Image credit: © Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Talking about potential expansion in MLB is exciting. It doesn’t happen often—the last introduction of new clubs came in 1998, with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks—so its rarity has an inherent appeal. Then there’s the new teams themselves, in new cities, new fan bases to learn the annoying habits of… how could you not be excited for these kinds of changes?

So, whenever MLB commissioner Rob Manfred mentions expansion—which is often, since talking about growth potential is what companies do when you put a mic in front of the faces of them—you’ll see articles written about this potential expansion site or what it will take for MLB to expand, how much the expansion fees would be and it’s clear the owners would be into expanding because that’s a lot of zeros. People want there to be expansion, and dammit, we’re going to write expansion into existence if that’s what it takes. Look at what The Tennessean published recently, when Manfred mentioned Nashville as a potential expansion site, for instance. The headline? “Rob Manfred reveals what it will take for Nashville to get Major League Baseball team.” The story? Well, to save you a click, Manfred revealed no such thing, with the headline promising more than the article could deliver. Which, generally speaking, fits in well with most expansion-related content you find out there.

What’s the holdup with expansion, anyway? There are certainly stupendously wealthy people out there who could be convinced to try to wrangle cities into spending their money on new stadiums, in order to have their own baseball team. There isn’t another New York market out there, unless we want to go back to having three teams in New York, but unimpressive media markets like Baltimore and San Diego do just fine. There are plenty of American cities out there that would also do just fine, even if they’re not pulling in Yankees or Mets money. 

The holdup is the teams that already exist, and the stadiums they’ve yet to play in. Let’s rewind. Back in 2017, Manfred shared a trio of cities he had in mind for expansion: Montreal, Charlotte, and Mexico City. Respectively, that’s a return to the vacated part of Canada, or to a North Carolina city whose metro population justifies a team as well as plenty of others already in the league, or to the city with a larger population than that of New York City—the most populated city in all of North America, even. (Going to Mexico City would also mean MLB had a club in the top six most-populated cities in North America, which is the best they could hope for given Havana, Cuba ranks seventh on that list.) 

Manfred also said something far more important at that time than which cities he imagines an MLB team setting up shop in, though:

I think for us to expand we need to be resolved in Tampa and Oakland in terms of their stadium situations. As much as I hope that both Oakland and Tampa will get stadiums, I think it would be difficult to convince the owners to go forward with an expansion until those situations are resolved.

Well, the A’s are likely going to Las Vegas—whether to play in a Triple-A stadium and haggle endlessly over who is paying for a brand new one or to actually play in a new one is still a bit TBD, no matter how many announcements about future announcements they make, but still. You might as well start printing out the ironic Las Vegas High Rollers t-shirts for a team that’s probably still not going to spend after the move, because about the only thing that seems for sure is that Oakland isn’t going to want the team playing in their city anymore once that lease ends. The Rays, whose lease with the city of St. Petersburg goes through 2027, aren’t locked in to a new stadium deal, but they do have quite a bit of momentum built up toward… something… that will keep them where they are, or at least nearby. No more threatening to spend half the season in Montreal or what have you for the Rays: they seem likely to work something out before that 2027 date, or at least more likely now than they’ve seemed in the past, with owner Stuart Sternberg even saying he expects a deal by year’s end. 

So, this is how you end up with Manfred saying about a month ago that, “…Nashville you have to think about as an expansion candidate… we’ve talked about the situation in Oakland, if you follow the press in Tampa I think (Rays principal shareholder) Mr. (Stuart) Sternberg much more positive about being able to get something done in Tampa − which I think is the right answer for baseball − that puts Nashville in the expansion category,” which in turn led to The Tennessean getting a little ahead of themselves there. 

We’re good here, then? Add Nashville to the list, start up those expansion engines, and wait what’s this out of Milwaukee? The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion rejecting the spending of $290 million of county tax dollars on long-term stadium renovations? Yes, that’s why Rob Manfred was in Milwaukee, talking about the future of the Brewers in their current stadium and city. And to be fair here, this isn’t me saying that the Brewers are about to pack up and leave Milwaukee behindBud Selig might be old, but he’s not dead, folks—but it is me taking a moment to point out that the threat of packing up and leaving is a vital negotiating tool, and if the city, county, state, whatever doesn’t want to spend hundreds of millions in tax dollars to keep American Family Field up to date (I, too, forgot that this is what it’s called now), then threaten they will. And threats work better when Nashville doesn’t already have a baseball team in it.

Back when Manfred made those 2017 comments, I had some of my own:

We’ll eventually get MLB expansion, but it won’t be until Manfred and Co. have squeezed a new stadium out of one city or another to get the A’s and Rays up to speed. Of course, by the time they figure out what’s going on with Oakland and Tampa Bay, maybe another team will decide they don’t like their stadium, and we’ll have to begin the process anew.

It doesn’t take long for this sentiment to appear: The Braves just replaced Turner Field before it served as their home for even 20 years, the Rangers unveiled new stadium plans last spring because Globe Life Park opened all the way back in 1994 when there was only one wild card per league, and the D-Backs are currently complaining about their stadium, Chase Field, which opened in 1998.

The Brewers aren’t about to ask for a brand new stadium, not when they were already negotiating a deal that would keep them in their current one through 2043, assuming taxpayers foot the bill to keep the place ship shape for that long. But since their current lease does end in 2030, they can threaten to have another city build a new stadium for them, just like the A’s did to Oakland, like the Rays were more seriously entertaining before St. Petersburg and Tampa started changing their respective tunes a bit, like plenty of other teams have done before—hell, the Rays currently play in a stadium that St. Pete was hoping would house a team someday, and said team was nearly the White Sox, before Chicago caved and built Jerry Reinsdorf a new ballpark much closer to the previous one. 

The point is that MLB isn’t going to actually expand until they feel confident in the stadium situations of every team in the league. Which could be soon—the A’s could finalize a Vegas deal, the Rays a central Florida of some kind one, the Brewers could work out something with local government like Manfred expects to happen—or it could be somewhere closer to never, because this is an endless grift and stadiums seem to be replaced more often these days than they used to be. Again, the D-Backs were part of the last wave of expansion, and they’re angling for a brand new stadium (or at least a heavily renovated old one), either of which they’ll probably end up with before there’s another expansion team that follows them. That says much about the league’s priorities, no? 

Maybe we’ll get that return to Montreal or the first team in Mexico someday, but the chances that the team in question is a relocated one instead of an expansion one are probably greater than you think. Maybe not equal, but still, more than is implied by Manfred bringing those cities up all the time as expansion candidates would suggest. Expansion would be great—sure, on the one hand there are a million concerns to address about quality of competition and how to build the expansion team rosters and hey didn’t the league just shorten the draft and shrink the minors, but on the other, two more teams in a league that’s back to record-setting success and can afford to attempt to grow in new markets. As much as the current 30 owners would love to split some 10-digit expansion fees, they’d also love to be able to threaten to take off for Nashville or Charlotte whenever they aren’t getting as much taxpayer money as they’d like for a new stadium or renovations of an old one. And if new teams fill those slots, well. Threatening to move to Manchester, NH just doesn’t carry the same weight, you know?

Marc Normandin currently writes on baseball’s labor issues and more at, which you can read for free but support through his Patreon. His baseball writing has appeared at SB Nation, Defector, Global Sport Matters, Deadspin, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Sports on Earth, The Guardian, The Nation, FAIR, and TalkPoverty, and you can read his takes on retro video games at Retro XP.

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Orlando Dreamers.
Tim Angell
Great article, Marc!