First of all, I am unabashedly borrowing (stealing) the basic concept of this article from Mike Lowe’s NCAA dynasty article. I want to establish that right away. It was inspiration though as I felt it provided an excellent guide for those dedicated dynasty players looking for ultimate realism. I wanted to take my stab at providing a similar set of house rules for MLB The Show franchise players.
The house rules I will focus on throughout are with the dedicated, 162 game, every pitch, every at bat crowd in mind. Certainly there are many ways to enjoy simulating through multiple seasons and hybrid concepts allowing for gameplay and simulation (hmm, an idea for a future article). This guide, however, is assuming you plan to carry over your saved game through many future iterations of the title. So, right away, my first house rule is more of a mindset and state of mind. You have to understand and be okay with the fact that your long lasting franchise is a marathon, it’s not meant for instant gratification. A 162 game season and full offseason requires patience, stamina, and a mindset not to give up and move on to the next new fresh team or game mode. The payoff in the end though is well worth it, just imagine that feeling when you carry over a franchise you’ve gone two or more seasons with over to the next iteration of the game, seeing all of your hard work. You’re playing the long game, so accept it and embrace it.
Honor the Schedule
There are certain hotspots of activity in MLB, so for your realistic franchise you’ll want to adhere to these. It is rare when anything of note happens in the months of March through mid July. During this time limit your transactions to waiver wire pickups or perhaps a secondary free agent signing to fill a 90 man roster depth issue. So, for example, your AA club has only one primary SS and he goes down for the season and there is no viable A ball call up. A Spring Training injury of significance also could allow you to slightly reconsider this rule.
Build up anticipation and excitement for the post All-Star break up until July 31st period. Make sure you populate your trade block with realistic options. Things to look for would be excessive contracts you’d like to unload (especially if the player is under performing), players in the last year of their contracts who you don’t plan to pursue in the coming offseason, and veterans for whom you may have a prospect or viable utility man ready to take the reins and provide equal or better value and at least close to equal performance. In scouring the trade block for players other teams have posted, focus in specifically on needs and don’t stray from those needs. Even if you are out to add prospects to your system while dealing off veterans, look to add prospects in positions of organization weakness in terms of depth. More on these concepts later.
The off-season provides the other main hotbed of activity and we will dive into different aspects of this in a moment. Resist the urge to constantly tinker with your roster, it requires patience but it will make these hot spot times of the franchise play extra special and add even more gravity to the moves you decide to make.
Get to Know Your Minor League System
Across the MLB landscape, most players on the 40 man roster are “homegrown”. Fully investing in your minor league system and getting to know the players will help to maintain your focus and interest for future years and help drive roster decisions you are making in real time. Spend time on sites like Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB Pipeling to gain a “relationship” with your prospects. I also highly recommend using the player lock option to occasionally go down and take some AB’s and throw some innings with your top prospects. It keeps you connected to them, their future, and the future of your franchise. It also might make you think twice before dealing them away.
Put time and energy into the scouting aspect for the draft. This has changed the whole concept of the draft for me. I used to just allow Auto-Scouting and run through the draft with a modicum of interest. Scouting and examining the scouting reports builds anticipation for the draft and excitement for players you might be able to draft, especially those sleeper or hidden gem type of possibilities in the later rounds.
The “Trade Engine”
Honestly, this concept could deserve an article all by itself so the challenge here will be to focus on the most important aspects of interacting with the trade engine in the most realistic way possible. Here are a few quick hits to get started:
No trading within the division. Real examples of trades within the division are few and far between, and even more rare for trades of any real significance.
If you ask for deals the AI will accept for a player on their trade block, you must give what is asked. No replacing players or tinkering with the trade to make it more favorable in your estimation. The same is true if you are shopping a player and want to see what organizations will give for him.
Don’t target specific players. If they aren’t on the trade block or offered for your shopped player, consider them untouchable, period. This is a big one for maintaining realism.
Use your internal “BS” meter. If your initial reaction to a deal, even if it is accepted through the means listed above, is that you are fleecing the AI, just don’t! Resist the temptation! More on this coming.
Avoid “incremental trading” options. So maybe you can’t swing a deal for Mike Trout but you figured out a way to get Cody Bellinger. This method of manipulating the AI would then see the player use Bellinger as the headliner in a package to get Trout. There are rare three team deals that go down in MLB but until there is an option to do this fairly, avoid it. The scenario I used as an example also should not pass your “BS” meter.
