Baseball is talking about expansion — as it should be
New enthusiasm. New fan bases. Maybe they were fans of other teams. Maybe they want their own team.
Skeptics will say Major League Baseball is struggling in Tampa/St. Petersburg, Oakland, and Cleveland, so why would it think it could expand?
“Maybe one of the reasons I got this job is I’m bullish on this game,” commissioner Rob Manfred said last week. “I think we are a growth business, broadly defined. And over an extended period of time, growth businesses look to get bigger. So yeah, I’m open to the idea that there will be a point in time where expansion may be possible.”
Why not? New cities, fresh excitement about baseball. New enthusiasm. New fan bases. Maybe they were fans of other teams. Maybe they want their own team.
“I think it’s very important for us to look for markets out there that are interested in baseball — and there are markets interested in baseball — examine their viability and make them viable so we have business alternatives available to us,” Manfred added.
Maybe he’s saying that because you always want to think your sport would be popular in those cities where it isn’t being played. The NFL knows that despite many years of not having a team in Los Angeles, that city could easily support a team or two. There is no such obvious city for baseball, but there are viable ones.
The last time baseball expanded was in 1998 with the additions of Tampa Bay and Arizona. In 1993, Colorado and Florida were added.
More than a dozen years ago, the Kraft family envisioned a ballpark next to Gillette Stadium to lure the Montreal Expos. It would have been a much different baseball experience than Fenway and the Red Sox with tailgating and wide-open spaces away from the city. However, the Red Sox holding territorial rights to the region would have made it nearly impossible to execute.
Manfred acknowledged there’s been recent interest in MLB by a few cities, including Montreal, Charlotte, N.C., and Portland, Ore.
The Expos were in business from 1969-2004, after which the franchise moved to Washington and was bought by the Lerner family.
Montreal, through the efforts of Mayor Denis Coderre, other city officials, as well as ex-major leaguer Warren Cromartie, has gone ahead with a financing plan after conducting millions of dollars in feasibility studies that point toward success if expansion, or relocation of a floundering franchise, occurs.
Cromartie said the Montreal Baseball Project is closing in on a stadium plan that MLB would need to consider the city a serious contender.
“The mayor [of Montreal] is an enthusiastic supporter of bringing baseball back to Montreal,” Manfred said. “I happen to believe that Montreal has a great baseball history, which is a nice thing. And the market wildly supported two exhibition games in each of the last two years. I believe they’ve drawn over 90,000 fans for those three-day events. Having said all that, it’s a long ways from two exhibition games to 81 home games in a facility that is consistent with major league standards.”
Manfred remains optimistic that the Tampa Bay and Oakland situations are stadium-related. He believes the Rays could draw more with a new facility. The Athletics would benefit if they could move to San Jose and take advantage of a more affluent market, but there’s the issue of territorial rights belonging to the Giants.
The Rays’ attendance is a baseball-worst 14,637 per home game, down almost 2,400 from 2014. The Indians are also slightly down (fewer than 300 per game) and average only 17,514, while the A’s are down about 1,000 per game from last season, at 22,369 per game.
There’s no indication the Indians would ever move, but there has to be concern in a city with slightly more than 13,000 downtown residents.
So, you have these cities in which baseball is dying, and others that believe baseball could thrive. Charlotte, despite building a beautiful Triple A stadium downtown (BB&T Ballpark, pictured above), is all in on being considered. Portland is also clamoring for a team.
Other locations that feel they could support a franchise include Vancouver, Las Vegas, Nashville, Memphis, San Antonio, Indianapolis, northern New Jersey, Brooklyn, the aforementioned San Jose, Sacramento, and Oklahoma City.
There are obvious territorial issues with northern New Jersey and Brooklyn (which once had the Dodgers) that make those areas tougher to consider.
Internationally, Mexico City and Monterrey, Mexico, would be enthusiastic for baseball and be able to draw from a massive population that loves the game. Mexico City has roughly nine million residents, but the two major issues would be the lack of a new stadium, and the altitude.
There also would be a problem with the distance from the majority of major league cities, as well as safety issues given organized crime, particularly in Monterrey.
There would likely have to be more tweaks to division alignments and the playoff format, but the new energy expansion would create would be good for baseball.
