I love the idea of a new expansion baseball team. Something about the promise of a brand new team just starting out is really exciting to me. There are have been two different Major League Baseball expansion drafts in my life: 1993 (Florida Marlins/Colorado Rockies) and 1998 (Arizona Diamondbacks/Tampa Bay Devil Rays) and both were fun to watch but I was a teenager when both happened. If there was a new expansion baseball team in a great city, I would really want to move there and spend the rest of my days just watching this new team chase a title.
It has been 24 years since the last time MLB has expanded. There are currently 15 teams in each league which makes scheduling difficult. There are some markets that are deserving of a team and yet there are no immediate plans for expansion. We can thank Tampa Bay and Oakland for this.
Both the Rays and the A's are in stadium purgatory in their current locations but a decision is going to needed to be made by both teams in the next couple of years. I think the A's already made up their mind (more on that later on) but the Rays are currently playing in the sad Tropicana Field and that lease is up after the 2027 season. If they plan to stay in the greater Tampa Bay area, they need to get moving on getting a new stadium built long before then. But I think they will playing elsewhere in 2028.
This standstill needs to end before we see MLB expand because the current teams and owners take precedence and they want as many location options available to them so they have as much leverage as possible. Commissioner Rob Manfred said he does want to see MLB expand but not until the A's/Rays situations are resolved. You could argue that the reason the A's/Rays problems have lasted so long is because Manfred is so ineffective as a commissioner. I never thought I'd long for the days that Bud Selig was in charge but here we are.
I thought there was a chance we'd see expansion happen with this recent CBA signed before the season. When expansion teams join the league, the new owners pay a entrance fee and that fee gets split among the teams already in the league. The fee can seem like "found money" to these owners. In the past there were two things that spurred expansion: lost revenue and/or lawsuits.
1998: Lost revenue from the 1994-95 strike
1993: Owners lost a major lawsuit where they had to pay multiple players millions of dollars because the owners colluded together to not sign free agents after the 1986 season.
1977: City of Seattle sued MLB for breach of contract because the Seattle Pilots (expansion team in 1969 that later became Milwaukee Brewers) moved after only one season. The $32 million lawsuit was dropped when Seattle was promised the Mariners who were one of the teams in the 1977 expansion.
1969: NFL's rising popularity scared owners who thought more MLB teams would stop fans leaving the sport. (Narrator's Voice: It didn't work.)
1961-62: The brand new Continental League was going to start play and compete directly with MLB but the major league owners offered to put teams in New York, Minnesota and Houston if the league would never exist. The Continental League died before it could play a game.
As you can tell, owners in the past were motivated by greed and fear. I thought the missing revenue from the 102 games lost to COVID in 2020 would force the owners hand but I was obviously wrong. The difference now is the media pie is so profitable that owners don't want to add two teams to the mix to split that pie up even more. We will eventually get two new expansion teams in the MLB and they will be playing by the end of the decade but they will pay a huge price. I've seen some early speculation that it could be as high as $2 billion.
So which cities get teams? Here are the cities that I think have the best shot at getting an expansion team:
They will undoubtedly get a team but I don't think it'll be an expansion one. The Rays tried to get MLB to agree to a split season where they would play half the games in St. Pete and half in Montreal starting in 2022. No one liked that idea so it got axed but that communication between the Rays ownership and Montreal is real. Montreal also has a huge media market that MLB didn't take advantage of before they left in 2004. I think the Rays end up here but if they don't, they'll get a team for sure.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Just like with Montreal, I bet Las Vegas gets a team but it won't be an expansion one. In talks with the city of Oakland regarding a new stadium, the A's have been propping up Las Vegas as an option. I don't think it's a bluff. The success of the Golden Knights and the Raiders has also made Vegas the most likely city for when the NBA expands (I think that happens this decade too). I feel bad for Oakland fans. The stadium is not being maintained and the owners are tanking the team Major League-style to "prove" fans don't support the team. Manfred sits back and lets the plot point of a 1989 comedy become reality.
Here's a city that already has a team name (Nashville Stars) and an ownership group in place led by Dave Stewart. This is my odds-on favorite to get an expansion team. It's a market that is really growing and the ownership team seems to be well-organized and are already making inroads in the community. This would also be the first majority owned team by people of color.
I like Portland's chances but it does have something going against it. It's less than a three hour drive from Seattle which is already a mid-sized market. Portland is slightly smaller than Seattle and it will now be cannibalizing some Mariner fans. Portland seems to have less potential than these other cities.
Charlotte (or Raleigh), North Carolina
Putting a team in North Carolina makes a lot of sense. The state is growing very quickly and the banking presence in Charlotte could make selling sponsorships and luxury boxes a lot easier than other cities. I don't think it'll get a team though. If MLB gives a team to Nashville, they won't put another new team so close by. In past years, they've spread out the new teams (Tampa Bay/Phoenix, Miami/Denver, Seattle/Toronto). However if Nashville doesn't get a team, I love their chances.
San Antonio, Texas
With teams already in Houston and the Dallas area, MLB doesn't seem to have any urgency to have a team in Texas. I'm not saying that's fair because Texas is so large but it's a reality. I wonder if baseball doesn't want to go to a state where it will always be a second class citizen to football. Mix in the Spurs already being in town and maybe there is concern that there isn't room for baseball too?
You hear Orlando, Florida mentioned but I can't imagine any situation where MLB would put another expansion team in Florida. Maybe they could get the Rays to move if they could offer a sweetheart stadium deal?
So here's my guess: The teams are announced sometime in 2025 and by 2028, we'll have expansion baseball. The Tampa and Oakland situations will be resolved by then. We'll get realignment as well. There will be four divisions in each league (four teams in each division) so the schedule will make more sense.
Expansion teams are so much fun. The expansion draft, new stadiums, crazy uniforms and being able to root for a team from the ground up. Final prediction: Andrew Benintendi will be playing on one of these teams in 2028.