MLB is desperate to make the 2020 season happen, and today we’ve heard another outside-the-box proposal for its salvation. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the league is discussing, among several proposals, a plan to temporarily realign MLB into the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, generating divisions based on the geographic proximity of teams’ spring training facilities. The proposal would create a cross-blend of six divisions, each containing AL and NL clubs in new “CL” and “GL” divisions. A current proposed breakdown from Nightengale’s piece looks like this:
- NORTHEAST: Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics.
- WEST: Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels.
- NORTHWEST: Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals.
- NORTH: New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates.
- SOUTH: Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles.
- EAST: Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins.
Much of the league’s standard operating procedure would remain intact. The season would start late and stretch through October at least, with playoffs in November and possibly even December, but the playoff structure would be unaltered. The World Series would be played between the Cactus League champion and the Grapefruit League champion, likely at a single, domed site. Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play, as well as the Rays’ Tropicana Field and Miami’s eponymous Marlins Park, could provide rainout insurance and possible playoff locations. Notably, however, the proposal would forgo fans in attendance, as there is next to no chance public health officials can comfortably deem such a thing to be safe in this time frame.
Still, if the games were to be played in this fashion, travel would be minimized, without “interleague” play, and all 30 clubs would be able to remain in facilities they know and have space for, as opposed to the proposed all-Arizona option which would put half the league into unfamiliar territory. MLB would no doubt love to get the games in, as their current agreement with MLBPA grants players service time regardless of games played. Players nonetheless would likely wish to get games in as well, both from an angle of pride and joy, as well as a chance to likely boost arbitration figures and remove credibility from ownership of crying poor when free agency hits. TV, as Nightengale mentions, could see a boon with this proposal, as games would likely be played throughout the day, especially as the condensed schedule and uneven number of teams would demand a doubleheader from two teams or more nearly every day.
The universal DH is likely to be implemented, at least temporarily, as AL and NL clubs mix, though a more exciting and equitable solution would seem to be allowing the home team to choose on a day-to-day basis. For the Mariners specifically, a division of Milwaukee, San Diego, Texas, and Kansas City would be a relative vacation from the rigors of the AL West. The 2020 Mariners are not expected to be contenders, but it’s at least a possibility in this grouping.
Any such proposal comes with many obstacles. The health risks are paramount, and must be well mitigated. Cactus League facilities are 30-90 minutes apart, while the Grapefruit League is a more distant array, across the western and eastern coasts of central and southern Florida. While any trek would pale in comparison to a minor league bus ride, considering the consolidation of games would cut out many off days, the MLBPA would likely need significant concessions to sign off on such a deal. Moreover, any deals that required players to stay overnight would further risk exposing players and employees to the virus. Nothing has been certified yet, but creative solutions will clearly be necessary for baseball to return.