In another example of the radical measures that Major League Baseball is contemplating as it seeks to play as many games as possible in a truncated 2020 season, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that one proposal would see the traditional American League and National League scrapped for the 2020 season only — and replaced by the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues in which the clubs play during Spring Training. The 15 teams with spring facilities in Arizona and the 15 with spring facilities in Florida could each call their spring parks home, playing games in empty parks in realigned divisions.
As with the all-Arizona plan that was reported on earlier this week, a Cactus/Grapefruit arrangement is an intriguing concept but one that is also wrought with potential pitfalls. Securing ample coronavirus testing capabilities is still a challenge on a national scale, and Florida in particular is a problematic area with regard to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
While the idea of empty parks ostensibly caps the number of people present for a given contest, it may not do so quite to the extent one would initially think. In addition to hosting a pair of rosters that would likely be expanded to 29 or more players, empty-park games would still need to have coaching staffs on hand in addition to umpires, medical/training personnel, camera crews, a production team and security staff for the facility in question (to say nothing of the potential for scouts and other front-office personnel as well).
Securing temporary housing for that many players, too, could be problematic. And as with the all-Arizona plan, the Florida-Arizona plan carries questions about weather conditions — playing primarily in open-air stadiums in the dead of an Arizona or Florida summer is clearly sub-optimal — and prolonged separation of players and their families. The looming issue of how to proceed if (or more likely when) an active player tests positive for the virus remains perhaps the most notable obstacle to address.
All of that said, it’s nevertheless fascinating to think about a season played out under such radical conditions. Nightengale suggests, for instance, that with the AL and NL designations scrapped, a universal DH could be implemented for one season. That’d seemingly put would-be NL clubs that hadn’t prepped for that change at a bit of a disadvantage, although concessions will surely have to be made by many parties if a season is to be played at all.
The potential for divisional realignment creates myriad new rivalry possibilities and shuffles the deck such that we might see some current postseason long shots gifted greater hope at the playoffs. Nightengale runs through one preliminary realignment scenario that would see the “Cactus League Northwest” division comprised of the Brewers, Padres, Rangers, Mariners and Royals. Over in the “Grapefruit League South” division we’d see a hyper-competitive trio of the Braves, Twins and Rays joined by the Red Sox and Orioles. Obviously, that’s merely one hypothetical alignment in a larger-scale hypothetical undertaking that may never even come to pass.
But at this juncture, as MLB joins the rest of us waiting for more robust testing/treatment and the blessing of public health experts and government officials to relax our social distancing measures, there’s no reason for the league not to cast a wide net in dreaming up creative solutions. To the contrary, thinking outside the box is arguably their best course of action right now. This, like the Arizona plan, is likely one of dozens of scenarios that has been or will be discussed by decision-makers as they seek to find a way to restore some sense of normalcy — to whatever extent is possible while maintaining the broader health of the general public.