I recall AC or some other jabroni did this once upon a time but I can’t find it. Anyway, let’s do the news bits first.
The Challenges in Oakland and Tampa Bay
As has been said numerous times by the oft-reviled commissioner of baseball, MLB expansion to 32 teams is inevitable, but first they have to resolve the situations with Oakland and Tampa Bay. Having gone to many Oakland A’s games in my time as a Bay Area native, I can say that the experience is fun (especially when the Moneyball teams were really good), but the stadium itself is trash and they definitely need a new venue. I think the Tampa Bay issues have more to do with accessing the ballpark which is on like a peninsula in St. Petersburg, west of actual Tampa. The Rays have tried everything from a proposed new park in Ybor City to a timeshare with Montreal, but suffice it to say that both the A’s (including fighting for media rights with the Giants) and the Rays have challenging issues that most teams don’t have to worry as much about.
For the A’s, I always thought the city of Oakland was content in telling ownership to go to hell re: public money, but most folks probably know about the proposal in Howard Terminal which is along Jack London Square. That part of Oakland (and really, any part of Oakland) is hard to get to because of traffic (bah, I-880 is the worst) and various choke points, even with BART (which I have my own complaints about because I was spoiled by CTA) but is at least further away from the Coliseum site which basically has nothing to offer now that the Warriors have moved across the Bay. And with the recent news that a funding package has been denied to Oakland, it sounds like this project is all but dead. The feeling is that the A’s will just move to Vegas just as the Raiders did, so we’ll probably see this happen within the next few years.
Regarding the Rays, it sounds like they’re trying to redevelop the site where the sardine can that is Tropicana Field sits, and they’ve received backing from the local chamber of commerce. It sounds like MLB and the Rays themselves are committed to sticking around the Tampa Bay area, so here’s hoping they figure it out too.
Potential Expansion Sites
If we assume that MLB will just try to stay in North America (which may include Mexico) for now, then that probably puts cities like San Juan in Puerto Rico, Montreal, and Monterrey or Mexico City into play, but I think that’s far less likely than them just sticking around in the States. Here is the current MLB map, with the lone team outside the USA of course being the Toronto Blue Jays:
You might notice the vast emptiness that is the American West (there’s a fun video explaining the main factors of why that is), and if we put aside the myriad issues with funneling all that water to Vegas and Phoenix, let’s assume MLB won’t suddenly decide to throw a team in Albuquerque or Nebraska. I’ve done a crude update of the map to show the potential expansion cities that make the most sense:
The green dot is where the A’s are most likely going to go in Las Vegas, while the black dot is Portland. The two blue dots are in Nashville and Charlotte, as I believe MLB would like to be better represented in the Southeast. Nashville in particular seems likely because there is a group already dedicated to turning that into the next MLB city, and they also recently added more advisors, including Don Mattingly, to the group. So my idea is that if the A’s move to Vegas, then Portland will get a team, and if the A’s stay in Oakland, then Vegas will get a team anyway. As for the other two, Nashville takes precedence, but if that craters, Charlotte is probably the most logical alternative. Since the leagues are even, one expansion team will enter the American League while the other will be thrown into the National League. Which brings us to possible realignment after MLB figures out who gets to blow two billion dollars to play ball too.
A Possibly Silly Realignment Plan
Teams have obviously switched leagues before, with Milwaukee going to the NL during the last expansion while Houston went to the AL once full-year interleague was established more recently. I think this might have to happen again for a few clubs (don’t ask me which ones) because the recent change to the schedule has become more balanced, which has fun competitive reasons but also I believe logistical reasons to mitigate travel. As a reminder, each team has the following schedule for 2023 (and probably beyond):
- Each division has five teams, so each team will face each division rival 14 times (seven home, seven away) for a total of 56 games;
- Each league has 15 teams, so the 10 teams outside of the division will take up six games (three home, three away) for a total of 60 games;
- The remaining 46 games are split up with a two-and-two against the traditional interleague rival (for the Cubs it’s obviously the White Sox) and then three-game sets against the other 14 teams in the other league, alternating ballparks each year.
So I redrew the map to accommodate this, although I was racking my brain to think up the balanced schedule math with now 32 teams, which would work with eight divisions of four teams each or four divisions of eight teams each, honestly it probably doesn’t even matter now because of full-year interleague and the extra wild cards, but I’ll do four divisions of four teams in each league just to keep some tradition alive (I’ll do the math below but here’s my map):
This was partly inspired by the bubble schedules during the 2020 pandemic sports season, particularly by the NHL that basically realigned everything to reduce travel. The teams in the West will still have to travel quite a bit more (and the teams in the other regions too when they visit out West) but within their respective divisions it won’t be so bad, methinks. Let’s take a look at the divisions as currently set up:
I wanted to try to keep teams in their original leagues as much as I could, so the AL West will look like this:
- Seattle Mariners
- Portland/Vegas (depending on if the A’s move)
- Athletics (whether Oakland or Vegas)
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim which is not exactly Los Angeles
The NL side will stay the same, booting the Rockies though:
- San Francisco Giants
- Los Angeles Dodgers in actual Los Angeles
- San Diego Padres
- Arizona Diamondbacks
I think this has the best chance to maintain traditional rivalries in the West as we’ve seen since interleague play started.
