The start of the 2020 MLB season has been postponed indefinitely during the coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, MLB executives and league officials have discussed multiple scenarios to start the season. One such idea includes division realignment by the MLB, splitting the league in two (the Cactus League in Arizona and Grapefruit League in Florida), with games played at spring training facilities in both states.
Essentially, MLB is already divided geographically during the preseason, so the realignment would just extend the spring training leagues. The league could host a shortened season at spring training facilities without fans, while quarantining players and staff in two states. MLB would host the World Series in November in one of the domed stadiums in either Arizona or Tampa.
“When you’re trying to get really creative, why say no?” said LA Angeles consultant Tony La Russa. “So you have a unique season. I’ve got no problem with that. I’m not sure we’ll be able play in our own cities across the country, so if you split it up like that, it’s a possibility.”
The current spring training setup features eastern teams playing in Florida, while midwest and western states playing their preseason games in Arizona. The Florida teams are dubbed the Grapefruit league due to the numerous citrus farms in Florida. The Arizona desert, which West Coast teams call their preseason home, inspired the Cactus League name.
- WEST: Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians
- NORTHWEST: Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals
- NORTHEAST: Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies
If you’ve ever wondered what geographical division realignment would look like in the MLB, now’s your chance to check out an east vs. west matchup similar to the NBA.
The West Division in the Cactus League includes both teams from Los Angeles. The “Freeway Series” goes to Arizona with the Dodgers and Angels slugging it out. The rest of the West Division includes the Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago White Sox.
The Northwest in the Cactus League would feature the mighty Milwaukee Brewers in a soft division. The Brew Crew would play bottom-feeders like the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, and San Diego Padres.
The Northeast features a Bay Area rivalry with the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants in the same division. The rest of the Northwest includes the beloved Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies.
- NORTH: New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers
- EAST: Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins
- SOUTH: Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles
The New York Yankees would also benefit from the creation of new divisions. For one, they’d miss out on playing the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. In the North Division, the Bronx Bombers would still get to feast on the Toronto Blue Jays and other teams with poor pitching, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers.
The Yankees and Phillies in the North would also provide some drama with new Phillies coach and ex-Yankees skipper Joe Girardi battling his old team.
The East Division looks the most exciting in the MLB division realignment. The East would pit both World Series teams, the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, against each other. The Astros were knee-deep in the cheating scandal when the pandemic knocked their cheating ways off the front page.
The Nats will still get to feast on terrible pitching from the Miami Marlins, but they will also draw old NL East foes, the New York Mets. On the bad side, the Nats won’t be thrilled with the pesky St. Louis Cardinals in their division.
The Atlanta Braves will finally get to be in a South Division. They’ll face an AL-heavy division with three AL East teams: the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays. The Bomba Squad and hard-hitting Minnesota Twins will pose the biggest threat to the Braves in the South. The Twins just added ex-Braves slugger Josh Donaldson to the mix as well.
MLB History: Working off the Winter Gut
A century ago, most ball players held blue-collar jobs or worked on farms in the offseason so they could play pro ball in the summer. As a result, many players needed a couple of weeks to get back into game shape.
In the late 1880s, players from the Chicago White Stockings (before they changed their name to the Cubs) migrated to Hot Springs, Arkansas before the season began. That marked the first known “spring training activity” in major league baseball. When other teams followed suit, exhibition games sprang up in Arkansas, and spring training was officially born.
In 1914, three teams, including the Chicago Cubs, set up shop in Florida, which birthed the Grapefruit League.
In the era before interleague play, spring training games were the rare times you would see American League and National League teams play each other.
Modified divisions sounds like fun on a temporary basis in the wake of the coronavirus shuttering sports leagues around the world. At this point, baseball fans can’t wait for the season to resume, so now’s the chance to try something different.
“There are so many workable possibilities,” said La Russa, who was also a Hall of Fame manager with the A’s and Cardinals. “Why give up on any alternative until it’s clear it can’t work?”