Another day, another version of the contingency planning MLB is engaged in to try to salvage some part of its season in a year that will ultimately be transformed completely by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The version under discussion? As with the previously-discussed Arizona Plan, teams would play under quarantine at Spring Training parks for the TV cameras, but in this iteration, it happens in Arizona AND in Florida.
You know the completely meaningless Cactus and Grapefruit League standings? They wouldn’t be so meaningless under this split plan:
MLB considering radical realignment as one of their options for 2020 season: Grapefruit and Cactus leagues https://t.co/vLQTG4ezgu
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) April 10, 2020
As USA Today reports, the realigned structure for the league – for this year only – could look something like this:
- 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.
- NORTHEAST: Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Oakland A’s.
- 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.
Teams would play their own division opponents 12 times apiece, and the rest of their league six times apiece. (That’s 108 games, by my count.) If you’re gonna get weird, why not put the Cubs and White Sox in the same division? I get that there are geographic considerations, even in central Arizona, but that would be a pretty darn fun one-off season.
As with the Arizona Plan, let me continue to preach nuance and caution: of course the league and the players have to discuss possible contingency plans. Lots of them. It doesn’t mean wheels are in motion, and it doesn’t mean lots of things cannot be changed at the margins. It just means you lay the groundwork for something that could play out *IF* public health and safety permit it. (Testing, testing, testing, testing.)
I can see why this, too, is being explored, as it would be a heckuva lot easier to split the teams up into two areas of the country, especially where they already have facilities and familiarity. Spreading out the games would be much easier, accommodating the weather would be much easier, the players would probably be a lot more comfortable, the non-baseball employment pool would be much larger, etc., etc.
I get why, if you’re already talking about playing games under quarantine at Spring Training sites, you might as well consider using all of them at your disposal, not only half.
And I also get why, since this year is already going to be completely unreal if it happens at all, you might as well be open to crazy ideas. It could be, in its own weird way, a lot of fun.
To my mind, the one huge flaw this combo plan has, relative to the Arizona Plan, is that you cannot start the combo plan and then move on to the regular regular season later in the year, should it become possible to do so. Once you change the schedules and divisions completely to begin play in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, you’re stuck with those divisions the rest of the way – and unless you want to go from quarantined in one small space to suddenly making INSANE cross-country road trips constantly, then you’ve got to play out the schedule as you created it, all within the location where you’ve started.
By contrast, with the Arizona Plan, you could start out using the regular season schedule wherever you’d like to pick it up, and then if the national situation changes such that home ballparks are feasible – out of quarantine for the players, and maybe with fans – you just move on out and roll into that part of the schedule.
Part of what I liked about keeping the Arizona Plan on the table as an option is that it was not inconceivable that the season could be ready to start under quarantine in one location, but then could open up later in the year so that the players, staff, non-baseball workers, etc., wouldn’t have to be quarantined for half a year away from home. If you go with the split plan, you’re guaranteed to throw that out the window.
You’re also throwing out the window the possibility of recouping a lot of lost revenue, which means you’re very likely locking in significantly diminished revenues, at best, which means you’re inviting a big fight between the owners and the players about who is going to shoulder the burden of massively-shrinking revenues per game. It’s easy to say just pay the players a pro-rated salary (which is the current plan), but that’s all kind of predicated on the idea that all the teams were losing was the volume of games – not the volume of games AND the revenue per game. I don’t really want to see that fight come to fruition. Not at a time like this. Not with the CBA expiring next year.
So, basically, with the split plan, you’d have to wait as long as possible to kick it off, hoping beyond hope that there’s some miracle that allows you to shift course at the last moment and start the real regular season back at your home parks by some time in, I don’t know, July?
I mean, it’s probably best to wait quite a bit longer before deciding anything anyway, though whatever course MLB charts is going to require at least some lead-in time to make appropriate plans and preparations.
The good news? If MLB is already resigned to playing only about 100 games, then they wouldn’t have to start the regular season until July to be able to pull it off. So there’s still a lot of time to be patient, to be smart, to evaluate all possibilities, and to be safe.