PHOENIX — How about the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies being divisional rivals for the season?
Or the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves?
And the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians?
Major League Baseball, assessing a myriad of proposals, has discussed a radical plan that would eliminate the traditional American and National Leagues for 2020, a high-ranking official told USA TODAY Sports, and realign all six divisions for an abbreviated season.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is one of several being discussed.
The plan would have all 30 teams returning to their spring-training sites in Florida and Arizona, playing regular-season games only in those two states and without fans in an effort to reduce travel and minimize risks in the midst of the COVD-19 pandemic.
The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their spring-training homes.
The plan would allow teams to return to the comforts of their spring-training sites for three weeks of training, which would also include exhibition games, before opening the regular season, and playing a schedule with wholly different divisional opponents.
Here's a look at one realignment structure:
- 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.
- WEST: 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.
“When you’re trying to get really creative, why say no now?’’ says Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, Angels’ senior advisor of baseball operations, who has been briefed of the potential plan. “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.’’
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The Cactus League provides more flexibility given all of the teams are within an hour's drive of each other.
Also, Florida, with teams spread throughout the state, presents a bigger challenge if players, officials and support staff would needed to be quarantined, which has not been determined.
Earlier this week, following a report by ESPN, MLB said it was having preliminary discussions about playing the season exclusively in Arizona.
The Arizona-Florida plan has several advantages, including allowing teams to establish home bases with facilities they are familiar with. There would be 26 ballparks available to be used, including three major-league domed stadiums – Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Marlins Park in Miami and Chase Field in Phoenix.
Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge fields a ball during spring training workout. (Photo: Douglas DeFelice, USA TODAY Sports)
Baseball, even with the realignment, could still play 12 games apiece against their new divisional opponents and six games apiece against the other teams in the state. There would be at least one doubleheader a night when all teams are scheduled to play because of the odd-number of teams in each state.
The DH would likely be universally implemented as well.
There could still be division winners and wild-card winners, perhaps adding two more wild-card teams to each league, or a postseason tournament with all 30 teams.
The winner of the Cactus League in Arizona would play the winner of the Grapefruit League in Florida for the World Series championship, utilizing the domed stadiums in late November.
The official cautioned that nothing has been decided. They will continue to wait until advised by health and government officials that it’s safe to start the season, holding out hope that teams could return to their major-league cities, even including fans.
Yet, for now, they’ll continue to explore all options, knowing that anything and everything is possible for a season like no other.
“There are so many workable possibilities,’’ La Russa says, “why give up on any alternative until it’s clear it can’t work?
“What we can’t do is give up.’’
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
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