As our esteemed editor has pointed out to me, the baseball offseason is very long, and it really hasn’t even started yet! Well, it has for us Brewer fans, but that’s our problem. As such, it won’t be surprising to see any and all possible topics brought up and discussed over the course of the late fall and winter. One of those talking points is MLB expansion.
The subject has been fueled by comments this year at the All-Star break and again recently in Seattle by commish Rob Manfred. Manfred mentioned Montreal (at the break) and Portland (while at Safeco Field) as potential sites for growth. Perhaps Manfred is just trying to encourage wealthy men to toss some money into the MLB coffers for the honor of owning an MLB franchise, or he knows that this is a pretty innocuous subject that takes attention away from other, more pressing, issues (like two leagues playing with different rules, or the disparity of wealth and opportunity for the various franchises, or robot umps, or...well, there are others).
A recent uptick of conversation was instigated by an article in Baseball America by Tracy Ringolsby. Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports have responses with some legitimate (or illegitimate) concerns. For instance, Ringolsby’s proposal does away with the American and National Leagues to go for a totally geographic alignment, a 156 game schedule, and an expanded postseason. I really have no problem with any of that but this SI piece by Jay Jaffe points out some major sticking points. So let’s look at how expansion would directly impact my specifc interests, and those of our favorite team.
First off, this will have no impact on robot umps (sigh). BUT - it would seem almost a certainty that the DH would have to be addressed. And it seems almost certain to me that the result will be that the DH will have to be used by all teams. That would have a major impact on how the Brewers are constructed. The extinction of the double switch would come as surely as the impact of a comet did in the dinosaurs (unless they were done in by something else, of course). A deeper bullpen and shorter bench would mean more pitching changes (and longer games, Mighty Manfred!). But: MORE DINGERS!
Most importantly, the Brewers would be competing with different teams for a division crown or a Wild Card spot. For instance, in a totally geographic division of teams, the Brewers could conceivably be in an eight team division with Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston and the two New York franchises. Or they could be in a division with Houston, Texas, Colorado, Kansas City, St. Louis, and the two Chicago franchises. Or the owners could decide to try and maintain the current alignment as much as possible by going to four four-team divisions in each league, which could put the Brewers in a division with St. Louis, the Cubs, and Cincinnati.
But you know what? The divisional/league construction will do little to impact how the Brewers build their team. The system and methodology currently in use are the best way to construct and maintain a lower-level financially based MLB franchise. The key is a consistently strong minor league system - which of course is easier said than done. Dealing current players for prospects will never be a popular way to build a winning organization among the more casual fan. Not that the Brewers will always be doing that full-bore, but it will always be done to some degree. Veterans that are approaching their arbitration years or free agency but have equal talents (hopefully) available and coming up in the system will always be susceptible to trade. Or those that can be replaced by obviously better veterans with at least somewhat reasonable free agent deals. Up and coming minor leaguers need to be given their shot or dealt for other assets before they are no longer enticing prospects.
Maybe because I’ve been through the league switch with the Brewer franchise before, I don’t fear that move, or really any other sort of realignment. I think the Brewers can compete in any arrangement as long as they can keep GM David Stearns at the helm and the current front office at the helm, or at the very least another executive with the same philosophy.
One issue of expansion is the preponderance of franchises in the northeast of the U.S. Fully 16 of the 32 franchises will be in the area bordered to the west by Kansas City and Minneapolis and to the south by Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. That leaves 16 franchises spread from Miami to Seattle. Add to that Jaffe’s point about franchises like Baltimore potentially losing their rivalries with the Yankees and Red Sox and the income those rivalries provide, and you have the scenario for some very strong infighting amongst franchises over how baseball would be aligned. To be fair, I don’t think it would be long before Baltimore would have some fantastic rivalries with the Nationals and Phillies to replace the lost Bosox and Yanks.
Of course, as Jaffe points out, MLB and the ownership groups aren’t the only ones that would be affected by realignment. The players in the game (and their union) also will have a large voice in all of this realignment and expansion discussions. But more teams and a DH across all of baseball will probably mean that the travel issues can be assuaged. After all, it isn’t like they have to travel by train anymore. Chartering a flight isn’t exactly the same as commercial travel.
I like Ringolsby’s basic premise - though I’d align the teams slightly differently. I’d also have 16 games against each of the teams in your division and 2 each against the other 24 teams. That would give a 160 game schedule (instead of the 156 game schedule in Rigolsby’s plan). Teams would alternate home series against teams outside of their division each season. My eight team divisions would set up like this:
- North: Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Montreal, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Toronto
- South: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington D.C.
- Midwest: Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota, St. Louis, Texas
- West: Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles, Portland, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle
Jaffe also points out that it is very likely that Baseball (with a capital ‘B’) will need to solve stadium issues in Oakland and Tampa Bay before expansion can be finalized. If either team is unable to reach an arrangement with their cities (a discussion of the validity of these needs, and who should pay, is beyond the scope of this post), one or both might be candidates for relocation - meaning that expansion would become moot.
There are as many opinions out there on this topic (or these topics) as there are baseball fans. Rarely, however, do I see anyone argue that they’d rather not see expansion. Chime in!