As Major League Baseball continues to discuss possible ways to play games this season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the so-called "Arizona Plan" appears to be the most likely candidate to come to fruition.
In this scenario, all 30 teams would convene in Arizona, creating an Olympic Village of sorts for players, coaches and staff to safely quarantine from the outside world. Once tested and after a brief resumption to Spring Training, a regular season would be played in the 10 Cactus League ballparks – all situated within an hour away of each other – as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks' Chase Field in Phoenix.
There are still plenty of hurdles to jump through in order to make this blueprint come to fruition. As initially reported by ESPN's Jeff Passan, this may be the likeliest of options to occur, but until health officials give a green light this is still a work in progress. Spending months in isolation would be a step in the right direction toward limiting the virus' ability to infiltrate MLB, but players may not buy in if it means leaving family behind for an extended period of time.
For one moment, let's envision this proposal is enacted by Major League Baseball. Teams begin to assemble in Arizona and all goes well regarding the novel coronavirus. How would the New York Yankees fare in this regular season format?
Franchise experience in Arizona
Clubs that have Spring Training in Florida, part of the Grapefruit League, are at an immediate disadvantage in this blueprint. They won't be as accustomed to the Cactus League facilities. Ballparks aren't very different when it comes to dimensions, but it'll require an adjustment for the Yankees and the 14 other organizations.
That being said, New York has experience playing in Arizona – since the Diamondbacks debuted in 1998.
Since Arizona's inaugural season, the Yankees have played 11 regular season games in Phoenix, as well as four World Series games. Take all 15 of those contests into account – yes, including all four losses in Arizona in the 2001 World Series – and New York has a 5-10 record in games played in that state.
That means, New York has played more games in Arizona in franchise history than half of the other Grapefruit League teams (American League clubs like the Yankees that only get a chance to play in Phoenix once every couple seasons).
Further, two of those games at Chase Field were played just last year – remember CC Sabathia's 3,000th strikeout against the Diamondbacks a little under one year ago? Sure, both road games against Arizona in 2019 were losses, but experience and a touch of familiarity never hurts.
Player experience in Cactus League venues
Those 15 games will help when it comes to taking the field in Phoenix, but the Cactus League ballparks are another story.
Nonetheless, even for a Grapefruit League club, New York has quite a few players – and key contributors – who spent the majority of their careers playing Spring Training in Arizona.
For example, DJ LeMahieu – who finished fourth in the race for AL Most Valuable Player last season – has nine years of Spring Training in the Cactus League under his belt. Spending nearly a decade with the Cubs and Rockies, before making his debut in pinstripes this past season, LeMahieu has appeared in 144 games in Arizona's Spring Training complexes.
Not only does he have the experience, he's performed well too. LeMahieu has 105 hits in 341 at-bats (good enough for a .309 batting average). Mike Tauchman – another position player from Colorado's system – has played 95 games there as well.
Other than two members of the Yankees' starting lineup, multiple integral pieces of the Bombers' pitching staff have spent an extended period of time in Arizona in springs past.
Right-hander Adam Ottavino spent the first decade of his career spring training in Arizona, southpaw James Paxton spent seven years as a member of the Seattle Mariners in the Cactus League, while closer Aroldis Chapman has six years of experience there as well. All three have toed the rubber for more than 64 innings pitched in those venues.
Yes, stats there are just about meaningless – as Spring Training parks are generally the host of tune up games – but their overall experience will benefit the rest of the Yankees roster tremendously. Scouting reports aside, hearing from a teammate (both offensively and on the mound) about how certain ballparks play, is another step toward success.
Plus, you want one of the top hitters in your lineup – along with your closer, setup man and a top of the rotation caliber hurler – to be as comfortable as possible. Especially during a season that would present uncharted experiences for every player involved.
Don't forget about the Arizona Fall League
Although the majority of current big leaguers are years removed from stints in the Arizona Fall League, plenty of Yankees have played in the developmental league for the game's top prospects over the years.
Gleyber Torres – at 19 years old – won the league MVP Award in 2016, leading all players with a .403 average (25 hits in 18 games). Aaron Judge (2014), Gary Sánchez (2015) and Miguel Andújar (2016) each have played in the league as well.
Thairo Estrada, an internal utilityman who appeared off the bench in 2019 for a few weeks, has played in the Arizona Fall League in two of the last three years.
Again, it's not much, but any experience can only help prepare this club to contend should this proposal be selected in the coming weeks.
Heat stroke? More like power stroke
It goes without saying, Arizona in the summer time gets very, very hot. Chase Field is indoors, but the 10 Cactus League stadiums are not.
On one side of the spectrum, this is a disadvantage to everyone. As former Yankee Mark Teixeira pointed out on Michael Kay’s ESPN radio show, playing games in the Arizona heat will be "miserable" and result in "guys getting hurt left and right."
Then again, the ball does fly out of the yard more often when the weather is hotter with more humidity. For a club that hit 306 long balls a season ago – and would be poised to have all key offensive assets healthy and ready to go should the season begin later this summer – the home run ball could be something to lean on to an even further extent should we get a 2020 season.
For an injury-prone club like the Yankees, coming off a season with a record-high stints on the injured list, the heat would undoubtedly serve as a reason to be concerned. If players will in fact be forced to sit in the stands rather than the dugout, to promote social distancing, they'll be exposed to the scorching heat each time they play.
The silver lining of all this is that players like Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are currently making the most of MLB's hiatus to get back to game-ready condition.
When all is set and done, even if this is a "likely" scenario, it's fair to be skeptical that the Arizona Plan will come to fruition. Will a player like Gerrit Cole, who's wife is due to deliver their son in June, miss the birth of his first child in order to remain in a hotel in quarantine half a country away? Same goes for Mike Trout and his wife.
It's a situation to continue monitoring, but should MLB decide the Arizona Plan is what's best this year, New York is still equipped to do some damage.
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