Martinez follows Marichal to Hall
In talking about former Red Sox teammate Manny Ramirez and how saddened he was that Ramirez would likely not join him in Cooperstown because of performance-enhancing drug violations, Pedro Martinez estimated that 60 percent of the players were on some PED when he played.
“It’s unfortunate for him and the [Dominican Republic],” said Martinez. “We could have had two guys going back to back, though I think Vladi [Guerrero] is the next one.”
Martinez next Sunday will become the second Dominican-born player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, after Juan Marichal.
While Ramirez’s numbers (.312, 555 home runs, 1,831 RBIs, .996 OPS) would normally make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Guerrero (.318, 2,590 hits, 449 HRs, 1,496 RBIs, .931 OPS) is worthy, though his case may take a few years to mull.
Martinez and Ramirez were close during their time with the Sox. Ramirez was nearly the offensive equivalent of Martinez in terms of talent.
“It’s unfortunate for the Dominican Republic and his career. Actually, for himself,” said Martinez. “Manny loves the game more than anybody else that you can think of. He had a great attitude and he was well liked by all of his teammates. He had a lot of things in his favor. But he has to carry the consequences that many more have had to carry. I don’t condone anyone doing anything bad as far as cheating the game.
“If you ask me how tough it was to pitch in the juiced era, I’d say I wouldn’t want it any other way. For me, there’s no crying about the way I competed. I did it the right way. And it’s none of my business to second-guess anybody else.”
Martinez will be honored by the Red Sox July 28 when his No. 45 is retired. He was recently voted as one of the Sox’ Franchise Four, along with Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and David Ortiz. Martinez was 117-37 (.760) with a 2.52 ERA in 203 games over seven years with the Sox.
Martinez said life has been hectic since being elected to the Hall, and he’s wanted to accommodate as many people as possible.
“It’s been a busy year,” he said. “I can’t thank my wife enough for taking over so much personal stuff for us and making sure I have time to spend on these matters. It’s required a lot of attention. A lot of people have been reaching out. I’m the first [Dominican] in 32 years. Everyone feels a part of it. I don’t want to let anyone down.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Yankee Mark Teixeira seemed taken aback when asked if he had thought about the possibility he could be the American League MVP. “No way. That’s reserved for a couple of other guys who have a firm hold on that,” said Teixeira, likely referring to the Angels’ Mike Trout, for one. “I’m healthy again and I just want to contribute to our team in a way that I’m capable of.” He added, kiddingly, “But if I have a monster second half . . . ”
2. The Cubs’ Kris Bryant doesn’t want to comment about how he started the season in the minors, pushing back his arbitration and free agency clock. He and his agent, Scott Boras, had plenty to say about it at the time. But now Bryant has demurred to, “I just think it’s one of those things that hopefully we can laugh about 20 years from now.” Bryant grew up a Red Sox fan because his father, Mike, grew up in Acton.
3. Don’t expect a reduction in the schedule from 162 games to 154. Commissioner Rob Manfred said a shortened schedule would create “a major, major economic issue. We sell out in a lot of markets at the gates and the gates are really valuable to us. We have television commitments. The local contract varies but there are game guarantees, which could be affected. If you were going to try to do something in that area, usually when you have a huge economic issue where you are giving up revenue you’ve got to figure out something that is offsetting in the other direction, and the one obvious possibility is you make a change in playoff format. If you shortened the season there’d be pressure to look at the postseason, as well.”
4. The Brewers surrendered 100 home runs in the first half, 72 at Miller Park, the most at home by any team and 14 more than the second-place Rockies. Kyle Lohse had allowed 13 of his 21 HRs at home entering the weekend, Matt Garza 11 of 17, Mike Fiers 11 of 12, and Jimmy Nelson 10 of 13.
5. Can the Brewers (manager Ron Roenicke), Padres (manager Bud Black), and Red Sox (pitching coach Juan Nieves) have do-overs on these firings? Their absences haven’t had positive impacts on their teams.
