Relocation and Expansion Can Solve One MLB Problem
Baseball has issues in Arizona, Oakland and Tampa Bay. Let's fix them
The least surprising news of the week is the fact that the Oakland Athletics have been cleared to pursue relocation. The A’s have been discussing a new ballpark and/or relocation for almost twenty years now, and they are no closer to getting a new ballpark in the Bay Area than they were when they started. From San Jose to Sacramento and everywhere in between, the A’s have looked and looked and nothing has happened.
Just as a reminder how long this has been dragging on, the proposed Cisco Field in Fremont was supposed to open over ten years ago.
The A’s, interestingly, would be the first team to relocate three times. They are currently one of three teams (Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland)1 to have relocated twice, along with the Braves (Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta) and the Orioles (Milwaukee to St. Louis to Baltimore).2
Last summer I wrote about efforts from Nashville interests to attract an expansion team. I still don’t think that will happen, even though Oakland ownership may play footsie with them for a better stadium deal in Las Vegas. But in that piece I mentioned the two other cities, in addition to Oakland, that were having stadium issues:
Why don’t we fix a bunch of problems by;
Allowing the Rays, A’s, and Diamondbacks to relocate;
Adding two new expansion teams; and,
Splitting each league into four, four-team divisions similar to the NFL setup.
So as part of all of this franchise pinballing, here’s what we would see:
The A’s would leave Oakland for Las Vegas: This makes too much sense for it not to happen. The A’s would reunite in Las Vegas with the Raiders. The A’s have already played real games in Las Vegas to start the 1996 season. Talks are already underway. It makes too much sense for this not to happen. The one issue in at the moment is that the folks in Summerlin made the short-sighted decision to not make their sparkling new ballpark for the Aviators expandable to MLB standards. But as I wrote last year: “There is more money in Las Vegas than they know what to do with, and there will be plenty of casino money to build a ballpark and support the team to have something to give to the sharks who make the casinos rich.”
The Rays would relocate, but to Orlando: I can’t see Major League Baseball wanting to abandon one of their Florida markets, even if both Miami and Tampa Bay have been underwhelming at the box office. Therefore, the long-discussed move of the Rays to Orlando is what makes the most sense for all parties. Baseball gets to keep two teams in Florida, the Rays need a new home, and this gets everybody where they need to be. As part of the move, the Rays however would move from the American League over to the National League so they can share a division with the Marlins.
The Diamondbacks leave Arizona for Vancouver: Is it the right move? I’m not entirely sure. But Vancouver and Las Vegas are the one cities that Arizona ownership has actively talked to and if the A’s move to Vegas, that takes that option off of the table. Vancouver does have BC Place ready to go in the event that the D-backs come north, though one would presume that a new stadium would be part of the deal. As part of the move, the Diamondbacks would move over to the American League so they can share the American League West with the Mariners. None of this, incidentally, suggests that the Diamondbacks should move. Abandoning the 12th largest metro area in the country would be insane, but hockey has had similar problems so it’s pretty par for the course in Phoenix.
Add expansion teams in Charlotte and Montréal: This goes a little bit against my Nashville article from last year, where I ranked Austin, Portland, and Monterrey ahead of Charlotte as an expansion or relocation venue. But I don’t think MLB necessarily wants a third team in Texas or would want three teams in the Pacific Northwest if the Diamondbacks move to Vancouver. Therefore, Charlotte gets the nod as one of the two expansion teams. The second, the reincarnated Montréal Expos, is a no-brainer.
This is what the leagues would look like after all of these shifts:
** Expansion Team
*** Relocated and switched leagues
East: Boston Red Sox; New York Yankees; Cleveland TBDs; Toronto Blue Jays
North: Baltimore Orioles; Chicago White Sox; Detroit Tigers; Minnesota Twins
South: Charlotte**; Kansas City Royals; Houston Astros; Texas Rangers
West: Las Vegas Athletics*; Los Angeles Angels; Seattle Mariners; Vancouver Diamondbacks***
East: Montréal Expos**; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Pittsburgh Pirates
North: Chicago Cubs; Cincinnati Reds; Milwaukee Brewers; St. Louis Cardinals
South: Atlanta Braves; Miami Marlins; Orlando Rays***; Washington Nationals
West: Colorado Rockies; Los Angeles Dodgers; San Diego Padres; San Francisco Giants
The playoffs would necessarily be expanded to twelve-teams here, with the 3rd and 4th best division winners facing off against the two wild-card teams in a best-of-three series, with the 1st and 2nd best division winners receiving byes.
As a traditionalist, I don’t like the idea of teams bouncing around nor am I really enthusiastic about teams switching leagues, either. But there is a history of this with Milwaukee and Houston switching leagues in the recent past. But baseball has a history of creating contingencies as it relates to relocation, expansion, and franchise purchases. MLB made a switch to the American League a requirement for Jim Crane’s purchase of the Astros. When the Diamondbacks and Rays came into the league in 1998 part of their expansion agreement was the baseball could move them from one league to the other without their consent for the first five years of their existence. The precedent exists and I can imagine that the Rays and Diamondbacks relocations would be made contingent on agreeing to switch leagues.
All of these pinballing pieces would give baseball new markets, new stadia, new fans, and new sources of revenue, all in markets that are much more secure that the situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay, at least. It would mean that there would be no longer any “troubled” markets that would need a relocation anytime in the immediate future3 and would make sure that the most viable expansion and relocation markets have teams.4 It makes all the sense in the world to, over the course of the next five years, get this done.5
They almost moved a third time in the 1970’s when they were halfway out the door to New Orleans. They weren’t nearly as close to this as they were to becoming the Kentucky Athletics in the mid-60’s.
This is more complicated than it seems due to the history of the American League and it’s reorganizing from the Western League. For example, the Sioux Falls Cornhuskers of the Western League begat the St. Paul Saints begat the Chicago White Sox by the time the American League declared itself a Major League in 1901. Same with the Twins, who started in Kansas City in the Western League and moved to Washington in 1901. It gets even more confusing with Cleveland, another original 1901 AL; in the Western League that team started in Grand Rapids and then bounced from there, to Missouri, to Omaha, and back to Grand Rapids before landing in Cleveland. None of this really counts because the pre-1900 American/Western League wasn’t a Major League.
Washington still has no business having a team.
This may look silly in the long-run. Buffalo, Hampton Roads, New Orleans, and Sacramento were all considered viable expansion markets once; the closest any of them are getting to the Majors now is Buffalo hosting Blue Jays games during the pandemic
It will help more than the continued fakakta rule changes they keep rolling out