MLB FA: Is Expansion the Key?

We’re just about set to begin playing spring training games in anticipation of the 2018 season and there are dozens of free agents still out there to be signed. And we’re not just talking middle-of-the-road guys, with some of these being among the best in the game at their respective positions.

The most glaring unsigned players hail are represented by agent Scott Boras, who has received some of the criticism for the slow going this offseason. But while some have pointed to agents expecting too much for their clients, others have said a correction in salaries is “needed”, despite the fact that MLB continues to grow in terms of revenues at a tremendous pace – to over $10 Billion in 2017.

The “obvious lack of money” owners are willing to spend (in part due to self-inflicted CB tax restrictions, which is convenient), has some people wondering if expansion could be the olive branch that both pads the pockets of MLB owners (in the form of $500M franchise fees), and of the players by creating 80 new MLB roster jobs and upwards of $200M in annual salaries (low end).

Then you add the opportunities players would have to earn AAA jobs, the increased affiliates in Milb – which has introduced Milb.tv recently and is seeing increased revenues on that front – and the coaching positions adding 2 teams would entail.

Let’s assume for a second that Montreal and Mexico City are able to earn franchises and begin adding players for 2018 (to get a feel for how it would impact FA).

Every franchise needs a “face of the franchise”, right? So, let’s put JD Martinez with Mexico City at $35M/season and Eric Hosmer with Montreal at $25M/season.

You know what, let’s skip ahead and make up both rosters completely from what’s left over in free agency at the moment:

Make belief Montreal Expos

Position Players

Pitching

Bench

Make belief Mexico City

Position Players

Pitching

Bench

Now, you may look at those teams and be somewhat impressed with the talent that’s spread out through those 2 expansion teams – and you should be. But here’s the cherry on the top – that still leaves us with the following as remaining free agents:

The point being that even with every team out there filled AND two expansion teams added, there would still be many free agent options out there looking for jobs.

Has MLB been unknowingly blocking out very high quality players by not going through with expansion earlier? And has this cost both them and the players millions in revenues year-after-year?

Possibly. Well, actually, almost certainly.

Expansion as an Olive Branch

Should MLB decide to throw that olive branch out to the players, it could very well bridge the gap between this ugly offseason for free agents and the next CBA negotiation, which may be a fairly contentious affair to say the least. But if players are able to reap the rewards that come from an extra eighty 40-man roster positions and salaries that follow, it could bring the temperature down enough to at least avoid a strike – something Montreal fans know all too well can really hamper a team’s fanbase and their commitment to MLB.

The addition of two franchises likely spending over $200M or more every season injects the money the players are looking for while the 30 MLB teams stand to benefit from being able to share $1B worth of franchise fees (just over $33M per franchise).

But that’s not all. Expansion also brings increased TV revenues, increased marketing, merchandising, a wider area coverage, and in some cases – rivalries that help amp up attendance.

Imagine the Toronto vs Montreal games and how well attended those games would be? Place those teams in the same division, and you have a very strong chance of getting 19 sellouts (or close to sellouts) each year. When you start the year with 12% of your games looking like sellouts, you’re in a good place.

Message to MLB – Expand ASAP. Oakland and Tampa Bay are a hair away from figuring out their stadium issues, and if either of them fall through, there are at least a foursome of outstanding options out there for MLB franchises anyhow (Mexico City, Montreal, Charlotte, and Portland leading the way).

Acting now could bring peace and relieve pressure within the pressure cooker that’s been the 2018 offseason, and could mean a return of the Montreal Expos, once and for all. But most of all, it would increase the revenues of all MLB stakeholders by a significant amount and stop the lost revenue opportunities that they’ve experienced over the last few years without expansion having taken place.

 

14 comments

  1. I could never see MLB expanding all the way to Mexico City… Montreal would be cool. I’ve always thought the Rays should move to one of Charlotte, Nashville or even Louisville. Florida is having trouble with baseball, maybe it’s time to leave them with just spring training and the Marlins. Any of those three above mentioned cities would require no division realignment as well if the Rays were to move.

    • Good points Bryan, and I think you’re right, realignment is likely to result from certain locations being chosen. It’s going to be fun to talk about once announced by MLB, and we’re likely to see 5-6 really strong bids!

  2. Expansion why so you can have more greedy owners complaining they are small market teams and need other teams to pay them money that they don’t put back in the team but in their pockets no please no. I would say get rid of 4 teams.

    • The ownership group the Expos will be vetted by MLB and surely they’ll make sure that it’s a strong bid that wins out.

      I’d add that once Oakland and Tampa Bay have their stadium issues settled, they’re unlikely to require much in the way of equalization payments, which will help MLB ride out any lows stemming from a few losing seasons among expansion teams.

