2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite the on and off-field success of the two clubs, Major League baseball hasn’t expanded since. It’s the longest expansion drought in the history of the game, and it comes at a surprising time given the MLB’s long and steady ascent in popularity. TV ratings are up, attendance is sky high, and the MLB raked in $10 billion in 2016 and has posted record revenues for 14 consecutive years. If those numbers were any higher Major League Baseball would be asked to pee in a cup and send it to a lab.
Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the topic of expansion during the All-Star break. “I think we have some great candidates,” he told reporters. “I know the mayor of Montreal has been very vocal about bringing baseball back to Montreal. It was not great when the Expos left. The fact of the matter was baseball was successful in Montreal for a very long time. Charlotte is a possibility. And I would like to think that Mexico City or some place in Mexico would be another possibility.”
At this point, it sounds like expansion is as much of a sure thing as Aaron Boone getting booed in Boston. The question is, where will the MLB go first? Manfred has said he would like to expand from 30 to 32 teams for logistical reasons, but for the sake of this article, we’ll be setting the odds on the first city to receive an expansion team. We’ve taken into account the three aforementioned cities and have added three more picks of our own.
MLB EXPANSION ODDS
Mexico City: 7/2
Las Vegas: 15/1
6: VANCOUVER, BC, CANADA
Toronto and Montreal have both shown that baseball can succeed north of the border, so why not give Vancouver a chance to shine too? The cosmopolitan city is already home to thriving NHL, MLS, and CFL franchises, and it earned rave reviews as the host city of the 2010 Winter Olympics. In addition to having a population of 2.4 million, Vancouver’s Pacific Northwest location would make it the perfect foil to the Seattle Mariners.
The real issue with Vancouver is that it isn’t known as a true “baseball town.” The city’s Class-A Canadians draw well, but are far from the hottest ticket around. Vancouver would also require a new baseball stadium. BC Place could be a short-term solution, but Major League Baseball would likely want to have a baseball-specific venue in place before awarding a franchise. Those are big challenges to overcome, and they could keep Vancouver on the sidelines for the foreseeable future.
5: PORTLAND, OREGON
Anyone who has seen the superb documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball knows that Portland has had a longstanding love affair with the national pastime. The subject of the film, the Class-A Portland Mavericks, set a minor league baseball-attendance record in 1977 when they drew 125,300 fans to 33 regular season games. The city’s residents went crazy for the Mavs and it’s reasonable to think they would go equally wild for a Big League club. Rip City already supports the Trail Blazers and the Timbers, and has the requisite population to make expansion feasible.
Unfortunately, passion and warm bodies are only part of the equation. Portland lacks a Major League-caliber stadium and it would take years (and a whole lot of moolah) before one could be built.
4: LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
Las Vegas has always been a hot destination, but in the last five years it’s become the place for professional sports. The NHL’s Golden Knights begin play there in October, the NFL’s Raiders are scheduled to set up shop in 2019, and the NBA has been staging its wildly popular Summer League in Sin City since 2004. It may only be a matter of time before the MLB follows suit with a franchise of its own.
There’s just one teeny, tiny little problem. For the past century, baseball and gambling have gone together about as well as Alex Rodriguez and humility. It took nearly 70 years for the MLB to extricate itself from the Black Sox scandal before Pete Rose came along and sullied the game again. Those transgressions have left an indelible mark and it would be understandable if baseball were reluctant to tempt fate by setting up shop in the belly of the beast.
3: CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
When most people think of Charlotte (if they think of it at all), they think of basketball. The Queen City is home to the Hornets and is just a bounce pass away from Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, and the University of North Carolina. However, the hoops hub also has a rich history of supporting collegiate and minor league baseball. The city’s Triple-A Knights have led Minor League Baseball in per-game attendance for the past three seasons, and sold out BB&T Ballpark 25 times in 2016.
Ironically, that very same ballpark is one of the reasons Charlotte may not get a Major League team. The 10,200-seat venue was built in 2014 at a cost of $55 million and cannot be expanded to accommodate the needs of a Big League franchise. It’s a shame, since Charlotte’s location would make it a perfect rival for the Atlanta Braves.
2: MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
There are 21.3 million reasons why Major League Baseball could expand into Mexico City. That’s the present population of the Mexican capital and it makes the bustling metropolis an especially alluring destination. Manfred firmly believes the city can support a team financially, and is enamoured with the interest it would generate in the Hispanic market in the U.S.
Unfortunately there are two other numbers working against Mexico City, and they’re both biggies. The city is more than 1,100 nautical miles from the nearest team, and it’s more than 7,300 feet above sea level. That’s 2,100 feet higher than Denver, and it could lead to some ridiculously inflated home run totals and ERAs. It’s hard enough recruiting free-agent pitchers to Coors Field, but can you imagine anyone agreeing to go to a place where anything hit in the air becomes an automatic home run?
1: MONTREAL, QUEBEC, CANADA
September 24, 2004 was a day that will live in infamy for Montrealers. It was the date that Major League Baseball announced the Expos would relocate to Washington after 35 years in the City of Saints. The team’s fate was sealed due to an inability to secure a new ballpark, but that could be a thing of the past. A group of local investors has reportedly been working hard behind the scenes to bring a team back to Montreal. The group is said to have sufficient capital, government support, and multiple potential locations for a new venue. Manfred commended the group’s efforts during All-Star weekend and is presumably following their progress closely.
Manfred’s comments are encouraging, but they’re far from a ringing endorsement. Quebec’s political climate and the strength of the Canadian dollar will always be a concern, and many Montrealers still feel burned by the team’s abrupt departure after years of loyal support. Can they be won back? Earning the trust of the city’s fan base will be critical for the success of any new team.