A New 32-Team Proposal: Pros And Cons

With a bevy of rule changes set to take effect this season, Major League Baseball is entering a new era. It stands to reason that further changes might be in store in the near future. There are rumblings that MLB will soon expand for the first time since 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks and the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays joined the NL and AL, respectively. If two teams join, it will likely require a realignment of some kind. Last week, Jim Bowden of The Athletic put forth a prediction/proposal for what a 32-team format might look like.

This would constitute a major overhaul of the current MLB landscape. The most prominent changes would be the addition of two new teams and the abolishment of the AL and NL. This format seems to have both benefits and drawbacks. Here’s a closer look at what exactly those are and whether this 32-team proposal could work in the long run.

A New 32-Team Proposal: Pros And Cons

Jim Bowden’s 32-Team Proposal

The question of MLB expansion seems not to be “if”, but “when”. With the NHL expanding from 30 to 32 franchises within the last half-decade, MLB appears to be close to following suit. Las Vegas has been floated in prior years as a potential site for expansion. However, it now appears more likely that the Oakland Athletics will eventually move there, given their current stadium woes. This would negate the need to start a Sin City squad from scratch.

The next most suitable area for expansion appears to be the Southeast. For the longest time, the Atlanta Braves were the only game in town in this entire region of the United States. Before that, it was the St. Louis Cardinals, who one could argue are hardly located in the South. There remains a large area between these two cities without an MLB team. Bowden’s 32-team proposal would remedy this situation, placing expansion teams in both Charlotte and Nashville.

Needless to say, this would give Southerners much-needed additional options for their fandom. But it would not be practical to shoehorn each new team into an existing division. After all, the current system of six divisions of five teams each is already proportionate. So Bowden proposes forming eight divisions of four teams each. This would abolish the AL and NL, yielding eight subgroups completely based on geography.


Reorganizing MLB in this way to accommodate a two-team expansion would certainly be beneficial in some ways. It would fill a large vacuum in the South where some fans must currently choose between faraway teams. Charlotte and Nashville are both excellent choices for expansion, although Memphis remains a solid option if, indeed, the new teams will be in the south.

Under Bowden’s proposal, the divisional placement of these two teams makes sense at first glance. A Charlotte team would fit in nicely with the “Mid-Atlantic” division, featuring the Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Washington Nationals. Likewise, a Nashville team seems to belong in a “Southeast” division with the Braves, Rays, and Miami Marlins. The other divisions, which would reorganize current teams, mostly make sense geography-wise. The East division, in particular, would take full advantage of heated regional rivalries. However, it could still upset the current order too much, which leads to the potential negatives of this proposal.


The biggest drawback in Bowden’s 32-team proposal is how it would upset current rivalries, particularly interleague ones. This realignment would result in more matchups between rivals in different leagues. For example, the Subway Series would become a much more frequent occurrence, perhaps causing it to lose its reputation as a special occasion. Further, it would separate some teams that currently share a heated divisional rivalry, such as that of the Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. The re-budding rivalry between the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays would also see fewer matchups.

In a similar vein, abolishing the AL and NL would constitute a sea change that might not be worth it. With scheduling changes set to take effect in 2023, wherein every team plays every other team for at least one series, the line between the two leagues is already more blurred than ever before. The additional interleague games come at the cost of key divisional matchups that had previously gone a long way toward deciding teams’ postseason hopes.

Further, awarding expansion teams only to the South could be considered unfair to other potential expansion sites, such as Las Vegas (if the A’s don’t move), Portland (OR), or Montreal. Giving one team to the South and another to one of these other cities could be seen as a fairer deal, although two new Southern teams would likely still be equitable given that area’s historical lack of MLB teams. Whichever course is taken, sufficient thought should still be given as to which sites would work for even further expansion down the road.

A 32-Team Proposal: Is It Worth It?

While MLB’s expansion to 32 teams appears inevitable and will likely be a net positive in growing the game, Bowden’s proposed layout appears imperfect. A realignment of some kind will almost certainly be necessary, and geography would be a more practical criterion than historical rivalries. Still, abolishing the two leagues in favor of a completely geographic format seems like a net negative. If the goal is to grow the game, this plan would succeed in some ways but fail in others. Bringing new teams closer to where people live will result in many new fans. It could also bring back some who previously lost interest. However, upsetting the current format too much could cause current diehards to lose interest themselves. Abolishing the two-league system that has existed since 1901 will have this effect to some extent.

There must be a way to realign sensibly to accommodate expansion while upsetting as few fans as possible. This will likely require an emphasis on geography, which will almost certainly result in some teams switching leagues. Teams with the fewest rivalries that would be impacted by switching leagues should be the top candidates to do so. Then, the fewest possible fans would be upset, and the new teams can be accommodated in a logistically sensible way. Whenever MLB goes through with its next expansion, it should consider which existing rivalries are important enough to emphasize, and which new ones are intriguing enough to create. Coming up with an ideal format in this regard will go a long way toward restoring some of MLB’s lost luster.

Main photo credits:

Jonathan Dyer-USA Today Sports