a Portland team, it’s unique and celebrates the city. They might have to play up the thorns if roses seem too soft and delicate.

      1. In point of fact, Tampa’s AAA team is in Raleigh/Durham, while the White Sox AAA team plays in Charlotte. However, it would be hard to argue for Raleigh getting an MLB team before Charlotte. I suppose the White Sox AAA affiliate could move from Charlotte to Raleigh.

        Anyway, here are eight four-team divisions (* for league changes):

        AL: Bos, NYY, Bal, Tor; CHW, Min, Cle, Det; Sea, Por, LAA, Col*; Hou, SA, Dal, Mex;
        NL: NYM, Phi, Pit, Was; Atl, Mia, Cha*, Cin; CHC, Mil, StL, KC*; LAD, SF, Phx, SD.

        Relatively tight geographical groupings and league changes don’t affect old-timey teams. I would argue for 20 games vs. each division rival and 7 games vs each other intra-league team. That’s 144 games. That leaves 10-18 games for interleague, depending on how many total games played. With four divisions per league, an NFL-like playoff structure makes sense, which means no play-in games. Thus, a 154-game schedule would make sense to allow an extra week for the first round of playoffs.

        Now who do we talk to to get this done?

        1. I’ll give Commissioner Manfred a call, maybe a text. I should be able to hammer it all out in 20-30 minutes.

          It’s funny to me that as I read your divisional groupings, I didn’t really notice that Oakland and Tampa Bay were missing until I read through them again.

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