“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?
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.