By Sean Begin
In Sunday’s Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo wrote about the possibility of baseball returning to Montreal, former home of the Expos who relocated to Washington, D.C. in 2005. The likely candidate, says Cafardo, would be the Tampa Bay Rays.
The reason a Rays relocation makes sense is in part because of the lack of support not only for the team, but for a new stadium as well. Tropicana Field, the Rays’ stadium, has many issues, from its location to the chaotic rule book regarding balls hit against the catwalks of the roof. Meanwhile, Tampa continues to put out some of the lowest attendance numbers in baseball, despite fielding a highly competitive team every season since their historic turnaround in 2008.
Moving a team struggling in one market to a new one is difficult, however. If Major League Baseball wants to bring baseball back to Montreal, they’d be better concerned with another round of expansion teams.
Baseball’s most recent expansion came in the 1998 season with the Rays (then the Devil Rays) and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks met with success first, winning the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees. The Rays didn’t see postseason success until 2008, but have been there three times in the five years since.
Expansion offers many opportunities for Major League Baseball. Adding a new team to each league could allow for the option of eliminating interleague play. The Houston Astros moved from the National League to the American this past season, splitting the number of teams evenly between the two leagues.
By doing this, the MLB had to schedule one interleague series all season, as opposed to just the month long interleague play that had been used since 1997. Adding a 16th team to each league would mean interleague play can be reduced back to one month or eliminated altogether. While the MLB is unlikely to eliminate interleague play, the option remains.
Expanding each league to 16 teams could mean a reshuffling of divisions as well, by forming a fourth division per league similar to the NFL. This would allow for even divisions rather than one division fielding six teams.
Division realignment could then lead to a postseason change. The wild card was initially instituted to allow for a division series and championship series. Expanding to four divisions would eliminate the wild card entirely.
However, Major League Baseball has seen great success with the one game wild card playoff the past two seasons. So the MLB may consider expanding postseason baseball to include four wild cards instead of two. This would produce a playoffs similar to the NBA and NHL.
This concept presents a multitude of problems, such as the length of baseball games, which sometimes take four to five hours to play out or the length of each first round series, as well as the fact that baseball might be pushed into November, which only happened in 2001 after the season was delayed following 9/11.
Expansion has many problems facing it, namely from the other baseball owners, who might not see any money in expanding the league. Each team would receive money from fees paid out by the expansion team, but could see a loss in revenue from TV contracts and revenue sources. However, expansion does offer an interesting set options for the MLB to consider.