In this region, most of the teams are from their original central divisions but we lump in the Rockies so I guess Cubs fans will see Kris Bryant less often now because it made more sense to have them switch leagues. Here’s the AL side:
- Minnesota Twins
- Chicago White Sox
- Kansas City Royals
- Colorado Rockies
This maintains three traditional AL rivals and nobody outside Colorado cares about the Rockies anyway (I kid, I kid). Let’s switch to the NL where we’ve kept the division pretty much intact:
- Chicago Cubs
- Cincinnati Reds
- Milwaukee Brewers
- St. Louis Cardinals
I guess they’re not going to be able to beat up on the Pirates anymore! But just looking at the map, this division, and the region as a whole, should have among the least amount of travel of any in MLB under this scheme.
This includes the expansion franchise, and since Portland/Vegas went to the AL, Nashville/Charlotte is now NL. Let’s take a look at the AL side first:
- Texas Rangers
- Houston Astros
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Baltimore Orioles
This maintains the in-state rivalry between Texas and Houston, and I guess Tampa Bay has to be happy they’re just going to have to battle Houston now instead of the Yankees and Red Sox. Here’s the NL:
- Atlanta Braves
- Miami Marlins
- Washington Nationals
I think there might be objections by original NL East fans because Atlanta won’t be doing as much battle with the Mets or Phillies, and as the likely best-equipped team in this division, it might be a cakewalk for a few until the other three teams decide to try again, or just try period.
It was kind of tough to decide which team would need to switch leagues here, but the most recent expansion club was the Blue Jays so I think that will do. Here’s the AL side:
- Detroit Tigers
- Cleveland Guardians
- New York Yankees
- Boston Red Sox
These are all pretty much original AL clubs so I think they’d want to stay that way, and so would their fans. Here’s the NL:
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Philadelphia Phillies
- New York Mets
This allows a larger in-state rivalry for the Phillies and whatever the Pirates are, and the Blue Jays should make it an interesting division chase for the top three teams who aren’t the Pirates.
The NFL went to seven playoff teams per conference, with the top team in the conference getting a first-round bye while the other six teams play head to head to make it to the next round. I imagine with an expansion to 32 teams, MLB might try to force MLBPA’s hand in doing something like this, but this might allow MLBPA some additional leverage. For the playoffs anyway, that means four division winners and either two or three wild cards, with the appropriate number of byes depending on how many they agree on, and I think we have to consider that playoff expansion is inevitable.
As for in-season games, we first consider the makeup for MLB under expansion:
- Four teams per division, which means each team has three divisional rivals;
- Each team must play 12 teams per league out of division;
- Each team in a league must play 16 teams in the other league, plus their traditional interleague rival. This includes 12 teams not in the same geographical region, and four teams that are in the corresponding division.
I’m not going to try to figure out if the traditional interleague rival changed with this scheme, but I think we can work backwards from interleague all the way up to the bulk of division games:
- Three-game series (alternating ball parks each season) per interleague rival not in the same geographical region, so that’s 3 x 11 = 33 games;
- Two-and-two (home and away) against the corresponding interleague division (i.e. AL Central plays NL Central), so that’s 4 x 4 = 16 games;
- Three-and-two (home and away, alternate who gets the extra home game each season) against the traditional interleague rival (i.e. Cubs vs. White Sox) so that’s 5 games;
- Against non-division same-league rivals, we can do three-and-three (home and away), so that’s 6 x 12 = 72 games;
- This leaves 36 total games remaining for the division play, so that’s 3 x 12 (four three-game series against each division rival).
This schedule has the benefit of being much more balanced, we still get to see every team play every other team each season, and now there might be extra travel days to accommodate all those weird two-game series. I’m not sure if that’s enough division play, and too many two-game series is dumb, so this is probably the best that can be done with 32 teams, particularly if MLB is forcing at least one of them to travel to Australia or something each season to grow the global game. I’ll let the people who actually get paid all the money to figure out how to cram all that within the MLB calendar so we don’t get frozen games towards the beginning and end of the season or have the World Series in December, but I think this works? What say ye?
Until next time, take care of yourselves and each other.