Sometime in the next 20 years, MLB will expand to 32 teams. The league has finally recovered talent-wise from the cash-grab expansion of 1998 and it just makes more sense to have a league with 32 teams in it than one with the current 30 members. Right now the impediment to expansion is suitable cities rather than anything else.
No market is perfect and the existing teams would fight tooth and nail about having a franchise placed nearby, so let go of those dreams about a third team in the NYC market. Recognizing that all of the sites are flawed, the four seemingly most realistic markets in alphabetical order are: Charlotte, Montreal, Portland and San Antonio.
Perhaps the main appeal of expanding to 32 is the ability to get rid of the need for interleague games every day. My preference would be to eliminate interleague play completely before the start of the World Series. Additionally, I’d like to eliminate divisions and play a balanced schedule but that might be too much for people to handle. The idea of being in 16th place could be a real downer for attendance.
So, the new configuration is two 16-team leagues, each with four, four-team divisions. You play the other three teams in your division 18 times a year and the other 12 teams in your league nine times. One of the things rarely talked about is how difficult it is to put together a schedule of 162 games for 30 teams. Adding two more teams is not going to help this nightmare any.
The division series work out easy enough. You have three home sets of three games each and three road sets of three games against each of your three division foes. With nine games against your non-division foes, that works out to five and four home/road games for each club, which would rotate each year. So one year the Mets would have five home games against the Dodgers and the following year they would get four. We’ve seen four-game series on the schedule before and we’ve also seen two-game series, as well. Would it be easier for the schedule makers to do a five-game series?
Ideally, you would have two trips to each city for weather purposes, so if you’re snowed out in April, you can make the game up when you return in July. Assuming that the schedule makers can make it work, then you would have two road trips to each of the other 12 teams in your league. The majority of these would be two-game sets, with some three-game sets thrown in, as well.
If the schedule makers determine that five-game series are preferable to two-game series, then it will be just one trip to each other city in your league outside of your division. What you lose in weather protection, you gain in reduced travel costs. Plus, there’s something appealing about playing the same opponent five straight days, knowing you’ll get to see each of their pitchers. When the Giants come to New York, you know you’ll get to see Madison Bumgarner if he’s not on the DL.
Each of the four division winners make the playoffs, along with the four other teams with the best record. The teams with the four-best records get home field advantage, regardless if they won a division or not. The one real wrinkle in this proposal would be to allow the team with the best records to pick their opponents. So, if the Mets had the best record in the NL, they could pick any of the four teams with the worst record to make the playoffs as their opening-round foe. The second and third-best teams would also get to pick.
With the goal of trying to avoid massive realignment between the two leagues, here are the divisions:
NL East – Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Pirates
NL South – Braves, Charlotte expansion, Marlins, Rays
NL North – Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Reds
NL West – D’Backs, Dodgers, Giants, Padres
AL East – Blue Jays, Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees
AL South – Astros, Rangers, Royals, San Antonio expansion
AL North – Indians, Tigers, Twins, White Sox
AL West – Angels, A’s, Mariners, Rockies
There are numerous ways that you could align the divisions, especially if you were open to radical realignment of the leagues. But this works fairly well, in that it puts the Rays in the same division with their in-state rivals. MLB baseball in Florida seems like a no-brainer but to this point neither team has been an attendance powerhouse. Perhaps being in the same division would help.
Plus, if there was any team/city that should have the DH, shouldn’t it be the Rockies?
My preference would have been to add Montreal as one of the expansion teams. But the geographic need was to add teams in the southern part of the U.S. Sure, we once had the Braves and Reds in the NL West and we could have done a similar-type move here. Or, we could have looked to have one “South” division and one “Midwest” division and looked to move just a few more teams between leagues. At the end of the day It was hard to justify going in either of those directions given the uncertainty of the whole Montreal situation.
Now we’d just have to stock the rosters of the expansion teams. Tomorrow, we’ll focus on who the Mets would keep if there were an expansion draft that followed the rules of the 1997 one. Please check back in then.