As Utah Hockey Club gears up for its first season in the fall and Salt Lake City is poised to find out next month whether it will host the 2034 Winter Games, Major League Baseball expansion in the Beehive State or anywhere remains years away.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said at his annual meeting last month with The Associated Press Sports Editors group that he anticipates having a two-team expansion process in place by January 2029, when his term as commissioner ends, according to The Tennessean. A new team wouldn’t begin play until 2031.

Nashville, Salt Lake City, Portland, Montreal and Charlotte are among the potential expansion cities.

Manfred declined to talk about the viability of any of the candidates. But he did mention the league wants a team in the East and the West.

“I have never identified particular cities as targets,” he said. “We need an Eastern time zone and either a Mountain or Western time zone (city), just in terms of making the format work in the best possible way. I truly believe we’re going to have multiple candidates in both categories.”

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Baseball expansion front-runners

Salt Lake City would fit the bill for the Mountain time zone. And unlike some cities, including Nashville, it already has a strong ownership group in place, something Manfred has said is key to landing a team.

The Larry H. Miller Company threw Utah in the possible expansion mix more than two years ago, backed by a coalition of prominent politicians, business and community leaders, and former pro athletes known as Big League Utah. The Miller Company is moving forward with a $3.5 billion mixed-use development, which includes plans for a major league stadium, on Salt Lake City’s west side. The Utah Legislature approved raising the rental car tax 1.5% to help fund the project.

At the same time, the company continues to position the city as a viable big league expansion site.

Portland appears to be Salt Lake City’s biggest competition in the West. The Portland Diamond Project, which is working to bring a team to the Rose City, says it has plans to create the “largest sports and entertainment district in the history of Major League Baseball,” the Portland Tribune reported.

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Last fall, ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney and Cy Young Award winner David Cone independently identified Salt Lake City and Nashville as the two expansion front-runners.

“There’s a lot of talk about Portland, Oregon, at one point, but I think Salt Lake City, Utah, might have moved ahead,” Cone said at the time. “That’s my handicap right now, but expansion will be on the horizon. We will get two new teams. Nashville will be one, and Salt Lake City will be the other.”

Earlier this year, the Miller Company made a pitch for the Oakland A’s to make Utah a temporary home between the expiration of its lease at the Oakland Coliseum at the end of this year and the construction of the team’s new ballpark in Las Vegas, though the situation appears somewhat unsettled. The A’s ultimately decided on Sacramento as an interim home.

The company is building a new stadium in South Jordan for the Salt Lake Bees, the Triple A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. It’s scheduled to open in spring 2025.

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