Rob Manfred’s expansion plan isn’t what MLB needs right now

If you can believe it, Rob Manfred actually wants more baseball. 

This revelation may come as a shock, as many of us were under the impression that he didn’t really like baseball.

But recently, in a long ESPN interview, Manfred attempted to finally shed that reputation. He claims that not only does he not hate baseball, he’s actually been trying to save it all along. He says he grew up a Yankees fan and loved going to games with his dad, which is extremely relatable, though my dad has better taste in teams (go Sox). And did you know he’s the only commissioner in MLB history who played Little League?

Maybe Manfred likes the game of baseball. Maybe he even loves it deep, deep down. There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. Regardless, he shouldn’t be trying to expand the league.

That’s right, Manfred is thinking big. Two new teams to make it 16 squads per league, officially twice the size of the original modern Major League Baseball, which had eight teams in each league from 1901 to 1960.

The most recent expansion was back in 1998 when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay [Devil] Rays became the 29th and 30th teams. Since then, team valuations and profits have skyrocketed, but many of baseball’s issues have either stayed the same or worsened. In 2004, the average estimated value of an MLB team was $295 million; as of this May, the average is $2.07 billion.

When New England Sports Ventures, now known as Fenway Sports Group, purchased the Boston Red Sox in 2002, they paid $660 million for the team, more than double the price ever paid for an MLB team before. This year, Forbes’ annual estimation valued the team at $3.4 billion, and that outrageous number still puts them behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Six Billion Dollar Men, the Yankees.

MLB expansion isn’t the answer to baseball’s problems

But before I go off on a long tangent about how all (or at least most of) these billions should be going to teachers, nurses, and ending world hunger, not to mention how the United States federal minimum wage hasn’t increased since the last time the Yankees won the World Series, here’s a brief list of things I think Manfred should work on bettering before he even thinks about adding more teams: pretty much everything minor-league related, international draft corruption, streaming costs and blackouts, ticket prices, concession prices, tanking, the Yankees’ antiquated grooming policy, and the fact that the Los Angeles Angels are somehow allowed to waste the best years of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Those are just a few of many things that should be on Manfred’s to-do list ahead of “add more teams.”

Manfred wanting to expand MLB is like when I was a kid and I’d ask my mom for a new Barbie, and she’d tell me that I wasn’t playing enough with the ones I already had.

In fairness, my mom was never really a Barbies mom. Kind of like how the long-running joke-slash-complaint is that Manfred doesn’t like baseball, which, again, he says isn’t true. And then one day, my younger sister went and gave all the Barbies “haircuts,” and that was the end of us getting Barbies, kind of like how some team owners are content to destroy the teams they own, and in doing so, ruin play-time for everyone else because non-competitive teams hurt the collective experience.

Of course, many of baseball’s biggest issues are not up to Manfred alone; he might be the commissioner, but he serves at the pleasure of the owners. Ultimately, the chain of command is irrelevant, though, because the fact of the matter is, adding two more teams to this league at this juncture would be like if your toilet was overflowing and flooding the house and instead of calling a plumber, you called a contractor to construct a patio in your backyard. Priorities.

I’m not against expansion, though. What I’m opposed to is expanding without repairing, without improving, without nurturing what we already have. Baseball shouldn’t be trying to grow while parts of it are rotting from within. Before adding more teams, they need to address issues like existing teams’ low attendance. Instead of expansion, relocation, perhaps.

What could MLB expansion eventually look like?

Something intriguing about a potential (likely eventual) expansion is that if each league has 16 teams instead of 15, the two leagues could be restructured from three divisions of five teams to four divisions of four. Doing so would especially benefit the American League East and National League West, two divisions are almost always overflowing with talent that inevitably left a worthy team out of the postseason. We’ll see if the new three-team Wild Card format changes that this year.

Of course, restructuring the divisions would almost certainly mean they’d have to change the postseason structure, too. Do you see how all of a sudden, there’s a mountain of new work to do that has nothing to do with solving the aforementioned issues that need fixing?

There’s a lot to like about MLB expansion. A ballpark can boost the local economy; it creates new jobs, increases tourism, and drives local business in the surrounding area. The other side of that coin is that sporting arenas make everything around them more expensive: dining, parking, and housing, to name a few of the many costs of living. Of course, that brings us back around to the larger, very prevalent issues in this country of minimum wage and soaring inflation.

All this to say, I’d love to have more baseball teams. I want this game to grow and to be accessible to more people. I want more nights at ballparks, to see more players have a chance to live their dreams and for more children to fall in love with the game I fell in love with before I was old enough to know what love really was.

Sadly, I’m fairly certain that’s not why Rob Manfred wants to add more teams. As with many, if not most of the changes he’s made since becoming commissioner, it’s safe to assume this new campaign is about money. Because that’s what baseball is about for the people in charge. But if we don’t fix baseball, the money will go away. So if you really care about baseball, you need to fix it first.

Stop looking out the window, Rob, the call is coming from inside the house.

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