MLB expansion and wild realignment idea could end long-time Phillies division rivalry

When MLB expansion finally happens, the Phillies and Braves might be saying goodbye to their division rivalry.

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Four
Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Four / Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred hasn't been shy when it comes to the topic of expanding to a 32-team league in the not-so-distant future. The subject of expansion has been an ongoing talking point as MLB has looked at adding new markets in major cities currently without a baseball team to call their own.

In a recent report by ESPN baseball insider Jeff Passan, North American cities Charlotte, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Portland (OR), San Jose, Austin, Vancouver B.C., and Mexico City are all viewed as viable metropolitan areas that could support a Major League Baseball franchise.

According to Passan, the only hold up making expansion a reality is the unsettled new stadium talks with the Tampa Bay Rays, the ongoing drama regarding the relocation of the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas, and baseball's current collective bargaining agreement that expires in December 2026.

Add up all of these factors, and it doesn't look like expansion will take place until sometime around 2030. But with the talk of expansion comes the controversial and hotly debated topic of divisional realignment.

One proposed realignment idea would end the Phillies-Braves rivalry

Adding two additional MLB franchises could come at the cost of changing the divisional structure we're currently used to and radically altering some of the game's most historic rivalries. With both the American League and National League becoming equal with 16 teams each due to expansion, the creation of Eastern and Western conferences (subscription required) was recently proposed by former GM and current The Athletic baseball insider Jim Bowden.

The breakdown of these two hypothetical conferences Bowden proposes would look something like this: each conference would consist of four teams placed in four newly designated geographic divisions by region. Bowden places the Philadelphia Phillies in the East Division of the Eastern Conference, a potential four-team juggernaut that excludes the Atlanta Braves.

East Division

  • Boston Red Sox
  • New York Mets
  • New York Yankees
  • Philadelphia Phillies

Yes, you read that right. This proposed division would feature the Phillies in the same division as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, in addition to current National League East rivals, the New York Mets. It's hard not to admit that Bowden's East Division idea is actually pretty cool. To have these four fanbases competing against one another would add a new drama to an old game.

This is what Bowden had to say about his four-team East Division.

"You'd have the New York rivalry of the Yankees and Mets combined with two of the other biggest markets in the sport, Boston and Philadelphia," Bowden writes. "All four would duke it out in the same division, without a single small-market team having to worry about the payroll disparities."

While Bowden's proposal of such a division is pretty solid, it's not without criticism. The Phillies and the Braves are in the midst of a renewed rivalry that has made for some of the most exciting moments of the last two seasons. Sure, the rivalry with the Mets would still be intact, but there's something disappointing about potentially erasing the Phillies and Braves' divisional competition.

Bowden's realignment ideas are purely hypothetical. Perhaps MLB will go with eight team divisions instead of four, and all of this is moot. Elsewhere, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinal fans are probably not happy with seeing their own historic rivalry threatened by Bowden's proposal.

For now, we'll wait and see how future expansion plans develop.