Forget the American League East Division. Could the Yankees be a part of the 'Grapefruit League North' this season?
According to a report from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, Major League Baseball is considering a plan to radically realign divisions in order to accommodate for the COVID-19 pandemic. The six new divisions will be structured geographically based upon Spring Training sites.
Under the proposal, all 30 big-league franchises would return to their Spring Training sites in Florida and Arizona for an abbreviated season. As is the overarching format in Spring Training, Florida teams will be part of the Grapefruit League and those based in Arizona will compete in the Cactus League.
The purpose of the plan, per the report, is to allow teams to return to their home sites and resume Spring Training for three weeks, play a set of exhibition games and then begin a regular season with travel in close proximity. This gives the league a chance to realign scheduling and minimize risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus.
For the Yankees, this proposal means that instead of fighting for a playoff spot with the division-rival Red Sox and Rays, New York's newest contender would be the Phillies.
Here's a look at how the Bombers' new division would be structured and where each complex is located in Florida:
Grapefruit League North
- New York Yankees (Tampa)
- Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton)
- Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin)
- Detroit Tigers (Lakeland)
The proof as to why this divisional shuffle benefits New York is in the numbers. The reigning AL East division champ Yankees would be up against clubs that finished in third and fourth place in their respective divisions last year.
Further, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Toronto account for three of baseballs' seven teams that won fewer than 70 games in 2019. No other division in this revised format has more than two sub-70 win teams.
Sure, the quality of a team can change during the offseason. Philly improved its pitching staff quite a bit with the signing of right-hander Zack Wheeler while Toronto's young core is poised to take a huge step forward in 2020. Odds are, however, that New York would have no trouble winning this division when predicting a possible 2020 season.
For example, check out Sports Illustrated's annual season predictions alongside each team's record from last season.
|Grapefruit League North Teams||2019 Standings||Sports Illustrated's 2020 Predictions|
New York Yankees
103 - 59
105 - 57
81 - 81
83 - 79
69 - 93
62 - 100
Toronto Blue Jays
67 - 95
77 - 85
47 - 114
54 - 108
Obviously the 2020 predictions will end up inaccurate – as an abbreviated season means fewer games and different divisions could change how certain teams perform – but the Yankees in this criteria would be 22 games ahead of the second-place Phillies.
All other proposed divisions – except for the Cactus League West and the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers – have their top teams separated by five or less wins.
How does that compare to what the Bombers would have dealt with in the traditional AL East format had the COVID-19 pandemic never occurred?
New York would no longer have to battle a surging, talented Tampa Bay club for a division title – a team that won 96 games a year ago. Instead, the Rays would be pinned against the slugging Minnesota Twins and star-studded Atlanta Braves in the Grapefruit League South division. Each of those three clubs won at least 97 games last season and the latter two hoisted their own division title trophies.
It's worth noting New York celebrated its 25th anniversary at George M. Steinbrenner Field this spring. Take the home-field advantage factor as you will, but as other teams disperse to their own complexes, many of which have barely been broken in, the Bombers would be setting up shop in a venue they've called home for a quarter of a century.
By no means is this a guarantee. The proposal is purely a possibility that has been discussed. Earlier this week, it was reported by ESPN that MLB was focused on a plan to start the season in May and play all games exclusively in Arizona.
Besides, anything can happen in a shortened season. Even teams that are projected to be in the middle of the pack or lower can ascend into contention with a hot start.
Should this Arizona-Florida plan come to fruition, New York would unquestionably be a front-runner. Not only would the Yankees be the favorite in their division, situated in the comfort of their longtime Spring Training home, but other contenders would beat up on each other as well.
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