The MLB Expansion and Realignment
It’s coming. Commissioner Manfred has talked about it. The fans are getting ready for it.
It’s been 20 years since an MLB expansion and realignment (not counting moving the Astros to the AL in 2013 so they could win the 2017 World Series). It’s time for baseball to have more teams.
This offseason has been dreadfully slow, so let’s talk expansion.
The free agents aren’t getting signed. Headliner trades aren’t happening. Even what should have been blockbuster trades turned out to just be multiple teams stealing from the Marlins open casket.
The players aren’t happy about implementing a pitch clock, but it will be good for baseball. We, the fans of baseball, need them to pick up the pace. The game has been dragging lately and getting worse each year. So, improving the pace of play will bring in more fans and more revenue.
More revenue is a perfect reason for an expansion into two new cities, which will create more fans and revenue. Portland and Montreal are ready. Portland has an ownership group and a land grant for a stadium. Montreal has a stadium and a fan base. These cities make sense.
MLB expansion and realignment should look like this:
AL East: New York Y, Boston, Baltimore, Toronto
AL North: Cleveland, Chicago WS, Minnesota, Detroit
AL South: Texas, Houston, Kansas City, Colorado
AL West: Los Angeles A, Oakland, Seattle, Portland
NL East: New York M, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Montreal
NL North: Chicago C, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St Louis
NL South: Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Washington DC
NL West: Los Angeles D, San Diego, San Francisco, Arizona
This round of MLB expansion and realignment focuses on reducing travel and time-zone changes (known to negatively affect teams) while keeping rivalries intact. The complete breakdown of AL/NL structure and loss of rivalries is what makes the proposed plan here not as good.
Moving Colorado to the AL and Tampa to the NL may make fans in CO and Tampa temporarily unhappy, but they’ll be able to make new rivalries. And as those are two expansion teams from the 90s, they aren’t as entrenched as others in the league.
League switching wouldn’t matter after adding a DH to the NL.
It needs to happen. The MLB expansion and realignment provides a perfect opportunity to implement the DH across the board.
To accommodate the new DH spot for NL rosters, let all teams add one player to active rosters, bringing the total to 26 players. That’s 32 more Major League jobs! This part I’m sure will get plenty of flack. But they need to be on the same page. The DH is more exciting baseball: no free outs. We need exciting baseball!
Having teams in the same state become rivals makes sense for excitement. I know many older baseball fans are unhappy with Houston being in the AL, but having them rivals with Texas is good for baseball in Texas. Having Miami and Tampa in the same division would instantly create a natural rivalry there too. It might even make people show up for baseball in Florida after March.
MLB expansion and realignment would be great for baseball and great for players. The expansion creates more jobs with higher salaries for players. The MLBPA, and frankly many fans, have been concerned about collusion to not sign players to drop their prices. While that may be the case, the soft salary cap known as the “luxury tax” incentivizes owners to not spend more.
The solution to counterbalance the soft cap would be adding a salary floor of $80M.
If you aren’t going to spend on talent, you don’t get to keep your team. Only three teams spent less than that number on their Opening Day 2017 roster. Coincidentally, only three teams had a payroll above the luxury tax of $195M on the same day.
All teams being competitive is good for baseball, fans, and cities. Being competitive is also good for business. Owners would have a lot more butts in seats in August and September if their team was competing for a playoff spot.
Let’s consider expanding the playoffs as well.
Many fans agree the one-game Wild Card expansion is awful. With the MLB expansion and realignment above, we could have four division winners and wild-card spots per league.
This would expand the number of playoff teams from 10 to 12, increasing the number of cities excited about experiencing playoff baseball and increasing the number of ticket sales down the stretch.
Make the playoff structure like the NFL where the top two teams get a first-round bye. Have the Wild Card round be a 3-game series where the two division winners with worse records have to face a wild-card team.
Adding teams and expanding the playoffs, something needs to contract right? Yes.
The season needs to be shortened.
The MLB expansion and realignment table above provides travel relief to teams and players, which is good for cutting expenses and improving rest. But the players need more rest throughout the season.
More scheduled rest will reduce the number of injuries and keep the star players on the field every day so when little Timmy gets to attend, his favorite player isn’t riding the pine on his unscheduled rest day.
The plans for MLB expansion and realignment focus on a new 156-game schedule, which is an improvement. I would consider taking it a step further to a 144-game schedule.
Instead of playing three games against each interleague team, teams wouldn’t play one interleague division each year. Teams would always face their interleague counterpart though (East vs East, West vs West). The off-division rotates amongst the other three.
Yes, that cuts 18 games or about three weeks from the schedules of today, but with extra playoff games, we need to reverse the trending “November Creep” of baseball. Removing 18 games spread across the season is enough to give the players one day off per week. Like Mondays. No more games on Mondays.
As fans, we need to accommodate the players’ need for a rest day. They can adjust to new rules. We can adjust to new rules too.
Much like we can be more productive when we work fewer hours, so can they. And the owners, like our employers, shouldn’t cut their pay either.
All of these seismic changes will make baseball better.
The job creation (more MLB-level salaries) from MLB expansion and realignment plus a salary floor should compensate players enough to make the MLBPA happy. Giving new cities a team, including more teams in the playoffs and creating more natural rivalries, will strengthen baseball.