What Would Realistic Expansion in Today’s MLB Look Like? – An OOTP Experiment

In an alternate universe, a proposal was put forth during this past Spring’s MLB lockout that would have brought Major League Baseball to Nashville and Portland.

In this Out of the Park experiment, we’re going to see this alternate universe become an actuality.

The Nashville Stars, which is the current identity proposed by the Music City Baseball Group, harkens back to the semi-pro Negro League team of the same name that played during the Wartime era in the middle of the 20th Century.

In this playthrough, the team will be managed by the computer and wear uniforms that resemble what the Milwaukee Brewers’ AAA Affiliate Nashville Sounds currently wear, along with playing the Sounds’ First Horizon Ballpark.

I will be controlling the Portland Beavers through the start-up process. The Beavers were once Portland’s minor league baseball team for an uninterrupted period of 107 years from 1903-2010. They are now the El Paso Chihuahuas after a series of relocation troubles.

The Beavers will assume the now-defunct minor league identity to share a link to the past, and will play in the newly built Nike Air Max Park.

This article will be an endeavor to see what the first MLB expansion process would look like since the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays began play in 1998. Those two franchises participated in the 1996 and 1997 MLB Rookie Drafts in order to build up their minor league systems in order to be competitive in the long term. 

The Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001 without the need for any of the farmhands they would have picked up in the ramp-up to play. Their squad that year is one of the oldest I’ve ever seen. Tampa, however, chose to build up a young core, but didn’t break 70 wins until their 2008 AL Pennant-winning season that saw them drop the Devil in Devil Rays.

It will be interesting to see how these two new teams will build themselves up.


Rookie League Teams and the First Draft

Oakland Relocates to Las Vegas

The first item on Rob Manfred’s agenda is to get these two franchises their first minor league teams. It’s Rookie Ball time. Both cities get a Dominican Summer League team, Portland gets an Arizona Complex League team, Nashville gets one in the Florida Complex League.

There aren’t any notable players on any of these teams because Portland and Nashville will just have to pick at the rest of MLB’s scraps until the draft. I did hire Brodie Van Wagenen as Portland’s Head Scout, though.

Before we get to the draft, I want to highlight our organization’s top prospect, Irving Igualas. As you can see, Iggy is a lefty bat with some potential pop, and a 55 future value. Fortunately for us, Milwaukee cut him upon startup, and we nabbed him. In real life, Igualas had a .586 OPS in the DSL this year. Let’s hope he does better (Spoiler: he flames out).

It’s now the All Star Break, and that means it’s Draft time. In a quick glimpse around the league, Joey Gallo paces MLB in homers with 30, as he is wont to do in OOTP 23. As a free agent next year, he’ll command a big payday. 

After a little more than half of the season’s games played, it’s the Yankees (52) and the Dodgers (61) leading MLB in wins.

In the last round of expansion, the newest teams were given the last two picks of each round. This year, Nashville has pick number 31 and Portland has pick number 32. Next season this will flip.

In this universe, the Orioles actually take Druw Jones with the first pick. With the 31st pick, Nashville selects the son of Carl Crawford, Bishop Gorman center fielder Justin Crawford (he ends up with Cleveland for three ML seasons). With the next pick, I selected the 18 year old Vanderbilt middle infielder RJ Austin for the Beavers. Even with some character issues, I couldn’t pass up an 80-grade hit tool.

After that I took a pair of two-way high schoolers in Owen Murphy and Riley Stanford. Another selection of note in the 20-round draft includes the incredibly rangy Canadian outfielder RJ Mayor. He’s a Gold Glove caliber MLB defender right now, but has no bat. With our center field fence going out to 477 feet, though, he might see action.

About a month after the draft, our two rookie league teams wrapped up their seasons. The Beavers favored high schoolers in the draft, while Nashville had more college-aged players. They fared better in the standings and won one DSL and one FCL playoff series.

Funnily enough, Pedro Martinez Jr. registered 1.3 WAR, which was the most valuable cumulative performance across both teams. Iggy had -0.4 WAR. 😦

To cap off the MLB regular season, Shohei Ohtani slugs 51 bombs and has a 3.10 ERA to win AL MVP. Gallo ends up with 53 homers to lead the majors. AJ Puk has 48 saves to lead MLB.

