It wasn’t all that long ago that Major League Baseball was considering contracting two teams. Now, there’s growing talk of expansion, growing the majors to 32 teams. With the expansion could come realignment – perhaps radical realignment – that could rekindle some rivalries and kill others.
The expansion talk has been around since Major League Baseball played an exhibition game in Montreal in 2014. They followed that up by returning to Montreal for games each spring since then. There is even talk that there could be regular season games moved to Montreal as early as 2018.
The games there have been sold out games attracting around 90,000 fans to Olympic Stadium. The Blue Jays and Red Sox saw 106,102 fans for their 2017 spring exhibition game. Certainly, regular attendance would be nowhere near those numbers, but they’ve produced optimism to the point that there are now plans being put in place to build a downtown stadium.
Meanwhile, there is a potential ownership group in place and a $150-million grant still available to build a stadium in Portland, Oregon. The grant remains on the books since the city attempted to lure the Montreal Expos out west back in 2003. The Expos moved to Washington, D.C. instead.
With three divisions of five teams each in each league, there would likely be some realigning to be done. Baseball could just slip Montreal into an East Division and put Portland into a West Division, with one team being in the NL and the other in the AL, and be done with it.
Or, as baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby proposes, they could truly switch things up and realign. Ringolsby presented an alignment of four eight-team divisions that would essentially do away with the National and American leagues and have teams just play under the banner of Major League Baseball.
Ringolsby’s realignment looks like this:
East: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington
North: Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, New York Mets, New York Yankees and Toronto
Midwest: Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Texas
West: Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle
Along with realignment, Ringolsby presents the following changes:
- Playoffs would feature 12 teams, up from the current 10. Division winners automatically advance to the Division Series as they do now and eight wild-card teams would pair off and play a one-game winner-take-all wild-card game, just as is done now. The four wild-card winners would advance to play the four division winners, with the four winners of those series playing in what would effectively be a semi-final series, with the final two teams playing in the World Series.
- A 156-game schedule, down from the current 162 games. Teams would play 12 games per season against teams in their division (six home, six road) and three games against each team outside of their division. That would mean that a team would travel to a city outside their division just once every two years. The plan would reduce revenue because of less games, but would present a dramatic savings in travel costs. Fewer games would also allow for one off-day per week without stretching the calendar any deeper than it goes currently.
- Allowing two extra teams into the postseason would add more TV revenue and possibly, pump up September attendance in cities where teams would be competing for a post-season spot.
- The day off every week provides players with something they brought up in the last CBA negotiation; more rest. Travel weariness would also be reduced because with the exception of the Rockies and Twins, teams would be sticking primarily to their own time zone. Also, out of division road trips would be to no more than two cities.
From the Phillies perspective, the plan would reignite the traditional rivalry with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Throughout the 70s, the two teams were bitter rivals who were usually battling for the top spot in the National League East. That was all prior to expansion and the switch to a three-division alignment that sent Pittsburgh to the Central Division.
It may take a little while for the rivalry to truly regenerate, but given time, it would certainly become games on the schedule that fans would be circling.
On the down side, the Mets would now be in another division, severely hampering the rivalry that the two teams have built over the years. They would still play each other each season, but for only three games and in one of the cities per year.
The reduction in travel would be nice, but primarily from a team standpoint. It wouldn’t really affect the fans nearly as much as it would simply provide a cost savings for the team. One sticking point is that with out of division road trips limited to no more than two cities, the Phillies would have two west coast trips per season.
The big question is, what would happen to the designated hitter? Would all of Major League Baseball adopt the DH rule, eliminating things like the double-switch and deciding when to pinch-hit in close games? Or, would the purists prevail and completely eliminate the DH? Odds are that the players would argue to keep the DH since it helps to extend the careers of some players.
The bottom line is that baseball is changing. There’s the blocking the plate rule, interleague play, the no-pitch intentional walk, and other rules that have gone into the books over the past few seasons. At one point, there were two leagues who only played each other in the All-Star Game and the World Series. The Braves were thrown into the National League West when division play entered, because nobody really wanted to break up the Cubs and Cardinals rivalry in the East.
Change has come and it’s likely going to continue. With baseball’s exploding revenue, it’s likely that they’ll want to cash in and pursue expansion at some point, likely not in the too distant future. Of course, there are teams like Oakland and Tampa Bay who are looking for new stadiums and that search could lead them to relocating. Commissioner Rob Manfred has said that those situations have to be dealt with before expansion. Could it be that Oakland would move to Portland and Tampa Bay to Montreal? That would allow the teams to stay in their same division and bring baseball to two cities that appear poised for the game to enter, or re-enter in the case of Montreal. Or will Oakland and Tampa Bay get new stadiums and stay where they are?
Keep in mind that this is just a proposal floated by a very respected baseball writer and not anything official that’s being considered. When expansion does come, it’s going to take a few years, because owners have to be put in place, stadium sites have to be found, stadiums designed and constructed and teams will need to start developing players through the draft. Then would come an expansion draft and finally, two new teams for baseball to welcome into the fold. By then, the game will likely endure more changes as the landscape continues to drift.