Okay, we can dive even deeper into this if you want to go for an even deeper and more realistic trade system. First, one method I’ve used to add even more realism is when shopping a player on my trade block, I hold down R1 on my controller to cycle through deals and after 20-40 seconds, I let go. Whatever team is there to deal with is the only one I can take (unless it stops on an inter division team then I “spin the wheel” again). If I don’t like it, too bad, I can’t cycle through every team to find the best deal for me. I can choose to decline, though. This simulates the idea that while GM’s talk to multiple teams about multiple deals, it is actually pretty rare to zero in on a deal and all the particulars to the point of completing a deal. This method simulates that, in a way. I don’t offer this method as a must, just a way to challenge yourself even more.
Another thing I would highly recommend here is to find a “buddy” who knows baseball, it might be better if they don’t even play The Show, and run trade ideas and concepts by them. Your own bias towards wanting to improve your franchise might be clouding your judgment and the validation of another baseball mind would help to affirm that trade for you and make you more invested and “proud” of the deal.
Finally, and this is a bit subjective, but perhaps if you combine it with the buddy method it could work. Related to the trade block from other teams, examine what a team would want in return from you for a certain player on their block before ever entering the trade engine and seeing what the AI generates as their wish list. Sometimes what the AI asks for is too little and not realistic. So you can bypass this, construct the deal in your own mind that is fair and offer it to see if they accept it rather than checking on what the AI asks for. In many cases if you are being honest and fair your deal will be more realistic than the one the AI generates.
For free agency, I advocate breaking it up into phases.
Phase 1: Targeting two players at the start of free agency, and sticking to two. How often do you see MLB teams sign more than two premium free agents in an offseason? Focus on need and not necessarily the flashiest name or highest rating. If either of these two targets sign elsewhere, you can move onto “Plan B” options… if they are still there. So this is where you may want to make Plan B your plan A. Do I go for the big name of Mookie Betts knowing he may not accept and then leave me with nothing or do I target a second tier of outfielder with the increased likelihood he will sign with me, especially if we show him that love right out of the gate in free agency.
Phase 2: After the initial “hot period” of big free agent names, let things simmer a bit until the Winter Meetings. This is a time to look at what free agents may still be available, I would still stick to two signings, especially if we are talking about guaranteed MLB contracts. If a signing still has options and could be minor league depth, go ahead and break that two player limit. The Winter Meetings is also where I would participate in a round of trade discussions, still keeping in mind the house rules mentioned for the trade engine. This would often be a time to look for bench depth, a veteran relief option, or an aging veteran who could be had on a one year deal.
As a somewhat related footnote to free agency, try to avoid salary arbitration with players as much as possible. There are are VERY few arbitration eligible players who actually go all the way through the arbitration hearing process. In real life, it can also often promote hard feelings between the player and ownership.
Phase 3: This third phase of free agency would actually occur during Spring Training of the subsequent season. In evaluating your 40 man and spring roster, if you notice glaring holes of depth or a free agent still on the list that you just can’t pass up, go ahead and make that signing.
Settings and Sliders
This is a difficult area because you have to realistically account for your own skill level as a player. Sliders are a bit easier because generally a slider set should work with any difficulty level. Mike Lowe’s slider set would be my recommendation as I find they provide realism and game variation. I can say this with some confidence because in a former life I was definitely a “slideritis” type of guy, always over analyzing and adjusting sliders. Mike Lowe’s sliders, currently at Volume 1.8 for MLB The Show 20, are my official recommendation for realism. For difficulty level, Volume 1.8 is tied to Legendary hitting and pitching, but this is where you may want to adjust. I recommend using the “dynamic” difficulty function until you feel you’ve hit a sweet spot of difficulty for you. At that point, you can set the dynamic difficulty slider to “zero” and it will lock it in for you. Dynamic has different layers like All Star + or Hall of Fame + which provide a few different difficulty possibilities. Still, after all of this, if you’re really shooting for optimum realism, go with Legendary pitching and hitting, even if there are some growing pains or bumps in the road until you ger fully comfortable with it.
Following these house rules might feel boring for those out to create super teams, but with realism comes increased appreciation and enjoyment for those moments when you are able to win a division, a pennant, or a World Series.