Still a National, Juan Soto collects the first NL Batting Triple Crown since Joe Medwick’s 1937 campaign by the narrowest of margins. Soto finished with a .323 BA, beating out Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers’ .322. Soto slugs 46 long bombs, beating out Freddie Freeman’s 45. Finally, Soto finished tied with teammate Josh Bell with 142 RBI each. The Nats still finished 12 games below .500.

Moving on quickly, the 111-51 Los Angeles Dodgers won the 2022 World Series against the Minnesota Twins (!) 4-2. Bobby Witt wins Rookie of the Year over Rangers’ prospect Dustin Harris, despite the latter finishing second in the AL with a .307 batting average. Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts both signed with Philadelphia, and Carlos Rodon signed with the New York METS.

The Oakland Athletics moved to Las Vegas over the offseason, which is the reason why they didn’t end up with an expansion club. Oakland keeps AAA baseball in town with the Aviators moving to the Bay Area and becoming the Oaks.

In the last bit of 2022 news, Brodie Van Wagenen chose to leave us as Head Scout to take the GM job for Colorado. Have fun, dude.


A/A+ League Teams and the Second Draft

Seattle Mariners Rebrand

We’ve turned the calendar to 2023, and it’s time for some new minor league teams!

Well, they’re old identities being resurrected. The A+ Northwest League Yakima Bears and A California League Bakersfield Blaze make a comeback for the Stars, while the Beavers end up with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and Lancaster JetHawks.

The Seattle Mariners rebranded to complement their new young core, while throwing it back to the days when they had the coolest young core in baseball.

We’ve reached regular season time for the A-ball leagues. Pitcher Juan Mejia (current Colorado prospect), who we purchased from the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks already looks MLB-ready. There’s not much else to this season before we get to the expansion draft, so I’ll check back in once the Rookie Leagues are underway.

At the end of July, about halfway through the minor league season, we received some interesting developments. The Beavers’ first draft pick RJ Austin is faltering in Single-A Lancaster. I’m a bit worried about his low work ethic at this point. Recent first round pick, Wake Forest outfielder Derek Crum, is doing very well in High-A Salem-Keizer, though, and could get up to the Majors by the end of next year.

I called up 2022 fourth round pick Brant Baughcum to A+ because he had torn up A-ball. I think he’s angry because he wants to be in AA, but we don’t have a team there yet. Anyways, he could end up being a better middle infielder than Austin.

Editor’s Note: Austin, Baughcum, and Crum all did not experience any success in MLB, with Austin being the only one who debuted.

At the end of the minor league seasons, our guys did play all that well. I guess that’s what you get for building a farm with scraps.

Jack Duffy, a lefty first baseman, drafted in the 11th round in 2023 was on fire in the half season he played in Lancaster. He had a 196 OPS+ and 2.8 WAR in 75 games. Billy Corcoran, a ninth round pick from Pitt, pitched to a combined 3.3 WAR when taking his MLB Draft League season into account.

Judging by the JetHawks’ record, you can see these two guys were the only positives.

To focus on Nashville for a bit, they had a great minor league season for their four affiliates. However, they had some of the oldest teams in their respective leagues. I would say we have a much brighter future at the moment with our prospect pool.

The 2023 MLB season has reached its conclusion. It’s a story of veteran resurgence in the AL. Vegas’ Adam Duvall leads MLB in homers with 51, and Minnesota’s Sonny Gray is the ERA champ with 2.71.

In a rematch of the 1995 World Series, Cleveland cannot get revenge after being up 2-1. They lose three straight to the Atlanta Braves, who win their second title in three years.

2023 Offseason

Expansion Draft and Free Agency

League Structure Changes

After the 2023 season, this is the new look of Major League Baseball. With 32 teams, I didn’t want to copy the structure of the NFL’s eight divisions of four teams, so we have four divisions with eight teams. Milwaukee swaps with Houston once again to balance geography. 

In another trek back to traditionalism, the playoffs will stay at six qualifiers in each league (two division winners, four wild card spots), with the single-elimination Wild Card Game being reintroduced. 

You play 162 regular season games for a reason!