  3. While I understand it from a nostalgia standpoint, I don’t think you can put the new “Expos” in the National League. Put them into the American League east, and allow Canadian fans enjoy a bitter rivalry between they and the Jays.

    • Whatever happens, I agree, the Blue Jays and Expos belong in the same division. As tough as it would be to never see them face off in a world series, they’d likely face off more often in the playoffs as a result of being in same division. I’m with you 100%!

  4. I’m all for expansion, but don’t forget you have to have minor league teams, and looking at the current state of minor league baseball, it’s hard to find adequate cities. I feel like this is a part of the equation that is always forgotten.

    • Ahh, but we have you covered! I’m writing an article on that right now.

      Not sure if you know much about Expos past franchises, but the Ottawa Lynx were a hit and having them close to Montreal makes a lot of sense. They’d join the AAA International League.

      Not to be outdone, Quebec City could easily support a franchise to join the AA Eastern League, facing off against the Jays affiliate in New Hampshire.

      When it comes to HiA, Orlando as part of the FSL makes the most sense as the Braves are set to leave next year and Quebeckers head there in droves, and it should also be where they set their GCL team, making it their main facility for rehab, ect. . .

      LoA and SS, Midwest League and NYP league are the best choices.

      Now, let’s remember that Minors teams are just now starting to get money from their Milb TV efforts and it’s likely that service improves over time, increasing their income.

      Just a few points to consider.

  5. As fun as it is to speculate about on-boarding the 31st and 32nd franchises, the immediacy and feasibility of it remains dubious, even if you assume the necessity of it.

    (1) The immediacy. I’d surprised, make that no amazed, if MLB announces expansion prior to resolution the stadium situations in Tampa and Oakland and thereby foregoing the leverage of relocation to extort new stadiums from their respective markets. Furthermore, any proposed expansion would take three to five years subsequent to awarding them making timetable more like 2023 to 2025 until their first pitch. This makes the above roster projections more an exercise in whimsy than reality.

    (2) The feasibility. Unless you’re wanting unbalanced divisions (5-5-6) as opposed to balance (4-4-4-4), it escapes me how you do so without minimally a modest realignment. Undoubtedly this doesn’t include the potential machinations league switches, rivalries, market balances, because the only thing I’d confident about the end result would be two leagues – American and National – all else would be subject to negotiation, and probably protracted at that.

    Viability of potential expansion city is well worth another posting and extended discussion.

    But hey, this is fun! It is what baseball fandom is about, see “Wait’ll next year.” Continued success with your blog.

    Bill

    • Thanks for the thought provoking comments Bill, I enjoy the thoroughness!

      1) I agree that it’s an exercise in whimsy until it becomes reality, but as time has gone on the drum beating for expansion has increased in volume. And in terms of expediency, no other city can accommodate MLB faster than Montreal. If awarded a franchise, the team can begin play that very season because the Olympic Stadium is still standing and in working order – therefore, the timeline is actually as soon as MLB wants to start making more money. The capacity of the stadium and it’s operations have been proven yearly by the attendance of over 100,000 people for 2 exhibition games – a number that represents 10% of what the Tampa Bay Rays draws annually…..

      2) The solution to division inequity is simple – 4 divisions instead of 6, each with 8 teams.

      We’re definitely going to be taking a closer look at the competition over the coming weeks as it’s definitely not a sure thing that Montreal gets one of the two likely expansion teams. There are at least a half dozen cities that are very viable alternates.

      What I’m trying to get across with this site is a combination of enjoying the history of this franchise, passing that history on to current fans, all the while crossing our fingers that MLB can recognize the passion that Montreal Expos fans still hold for baseball.

      Thanks for the well thought out comment Bill, and hope to hear from you often!

      Mat

  6. No more expansion teams!! We have enough poor talent in the majors now!! And Mexico City, if you were going to pick a team from any where WHY MEXICO CITY? I would rather see it go out west Ty o a Canadian team like Edmonton, or Calgary Alberta? No more teams until the teams are so awesome it gets boring not there yet,

    • Hey Dan, welcome!

      I agree with the premise of going out West instead of Mexico and always considered Vancouver as a great spot for Baseball, being a perfect rivalry with Seattle.

      What MLB is trying to do is get first spot somewhere among North American pro sports, which takes Las Vegas out of their options. With Mexico City, they get direct access to 9 million people in that city alone and an entire country to cheer for them (that’s 127 million) plus whichever Latin American nations decide to cheer for them as well.

      When you’re talking untapped markets, that’s a massive one. But I get where you’re coming from

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