6. It still amazes me that players who grew up watching baseball in the PED era and saw big names get caught and penalized can in turn take something illegal. I understood it back when there was no testing or consequences, but now? Michael Kopech, the Red Sox’ real hope for a homegrown pitching prospect, tested positive for the stimulant Oxilofrine and received a 50-game suspension. He will miss the remainder of the season for Single A Greenville.
Updates on nine
1. Jack Zduriencik, GM, Mariners — This season hasn’t unfolded the way Zduriencik had hoped. Major disappointment from a team that some predicted would reach the World Series. Ownership is usually slow to make moves, but Zduriencik and manager Lloyd McClendon may be on the hot seat if the offense doesn’t improve.
2. David Price, LHP, Tigers — While Price doesn’t think he’ll get traded because the Tigers are still viable for a postseason berth, one thing to consider is that Detroit’s farm system isn’t producing a lot of talent. If the Tigers feel they can’t re-sign Price or don’t want to pay him north of Max Scherzer’s $210 million deal, then dealing him could begin to replenish the system.
3. Tom Werner, chairman, Red Sox — There’s a buzz in the ownership/management community that the well-respected Werner could be more involved in the daily running of the team, with president and CEO Larry Lucchino being less involved. Werner, who finished runner-up to Rob Manfred for commissioner, is being viewed in a more influential role both with the team and in baseball overall. His pace-of-play ideas have worked out well, as MLB had cut some nine minutes off the average time of a game through the All-Star break.
4. Jean Segura, SS, Brewers — He could be viewed as a central piece in the Brewers’ future, in that he could be traded to make room for Double A prospect Orlando Arcia, or he could be moved to another position. Either way, two years ago you wouldn’t have dreamed of the Brewers trading Segura, but they need to rebuild and they don’t have a great farm system. You wonder if the 25-year-old could be a fit with the Mets.
5. David Wright, 3B, Mets — If he doesn’t come back this season, or is not the Wright of old when he does, the Mets will be thinking along the lines of possibly acquiring two bats, one at shortstop. The Mets are hoping that Michael Cuddyer starts hitting, there’s a feeling in the organization that they will pull the trigger on at least one bat, and that Jonathan Niese will be the vehicle to add a hitter.
6. Bud Black, former manager, Padres — It makes sense that Black’s name has been out there as a GM candidate for the Angels given that he has a great relationship with owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia. Black knows the personnel landscape, and he knows the Angels having served as Scioscia’s pitching coach. This one bears watching.
7. Matt Klentak, assistant GM, Angels — Klentak, 34, a Medfield native and Dartmouth College grad, seems to be in good position to land a GM job soon. He worked for Andy MacPhail in baseball’s Labor Relations Department, then followed him to Baltimore as director of baseball operations. Klentak joined the Angels at the end of the 2011 season as Jerry Dipoto’s assistant and remains in that role. The Angels recently gave the GM job on an interim basis to Bill Stoneman, but Klentak may get strong consideration both in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, where MacPhail will take over as team president starting this offseason.
8. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers — The noise is growing louder on Puig and his low favorability among teammates, according to a major league source. The Dodgers were able to purge their team of Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp and are better for it. Is Puig next? Where Puig used to be untouchable because of his tremendous ability, the Dodgers don’t seem to feel that way now. Would they move him for a pitcher? And would the Phillies take him in a Cole Hamels package?
9. David Ross, C, Cubs — The word in Chicago is that Ross has been an unbelievable leader for a young team. This is a guy you can’t measure with WAR and OPS. His CQ (OK, it’s a made-up stat) — clubhouse quotient — is a maximum 100. He’s also still a very good catcher. According to MLB Network research, getting called strikes on pitches just beyond the edge of the zone, Ross is at 52 percent, which is fifth in baseball behind Buster Posey (56.1), Jason Castro (55.1), Yasmani Grandal (52.7), and Andrew Susac (52.1). The Red Sox have two catchers in the bottom five — Sandy Leon last at 30.7 percent and Blake Swihart at 34.3 percent.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Leading off an inning, Anthony Rizzo has an MLB-leading .509 OBP, followed by Alex Rodriguez’s .467 and Yunel Escobar’s .450.” Also, “On Sundays, the Red Sox have an MLB-worst 6.38 ERA.” . . . Happy birthday, Billy Gardner (88).