All the work we’ve done has paid off, and it’s time for these teams to play ball. I will step back now that the structural work in the game is done, and let the computer run these teams.

Since Nashville selected first over Portland in the rookie drafts, the Beavers will pick first overall. At the same time these teams will select players, they’ll need to sign free agents to build depth and build out their new high-minor teams.

The AAA Pacific Coast League adds the Calgary Cannons (POR) and the New Orleans Baby Cakes (NAS), while the AA Southern League returns the Jackson Generals (NAS) and Mobile BayBears (POR).

The rules of the 1998 Expansion Draft can’t be emulated in OOTP exactly, but I did the best I could. Each existing team will protect 25 total players, and only those who have accrued at least four years of pro service time. Only two players from each of the 30 teams can be selected.

With the first pick in MLB’s first expansion draft in 26 years, the Portland Beavers select Jesus Tona? Who the Hell is that? This guy apparently. He was in the Cubs’ organization after bouncing around Indy Ball. Weird.

Nashville takes Tommy Edman. In my opinion, this is exactly the type of guy you take in an expansion draft. He’s a great clubhouse guy, proven veteran, and a great defender. I have no idea what the Beavers are doing.

After thirty rounds, both teams end up with rosters of guys that barely saw MLB playing time a season ago. Adolis Garcia is the biggest name for the Beavs, while the Stars’ rotation is headlined by a recently-injured Michael Wacha. Brutal stuff.

Both teams were up against the budget this offseason, so they didn’t really make any peripheral moves outside of the draft. Both teams’ bullpens are strong both by virtue of good drafting and shrewd pick-ups over the past year and a half. Everything else is dire, though. Portland added Tony Kemp, though!


First Expansion Season

Nashville and Portland both made key additions over Spring Training to avoid looking like a wounded deer. The Beavers’ rotation will now be headlined by Dylan Bundy and 40 year old Charlie Morton. An actually great backend of the bullpen consists of Jordan Romano, Luis Castillo (not the starter), Lucas Sims, and Will Smith.

Portland’s lineup was retooled as well. They brought in Tucker Barnhart, Ji-Man Choi, and Brian Anderson. The Beavers are projected to win 68 games.

The Nashville Stars did a lot of damage in the draft, but they made some great pickups, too. Nick Ahmed, Mike Moustakas, and Wil Myers are welcomed additions to the lineup, while Luis Severino and Cristian Javier constitute a decent one-two punch for a team like the Stars.

Both teams clock in at a payroll around $60 million, which is not the lowest in the league. The Cincinnati Reds are spending about $55 million. Sell the team, Bob. Interestingly enough, the Stars and Beavers are not projected to be the worst team in the league. That distinction would belong to the 64 win-projected New York Yankees coming off of a 71-91 season. 

At the All Star Break, the Stars (39-57) and Beavers (34-62) are the worst teams in their respective leagues, but they’re not entirely dog water. Keston Hiura is one of two Nashville All Stars with a completely pedestrian 1.2 WAR half-season. Drew VerHagen is the other, with 1.8 bWAR as a hybrid starter/reliever.

Somehow, even though I selected to force all teams to be represented at the All Star Game, Portland does not send anyone. The aforementioned Juan Mejia currently has a 1.57 ERA and 1.4 bWAR being given a full workload. He’s spiritually Portland’s first All Star. The Beavers only have one player hitting above league average, though. With a 111 OPS+, 31 year old Dillon Thomas is Portland’s offensive MVP so far.

In prospect news, the Beavers have two pitchers in the top 100 prospects. Oliver Santos (44th) and Nazier Mule (54th) are killing it, but the previously profiled Derek Crum seems to have never developed out of college.

At the end of the season, Portland finishes 60-102, and Nashville finishes 64-98. Unfortunately, the Yankees went 68-94.

In comparison to other recent expansion franchises, the 1993 Florida Marlins were 64-98, the 1993 Colorado Rockies were 67-95, the 1998 Diamondbacks were 65-97 (they won 100 games the next season!), and the 1998 Devil Rays were 63-99.

Nick Ahmed had more WAR because of his defense, but Keston Hiura was arguably the Stars’ MVP, posting a 116 wRC+ and 1.8 WAR.

