Another MLB season is almost here, and despite the many changes to the game this year — from new rules to a new schedule — 30 teams from six divisions will take the field on Opening Day, as they have for 25 years. But make no mistake, expansion is coming, and when it eventually arrives, it could — and should — lead to a radical realignment of the league.
When I spoke to commissioner Rob Manfred at the World Series last October, I asked if expansion was still on the table, and he assured me it was. Manfred said, as he has for many years, that the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s respective stadium issues must be resolved first, and he acknowledged that has taken much longer than expected.
But it’s clear the commissioner and the club owners he represents want to expand to 32 teams soon. What’s less clear is “where to?” and “what’s next?”
Manfred hasn’t indicated what cities could be the front-runners, though he has previously named potential expansion locations such as Nashville (Tenn.), Charlotte (N.C.), Portland (Ore.) and Las Vegas, as well as Montreal and Vancouver in Canada. (The Athletic recently examined four of those options in stories that we’ve linked to here.)
So, once the stars align for expansion, what’s next for baseball?
It’s way too early to say, of course. But when MLB finally expands to 32 teams, it should seize the opportunity to implement a dramatic geographic realignment of the sport. The league could do so while maintaining the American League and National League framework, but a complete overhaul would arguably maximize revenue and certainly improve the travel burden on teams.
MLB has carefully considered geographic realignment for years, and Manfred cited “a more geography-based alignment” as a benefit of expansion in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal in 2018.