A few weeks ago, BATSBY Sports illuminated the positives and negatives of Major League Baseball’s trial-balloon concept for the Coronavirus-affected 2020 season, temporarily forsaking the traditional National/American league setup of the last 120-plus years … for a system which separated the teams by their Spring Training location.
The Florida-Arizona plan, which had each team playing home games at their own training headquarters, seemed like the least contemptible model for accommodating a season that required minimal travel and no ticket-buying fans in the stands.
(Essential personnel for each gameday event would likely be limited to players, coaches, scouts, agents, front office staff and working media. It’s unknown if any food/drink vendors would regularly be on site.)
The above plan had merits, but also came with a few notable hangups:
a) Due to the oven-like conditions of Florida and Arizona during the summer months, morning start times would surely become the norm.
b) With a two-league setup comprised of 15 clubs, Interleague play would have been required at all times during the season.
As such, there wasn’t much clarification on whether the Florida teams would fly to Arizona (and vice versa) for home Interleague outings … or if they would meet in a neutral setting — most likely the air-conditioned palaces in Houston (Minute Maid Park) and suburban Dallas (brand-new Globe Life Park).
c) From a stats and records perspective, it would have been implausible for MLB historians to distinguish between ‘American’ and ‘National’ league numbers, given how homogeneous look of the Florida-Arizona model.
d) Most National League clubs would be at a firepower disadvantage, if Major League Baseball implemented the designated hitter into every game on the revamped 2020 calendar.
e) Would the 2020 All-Star Game in Los Angeles even take place? And if so, would be it be a midpoint event for the season … or during the latter months, when fans could possibly visit Dodger Stadium?
The C, D and E hangups would likely be ominous, regardless of which proposal best satisfies the baseball powers-that-be. But check this out … we might have an answer for the A & B talking points, in the form of this:
According to USA TODAY Sports‘ Bob Nightengale, MLB officials are privately expressing optimism with a new plan, one that separates the 30 teams into three geographically enhanced divisions.
MLB’S HOME-CITY, THREE-DIVISION PLAN
Yankees, Mets, Rays, Marlins, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Nationals
Indians, Reds, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, Royals, Brewers, Twins, Tigers, Braves
Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Giants, Athletics, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Astros, Mariners, Rockies
a) A second Spring Training would take place sometime in late May, and the regular season would subsequently begin in mid-to-late June (early July at the latest), according to Nightengale.
b) In a three-division format (even-numbered groupings), there would be no need for ‘Interleague’ play in 2020.
c) MLB could easily roll with a 99- or 108-game schedule within the three-cluster format, an eminently balanced setup where each club encounters every intra-division foe 11 or 12 times.
d) Neighborhood rivalries would garner plenty of exposure in this format. The Yankees, for example, would draw the Mets and Red Sox for 22-24 total dates.
Other proximity rivalries would get special treatment, battles such as Indians-Reds … Phillies-Pirates … Orioles-Nationals … Dodgers-Angels-Padres … Cubs-White Sox … Royals-Cardinals … Twins-Brewers … Giants-Athletics … and Rangers-Astros.
e) Travel would be remarkably convenient for the vast majority of franchises, with most city-to-city flights covering less than 90 minutes of air time.
**In the East, the Marlins and Rays would be making a lot of trips north; but then again, neither club would leave the Eastern Time Zone for the full campaign.
**The same holds true for the Braves in the Central, in terms of always traveling north. However, Atlanta wouldn’t have to venture further than St. Louis at any time, allowing for consistently early starting times on the TV end.
**The West configuration might be a little taxing for the Rockies, Astros, Rangers and Mariners; but then again, it wouldn’t be much different than their respective setups during a normal baseball season.
f) With the proliferation of quick-analysis Coronavirus swabs available to the states, every MLB team will have the capacity to administer temperature checks and conclusive tests to players, coaches, staffers and accompanying media members — before entering a locker room or taking the field.
Think about it: This time last month, it seemed like a pipe dream that our nation would have an abundance of uber-efficient, highly accurate testing for Coronavirus symptoms; and along those lines, no one could have envisioned places like New York, Michigan, Illinois or California formally entertaining the idea of hosting sporting events — with or without fans in the stands.
And yet, here we are. Life is good … and I have no doubt Major League Baseball will handle every precaution in gauging the every-day well-being of gameday principals.
THE MAGIC OF TELEVISION
TV network and online companies would still be tasked with broadcasting the games in the new MLB proposal. In fact, this could be the most significant TV campaign in baseball history … given the plausible expectation of record viewership.
Just look at the recently completed Virtual NFL Draft, which attracted a three-day total of more than 30 million viewers.
MLB EXTRA INNINGS
The Tigers have been wandering in the proverbial woods for the last three years, merely averaging 58.3 wins during that span.
As a native Detroiter, this on-field lethargy fueled my indifference toward purchasing the ‘MLB Extra Innings’ package over the last two seasons, thinking the club had nothing to offer in the short term.
Plus, I had stopped playing fantasy baseball during this period … essentially crushing my once-rabid interest in late-night West Coast games that didn’t involve the Tigers or Braves (current Atlanta resident).
The upside to being awful for a three- or four-year period? Thanks to high draft picks and shrewd moves in latter rounds, the Tigers have steadily built one of baseball’s most fruitful farm systems.
Within that boast, one could argue Detroit has the best collection of starting-pitching prospects — a prolific group of power arms, led by Casey Mize (No. 7 overall prospect), Matt Manning (No. 24), Alex Faedo, Franklin Perez, Joey Wentz (season-ending surgery) and Tarik Skubal (No. 46), who could emerge into a Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels clone over the next 10-12 years.
Will the above names be part of the Tigers’ extended roster for the highly unusual 2020 campaign? Too early to tell. At the same time, however, the big club has enough young prospects teeming the roster to warrant a nightly look, via MLB Extra Innings.
Which brings us to this … what would the ‘MLB Extra Innings’ package resemble, citing the hypothetical projections of a 108-game season?
a) Would all the games have the traditional (local) starting times of 1 p.m, 7 p.m. or 10 p.m. on weekdays … and 1, 4, 7 and 10 p.m. on weekends? Since each team would be playing in its home stadium, there wouldn’t be a pressing need for morning start times.
b) Would Extra Innings come at a reduced rate, per month/season? Also, would the single-team and full-league packages still be available to choosy fans?
c) Would MLB eliminate the blackout rules for all regions? From what I’ve heard, there’s a prominent patch of eastern Iowa, where hearty, but unlucky baseball fans are subject to league-mandated blackout rules involving the Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals and Twins.
If true, that loophole must be closed as soon as humanly possible.
Nightengale’s piece didn’t devote much space to the 2020 playoff setup, but we can make certain assumptions from the model:
a) The three division winners would garner the 1-2-3 seeds during the postseason, based on overall record.
b) The second-place club from each division would likely earn a playoff slot, as well.
c) The final six postseason spots would go to those with the best records — regardless of divisional alignment.
d) The 12-team playoff system could go like this:
**Seeds 1 through 6 earn an automatic pass to the second round.
**The bottom six playoff combatants (by seed) would partake in a best-of-5 series for the first round.
The matchups: 7 vs. 12 … 8 vs. 11 … 9 vs. 10
**Seeds 1 through 4 would have the home-field advantage for Round 2, with each series being a best-of-7 setup.
**The semifinal matchups would take place at warm-weather, neutral-site locations. Most likely Florida, Arizona, Georgia, Texas or California.
**The World Series would also be played at a fixed location, giving the Fall Classic a Super Bowl-like feel in either October or November.