MLB is considering a temporary league realignment for the 2020 season that would create two leagues - the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues - based on the geographic proximity of each team’s spring training complex. Per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the plan is one of several the league has on the table to address the challenge of squeezing in as many games as possible amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Teams would play at their own spring training facilities, without any fans in the parks, and without any crossover between the two respective states/leagues. The proposed temporary Leagues would be broken down like this, based on geographic convenience within the states:
The plan, on its face, is far more workable in Arizona than Florida. The Cactus League’s facilities are all in the greater Phoenix area, and even with that city’s immense sprawl, the distances between facilities range from 30 minutes to two hours. The Grapefruit League, conversely, is spread across Florida’s coastlines and would likely require minor league-style bus rides or even flying, something the league no doubt would like to avoid for health and cost reasons. Nightengale notes the likeliest solution to blending AL and NL teams would be at least a temporary activation of the universal DH. In theory, at least, the divisional structure would allow for MLB’s playoffs to proceed as normal, though the league might lean on the domed parks of Tropicana Field, Marlins Park, and Chase Field for those games.
The divisional breakdown radically alters many traditional arrangements, and while the Mets would remain in one of the most unchanged groups from the traditional NL East, the addition of the Astros and Cardinals is unlikely to make their lives easier if it comes to pass. The entire proposed Grapefruit League East (GL East) division is located on Florida’s eastern coast, offering them proximity they do not share with the rest of the league.
While losing Atlanta and Philadelphia to Houston and St. Louis could be seen as a wash, other teams clearly stand to gain or lose a great deal from this proposed alignment. The Yankees would be plopped into a veritable AL Central, with only the Phillies threatening a >.500 record in 2020. The GL South, meanwhile, could be a slugfest, as four clubs with reason to believe they could be at least wild card contenders took swings at one another, pausing only to clobber the Orioles.
This proposal is one of several on the table, offering the chance for teams to remain in familiar facilities, creating all-day baseball broadcasts for the TV market, including one doubleheader nearly every day. Without fans in seats, the games would certainly feel strange, and the risk of public and player safety is paramount, as a false start curtailed by outbreaks would be devastating. MLB is, if nothing else, thinking outside the box.