On Monday, Tracy Ringolsby of Baseball America reported that there was “a building consensus that baseball will soon be headed to a 32-team configuration,” with Portland and Montreal as the two most likely expansion team destinations.
League expansion would trigger “major realignment and adjustments in schedule,” said Ringolsby.
Expansion to thirty-two teams would almost surely force Major League Baseball to shorten the regular season down to 156 games. A shorter season would allow for more off-days, likely an off-day a week, and easier travel.
It’s not clear exactly how Major League Baseball will handle expansion as far as divisional make-up goes. There are several different ways the league can go. There is no way to know exactly how Major League Baseball will handle expansion, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to figure it out and analyzing how exactly that will affect the Milwaukee Brewers.
Ringolsby’s proposal included a complete demolition of the National and American leagues, creating four eight-team divisions based on teams’ geography.
Under Ringolsby’s proposal, the Brewers would be placed in the “Midwest” division, with a North, East, and West division making up the rest of the league. That would leave four playoff teams and no wild-card games, although it is hard to see Major League Baseball getting rid of the wild-card game entirely after how popular it has been thus far. The Midwest division would consist of the Brewers, both Chicago franchises, St. Louis, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, and Texas.
This type of realignment would be a clear elevation of division strength in terms of historical performance compared to the current National League Central the Brewers currently operate in. This would add three of the biggest markets in baseball to the Brewers division: Chicago (White Sox), Houston, and Texas (Dallas/Arlington/Fort Worth). At the same time, it would remove Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, two of the smallest markets. The Brewers would also still be in a division with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs, two of the better run teams in baseball. The Brewers would near the bottom in terms of market size in their division while they are closer to the middle currently.
Back in January, Travis Sawchik speculated on what expansion realignment would look like. He believes Major League Baseball is headed for eight, four-team divisions. This version of realignment would likely preserve the National and American Leagues. This would create a problem for Major League Baseball in that it either needs to add more playoff teams or get rid of the Wild-Card.
Under this alignment, it’s unclear which teams will be in which divisions. It’s safe to say the divisions will be based on geography. In this case, the Brewers are in the North with a cluster of teams around them. They could be in a division with any combination of either Chicago franchise, Minnesota, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Toronto, or possibly even Kansas City or St. Louis to the South.
The most likely scenario is that the Brewers, along with the Twins, get thrown into a division with the two Chicago franchises. This, again, is not an ideal scenario for the Brewers. The two Chicago teams enjoy a much larger market than Milwaukee, as does Minnesota for that matter, and in the long run those teams will have more favorable outcomes due strictly to the money flowing in.
Expansion and realignment should be embraced because change is good. Two cities will have a new major sports team to root for and interest in the game will grow. At the same time, the Milwaukee Brewers as a self-interested franchise should be wary of expansion. They are in a good place right now playing in a division with only one true big market team. Expansion and realignment would almost surely change that.