Don't get me wrong—I am personally not in favor of Major League Baseball expanding to 32 teams. But with so much talk of realignment, something's going to happen.
In a perfect world, the league would contract to 28 teams, and realignment would feature—in each league—a return to two seven-team divisions, and playoffs that would include the two division winners plus four wild-card teams that would play each other in a best-of-three with the winners meeting the division champs in a seven-game series, and so on to the World Series.
Two less teams means the talent pool wouldn't be as thin, and adding two more playoff teams in each league would make MLB happy.
It's even easy to identify the two teams that would disappear: Oakland and Tampa Bay. The A's are the weak sister in the Bay Area, and Tampa? Well, have you been to a game at the Trop? Few tears would be shed.
Of course, contraction is about as likely as Bud Selig opening a chain of juice bars with Barry Bonds. The union would never go for it, and it would be viewed by the league as a sign of weakness. Even in this bad economy, you never hear a word about contraction, so if no one's thinking about it now, it will never happen.
So what to do? As the league considers realignment and expanding the playoffs, it's become clear that 30 is not a good number to work with. Divide it by two and you have odd numbers as the result.
The current setup of having 16 teams in one league and 14 in the other was never good to begin with, and the teams in the AL West have a huge advantage in playoff qualification compared to the six teams scrapping in the NL Central, even with the wild card.
So the answer is clear: expand to 32 teams, just like the NFL.
Have eight four-team divisions, four division champs and two wild cards—again, just like pro football. The wild-card series would be best-of-three, followed by seven-game series the rest of the way.
The 162-game schedule would be preserved, so no loss of revenue there, plus expanded playoff revenue would be had.
One thing I'd love to tie into this would be the elimination of the designated hitter. The union would be gaining 50 more employees, which should more than make up for the loss of players who can't field. And if MLB loses the DH, maybe the minors and college lose it also, and we get back to baseball the way it should be.
(You're feelin' this, right, Bob Costas?)
The next question is, where to put these two new teams?
If you go strictly by market size, the answer is obvious: Vancouver and San Antonio.
San Antonio, when combined with nearby Austin, has a metropolitan area of about 2.5 million people. The NBA has teams in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, and that should work well with baseball, too. I know the Rangers and Astros won't like the idea of a third team in their (sort of) backyards, but MLB could probably grease their palms enough to make it happen.
If not San Antonio, the next-biggest U.S. market is Indianapolis, but that territory is pretty much owned by the Cardinals, Cubs, White Sox and Reds.
The next-best option would be Charlotte. A major-league team in the Carolinas would definitely work, and you can see a rivalry growing with nearby Atlanta.
Vancouver is a slam-dunk. From an alignment standpoint, it gives MLB an eighth true West Coast team, and you could build a rivalry with Seattle. The Vancouver area also has 2.3 million people, and it is a sports town with some passion. (Although, based on the Stanley Cup riots, maybe too much.)
So what would these divisions look like? So glad you asked:
NL EAST: Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Pirates
NL CENTRAL: Cubs, Cardinals, Reds, Brewers
NL SOUTH: Braves, Marlins, Astros, D-Backs
NL WEST: Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Rockies
AL EAST: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Indians
AL CENTRAL: Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Royals
AL SOUTH: Rays, Orioles, Rangers, San Antonio or Charlotte
AL WEST: Angels, A's, Mariners, Vancouver
Nothing crazy here, most of the divisions are intact, with the two new teams in the AL.
Geographically, it also makes sense, although the D-Backs in the South stand out a bit. Then again, Phoenix is not that far from Mexico, which is as South as it gets.
From a purist's standpoint, expansion isn't desirable because the league is diluted enough already, especially with pitching. But that should be tempered by the post-steroid, post-amphetamine era, one where massive amounts of data on hitting tendencies is helping pitchers more and more.
Plus, this isn't about the purists. It's a business decision. More markets and more playoff teams means more teams with a shot at the postseason, which means more "meaningful games," which means more money, which is what this is all about anyway.
What do you think? Should MLB expand?
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