Portland’s best player, with 2.1 fWAR, was 27 year old starter Nile Ball. Ball was undrafted in 2019, going straight to the independent leagues. He had a fine season with the Lancaster Barnstormers in real life this season. Dillon Thomas finished with 2.0 WAR and a 116 OPS+.

In the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have become a juggernaut utilizing all the talent at the top of most current prospect rankings, knock off the Phillies in seven games before beating the Angels in five to win their first World Series since 1979.

In only his third Major League season, current number one prospect in all of baseball Gunnar Henderson nearly wins the AL Triple Crown, and easily captures the AL MVP. Ronald Acuna Jr. was five homers away from his own NL Triple Crown, but he was beat out by teammate Joey Gallo’s 56 bombs.

After the offseason, the Beavers somehow have 88 OPS+ Tony Kemp as the best rostered hitter. Nashville at least showed a pulse and signed Miguel Sano and Eduardo Escobar in free agency.

As we now rapidly move forward with the simulation to cycle through a generation of prospects, I assume that Nashville will be better off.

15 Year Simulation

Portland Reigns Supreme

Well, I was wrong. The Beavers won two World Series (2029 and 2030) before the Nashville Stars even first made the playoffs in 2034. In the last season of the simulation, Portland won an MLB-leading 107 games, but lost in the NLCS. They were clearly the better expansion franchise over the first fifteen years of its existence.

Portland’s undisputed GOAT, with three titles and 65.3 WAR after the 2039 season, is outfielder Harman Weareorwear. This computer-generated player was the Beavers’ sixth overall pick in the 2026 Draft out of Ohio State. Only a computer could give us a Buckeye so good. 

Despite going to college in the States, Weareorwear was born in the small town of Fernie, British Columbia deep in the Canadian Rockies. Portland’s best player ever is a guy who could’ve grown up rooting for them.

Weareorwear is the leader in nearly every career hitting category for the Beavers, and has seen every great moment of Beaver baseball. Still going strong at 34, he still has a few more years to build an inner-circle Hall of Fame case. Look at those chops, too.

The Beavers’ two most effective pitchers were guys that I picked up from the independent leagues at the beginning of this save. Owen Griffith played all but one of his 11 MLB seasons with the Beavs. He didn’t start a full season until age 29, but never pitched a season over 4.00 ERA until leaving for the Mets in 2034.

Ben Beutel is one of the greatest relievers in MLB history. Amassing 36.0 bWAR in 16 MLB seasons, Beutel left Portland after the back-to-back titles, but returned to win it all again in 2036 to cement the dynasty.

He was a 10-time All Star and three-time Reliever of the Year. In real life, Beutel was recently signed to the White Sox after being undrafted out of Iowa.

The Nashville Stars were not nearly as fortunate, only having been over .500 in five years, and only winning over 90 games twice. David Naveja was a remarkably average innings eater that is Nashville’s only pitcher to record over 10 career WAR.

Josh Sandoval, the greatest player in Stars’ history, does have a good shot at the Hall of Fame. Nashville did not want to pay him the roughly $40 million AAV into his late thirties that he desired, so he left for the Phillies and won it all in 2039.

In terms of what this all means for future MLB expansion in real life, you could expect a team to win it all once their prospects are able to develop up to the majors in about five years. Portland was fortunate enough to have this happen and win three titles with that core.

Their 2029 lineup featured contributions from not only drafted players like Harman Weareorwear and Zion Rose, but had a lot of veterans as well. Yoan Moncada, Brandon Lowe, Juan Yepez, and Ketel Marte supported the offense in the late stages of their careers.

The staff was headlined by Beutel and Griffith, but the Beavers also had acquired names like Jordan Montgomery, Triston McKenzie, and Devin Williams.

At the beginning of this I talked about Music City Baseball’s attempt to get Nashville an expansion franchise. They just recently hired Don Mattingly as an advisor to try and be able to play by the 2026 season. Judging by the timeline laid out in this article, that would mean we could get an expansion announcement as soon as next offseason.

Categories: Articles, OOTP Experiments

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2 replies

  1. So, to do this… in 2022 & 2023, Nashville and Portland existed in MLB but OOTP didn’t schedule them any games? Then, in 2024 you added them to the schedule? I’m interested to see the steps you took to make OOTP work this way.

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