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Manfred: MLB is Open to Expansion

Major League Baseball logoTalk of expansion in Major League Baseball heated up today, following a press conference from Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Expansion is something that has come up in talks over the last few years, and Manfred has not been shy in expressing his openness to the possibly of bumping the number of teams to 32. In March, we looked at how San Antonio—a market that has gathered steam, thanks in part to its support of the Texas Rangers’ Big League Weekend—could factor into the equation, and Montreal continues to build its case for another chance.

Though he did not talk about specific markets, Manfred was direct in expressing his willingness to consider expansion. More from the Sporting News:

“I have said publicly that I think baseball’s a growth sport, a growth business, that sooner or later growth businesses expand,” Manfred said. “I do see expansion as a longer-term proposition. I think there are certain issues in the game that need to be resolved first — the stadium situations in Tampa and Oakland being at the top of that list. In the longer term, there will be expansion. … If we were to expand, I do think a city that makes sense geographically — meaning in terms of realistic travel distances and is outside of the 48 contiguous states – would be a positive choice for us in terms of growing the game.”

That seemed to be a very strong hint at Montreal, which has had three straight years of massive crowds for exhibition games at the end of spring training. Montreal has been without a team since the Expos moved to Washington to become the Nationals after the 2004 season, and it is notable that every other city that has lost Major League Baseball since the start of the 20th century — those would be Baltimore, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Seattle and Washington (twice) — has gotten another chance.

“It was not a veiled reference to any particular city,” Manfred said. “I think, even if I didn’t want to say this, the mayor of Montreal would probably tell you, if you walked past him on the street, that I have met with him on a number of occasions. They have expressed a strong desire to have Major League Baseball back in Montreal. That’s a good thing. People want baseball. I think that’s a real positive. In addition to Montreal, there are other locations that clearly would be on the list.”

As is discussed in that excerpt, the issue that looms large in this discussion is the future of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A’s, both of which are still in the middle longtime searches for new ballparks. The Rays are still searching the Tampa Bay region for a new ballpark, while the A’s remain in a situation with Oakland that involves many variables, including the status of the Oakland Raiders. Beyond that, expansion would also require plans for new or expanded ballparks in two markets—and, if necessary, a temporary facility—as well as ownership groups in each city.

Still, even as it takes time for those questions to be answered, it is easy to foresee how expansion could help the game. The obvious is in helping it to grow and reach new markets, and possibly broaden MLB’s reach outside of the United States.

Another factor, and one Manfred discussed directly, is scheduling. With two new teams, the American and National Leagues could be evenly divided with 16 clubs apiece, allowing for easier scheduling and eliminating the need for daily interleague play. Manfred went as far as to say that MLB would consider reformatting the divisions in each league, with expansion allowing for four teams in four divisions rather than the current three division, five-team structure that is standard across MLB.

One additional factor to consider: MLB expansion would trickle down to Minor League Baseball. If expansion were to unfold under Manfred’s watch, it would lead to drastic change throughout the minors, as it would necessitate two new teams at each level. Should something come about, plenty of chatter will emerge as markets vie to attract a minor league club.

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