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Baseball needs 32 teams

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Jesse Spector of Sporting News makes that argument today and it’s hard to disagree with him. Go check out his full story on it, but the upshot is that both regular season scheduling and the playoffs would be easier, more attractive and more fun if we had two 16-team leagues instead of two 15-team leagues.

Spector mentions Montreal and Las Vegas as his top expansion candidates. I certainly agree with Montreal. It has supported a team in the past and its failure to continue to support the Expos had A LOT more to do with how the Expos were managed than with how able the city is to support a team.

I’m less optimistic about Las Vegas. As I’ve argued here before, I think the demographics and economics of Vegas are all wrong, even if the idea seems sexy. Baseball is not event-driven like boxing or a relatively rare event like football, which would only require a stadium to be filled eight times a year. There are 81 home games and attendance and television ratings are built on locals buying in to the product day-in, day-out. That’s not really the Las Vegas profile. In Vegas, a disproportionate number of locals work nights. While there are a lot of moneyed tourists coming through, they’re coming to gamble and party, not sit at a ballpark. And even if they were so inclined, you can bet that the casinos would try extra hard to keep them away from doing things that take them off hotel property for three prime time hours each night. To avoid that baseball would have to basically partner with a casino, and that would be pretty difficult for a sport with baseball’s history with gambling.

Really, the best expansion candidates are places where baseball would not allow expansion due to territorial concerns. I’m talking about growing suburbs and exurbs like the Inland Empire in L.A., the New Jersey or Connecticut burbs around New York, Chicagoland and places like that. In the middle of the century newly growing cities made sense for baseball expansion and relocation. These days population growth is occurring around existing cities.

Anyway, the where isn’t as important as the what. And the what is that 32 teams make a whole heck of a lot of sense.

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.