Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is reiterating that MLB will hold off on expanding its number of teams, though he has noted some potential cities for the league to consider.
There has been some discussion in recent years that MLB could eventually pursue expansion. However, one of the major factors in when MLB could move forward with expansion plans is the situations of the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s–two teams that are engaged in active searches for a new ballpark.
For both the A’s and the Rays, the search continues for a location to construct a new facility, but the timing of when one or both teams will resolve their searches remains unknown. In comments he made on Monday, Manfred–as he has before–indicated that it will be difficult for the league to plan expansion until both teams settle their ballpark situations.
The commissioner did note, however, that the league could have a few candidates if/when the time for expansion comes. Among the group he mentioned was Charlotte, Mexico, and Montreal. More from the AP:
“I think it would be difficult to convince the owners to go forward with an expansion until those situations are resolved,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday during an all-star game town hall meeting.
“Once they’re done, I think we have some great candidates,” Manfred said. “I know the mayor of Montreal has been very vocal about bringing baseball back to Montreal. It was not great when the Expos left. The fact of the matter was baseball was successful in Montreal for a very long time. Charlotte is a possibility. And I would like to think that Mexico City or some place in Mexico would be another possibility.”
There have been signs of increased desire to see a new team in Montreal to fill the void left by the Expos, and annual exhibition games at Olympic Stadium have been well supported in recent years. With Montreal, however, some unanswered questions remain, including whether a new ballpark can be constructed.
Charlotte does present some intrigue for MLB. It is a growing market that could provide an east cost team between Washington and Atlanta, and baseball fans in the area have supported the Charlotte Knights (Class AAA; International League) in strong numbers.
Looking further ahead, though, Charlotte could have its own questions. Charlotte already features franchises in both the NFL and NBA–the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets, respectively–and the pursuit of an MLS expansion franchise for the city remains ongoing. In addition, the Knights’ BB&T Ballpark is not in a position to be retrofitted to MLB standards. More from The Charlotte Observer:
Another big issue is the fact that the $55 million, 10,200-seat BB&T BallPark uptown that the Charlotte Knights opened in 2014 cannot be retrofitted to accommodate major-league specifications. Even if it could be, density and traffic uptown would be another challenge: Major League Baseball schedules feature 81 home games, including many on weekdays.
Having the Knights uptown has been a boon for businesses nearby, and attendance remains high. In fact, the Knights are among the top in Minor League Baseball attendance, with an average of 8,827 fans a game so far this year.
“It’s always a compliment when Charlotte is noticed as a potential MLB city, however we still contend, as does Commissioner Rob Manfred, that this is years away. We are thrilled that our team has led the country in Minor League Baseball attendance for three straight years, and intend on continuing that tradition for many years to come,” the Knights said in a statement to the Observer.
The other location mentioned by Manfred, Mexico, would present MLB with an opportunity to broaden its international reach. In fact, recent reports indicate that the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres may meet in Mexico City for a regular season series next year.
For now, the bottom line remains that the A’s and Rays respective ballpark searches will likely need to be resolved before MLB digs deep into the expansion process. It is also worth considering that expansion is going to have a ripple effect, leading to new minor league clubs, spring training facilities, and other developments on top of two new major league teams and ballparks. When the time does come to seriously discuss expansion, however, it seems that MLB will have some intriguing options in the mix.