According to a report on Friday by Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Major League Baseball is discussing an alternate site season that would utilize Spring Training facilities in Arizona and Florida to conduct a shortened 2020 season.
In order to facilitate such a plan, the concept of American and National League would no longer exist. Instead, Cactus League and Grapefruit League will be the demarkations in deciding the World Series combatants.
By keeping players stationed in the two spring hubs, travel will be drastically reduced as will will COVID-19 risks, especially as fans would not be a factor in this scenario.
Nightengale also notes the use of the universal designated hitter as well as games starting as early as 9am MDT.
What are the new leagues/divisions?
Major League Baseball’s 30 teams are conveniently split between Arizona and Florida, creating the Cactus League and Grapefruit League. The next logical consideration are the divisions within those leagues.
While the facilities in Arizona are located incredibly close to one another – the two furthest stadiums are separated by only a 45-minute drive – the goal for the this plan is to minimize travel, so the teams are clustered together by region for the Cactus League.
Northeast: Arizona Diamondback, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics
West: Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels.
Northwest: Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers
In the Grapefruit League, teams are spread throughout the state of Florida with some on eastern coast separated by hundreds of miles of preserves. Consider this: it will require the Houston Astros to drive nearly four hours from West Palm Beach to play the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.
Teams in the Grapefruit League are also arranged by region; however, each of these freshly squeezed divisions contain teams that will still be traveling upwards of an hour by bus.
East: Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins
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
The early prognostications for the Cactus League divisions align well, geographically. As for the Grapefruit League, there appears some potential for Atlanta to move into the North as their facility in Lake Buena Vista is much closer to that of the Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays and Tigers than those of the GL South teams.
This would require the Pirates to move into the South. Though their Bradenton facility fits with either the North or South, MLB may want to avoid having one division with several small market clubs such as the Pirates, Orioles and Rays.
Which teams benefit most?
If the betting odds to win the World Series are any indication of which teams will enjoy the realignment, then there are two elements to consider: the gain within the new league and the gain within the new division.
The Red Sox are deemed the second best team in the American League East by the experts in Vegas and appear projected second in the Grapefruit League South, just behind Atlanta. When viewing their projected ranking going from the American League to the Grapefruit League, they drop five spots as NL stalwarts such as the Mets, Nationals, Cardinals, Phillies and Atlanta would now play in Boston’s league and be amongst the teams they’d play more regularly.
Equally negatively impacted are the Minnesota Twins. They also must contend with the aforementioned NL teams moving into their league while also having Boston and Atlanta within their division; previously, only Cleveland was considered to be a threat from within the AL Central.
On the flip side, three National League Clubs from the Cactus League stand to benefit most from the realignment: Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres.
At 30-to-1 odds to win the World Series out of the NL, the Cubs and Padres tied at the 6th highest; now they are tied at the 3rd highest odds, as some of the NL’s best clubs would play in the rival Grapefruit League and some of AL’s worst – i.e. Royals and Mariners – would move into their Cactus League.
Milwaukee may actually be the biggest benefactor of the realignment.
With the Cardinals, Cubs and Reds expected to finish atop the NL Central, the Brewers seemed destined for a fourth-place finish. In the newly aligned Cactus League Northwest, Milwaukee would have the likes of San Diego, Texas, Kansas City and Seattle standing in their way.
How does this impact the Rockies?
Only five teams do not seem to be impacted, according to the odds: Yankees, Dodgers, Astros, Diamondbacks and Rockies.
The first three clubs are expected to be atop any division or league as the top outliers for World Series contention. The latter two seem to be inextricably linked at the hips forever.
Going into the season, Colorado was slated for a 12th place finish in the National League based upon their 80-to-1 odds. In the newly created Cactus League, they in the same predicament at 12th-best. The same goes for the move from the NL West to the CL Northeast: 4th-best and 4th-best.
However, there is a major difference for the Rockies in this newly imagined division: the absence of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Instead of playing a bulk of their games against the 6-to-1 Dodgers, it would be the Cubs or Athletics as favorites to block Colorado from their first divisional championship. Wouldn’t this be just the scenario for the Rockies to finally raise their first pennant?
Also, the question of whether or not there’s an inherent disadvantage with playing at altitude due to the changes in pitch movement on the road can forever be settled and illuminated. With a full-slate of games – albeit, a shortened slate – Rockies hitters and pitchers can begin to have consistent expectations.
Anything else to chew on?
Nightengale speculated that playoffs would take place in Chase Field for the Cactus League and at either Tropicana Field or Marlins Park for the Grapefruit League finals. Come November, other alternate site locations such as Petco Park or Dodgers Stadium could factor into the equation.
It’s unclear what the postseason situation will be in this newfangled alignment.
There’s a chance we see four Wild Card teams in each division. Three division winners in each league receive a few off-days in their respective location as usual before a brief two-round playoff to decide the fourth-seed and continue with typical playoff procedures.
It wouldn’t be surprising if this is exactly what MLB had in mind for the upcoming collective bargaining agreement. This new scenario expedites such a model and allows a look at the difference between having slightly less than half of the teams make the postseason rather than only one-third.