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Latest plan for MLB season would include realigned divisions, use of spring training sites in Florida and Arizona

A general view of Clover Park prior to

A general view of Clover Park prior to a spring training game between the Cardinals and the Mets on March 4, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Joel Auerbach

According to yet another 2020 season-saving scenario, the Yankees could end up sharing a division — in Florida — with two new bottom-feeders in the Tigers and Pirates.

The Mets? They’d welcome the Astros and Cardinals.

That’s part of the plan reported on Friday by USA Today, which outlined an MLB strategy to have the 30 teams grouped by their spring training sites. Rather than have an American and National League, it would be Grapefruit and Cactus, each split into three divisions.

And with so much crossover, it’s expected that a universal DH would be implemented, perhaps leading the way for the move to be permanent come 2021.

Like the Phoenix gambit, introduced earlier this week, this two-state scenario appears to have promise on paper. What’s easier than having each team simply return to their own preseason camps, resume spring training for three weeks, then use those sites as their home ballparks?

Logistically, that removes some of the problems inherent with sending everyone to Phoenix, where many of the 30 teams would have to relocate their entire operations and be spread out among area hotels.

While stadiums are in much closer proximity in Arizona, MLB could get around the greater distance in Florida by creating divisions with teams that are relatively close to each other, as detailed by USA Today.

For example, the Yankees share the “North” division with the Phillies, Blue Jays, Tigers and Pirates — all of whom are within an hour’s drive of Steinbrenner Field. As for the Mets, their “East” division would include the Cardinals, Marlins, Astros and Nationals. All four of those opponents are within a 50-minute drive down I-95.

The third Florida division (South) would have the Red Sox, Twins, Braves, Rays and Orioles — all clubs roughly aligned off I-75 on the state’s West Coast.

Over in Phoenix, for the Cactus League, the MLB could assemble the Northeast (Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies, A’s), the West (Dodgers, White Sox, Reds, Indians, Angels) and the Northwest (Brewers, Padres, Mariners, Rangers, Royals).

When asked Friday about the plan, one source again cautioned that it remains difficult to move forward without a better read on the coronavirus outbreak and what the situation might look like a month from now. That’s the X factor involved in any of these discussions, no matter how far along the planning gets or how promising it might appear on paper.

Also, trying to incorporate Florida into the 2020 plan rather than having all 30 teams in a tight Phoenix perimeter could expand the risk. It’s not just about making sure the clubs are sufficiently quarantined. The concern stretches to umpires, grounds crews, broadcast teams, hotel staffs, security and food-service personnel, just to name a handful of those who could be exposed to a COVID-19 outbreak during the resumption of a season.

Commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark have engaged in regular discussions about salvaging the 2020 season, but there is an acknowledgment of significant hurdles that need to be resolved first. MLB moved quickly Tuesday to pump the brakes on the Phoenix plan shortly after it was first reported by ESPN and The Associated Press.

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so,” MLB’s statement said. “While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.”

By now, MLB is basically operating under the assumption that using each team’s regular stadium is not going to be possible, with every state cycling through different timelines in trying to contain the virus.

Even as New York — the hardest hit — seems to be reaching its apex, Florida, Arizona and many other states still could be weeks away from getting to the peak of pushing their medical resources to the max. That pushes baseball much further down on the list of priorities.

“While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials or the Players Association,” MLB’s statement said earlier this week. “The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”

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